This was another essay I wrote in 2010.
I am Puerto Rican. My culture is a mix of three roots: African, Taino(Indigenous), and Spaniard(or European). Before I lived in Puerto Rico, I resided in Killeen, Texas. My father was in the military and therefore I attended English speaking schools. In my home we spoke Spanish. We ate our cultural dishes. My father always listened to Salsa music (deep African roots). Our way of life was Puerto Rican, yet living in Texas and overseas. Go figure.
I cannot help but to feel a personal connection to this assignment. Though I am not a refugee or political asylee, I do have a different culture from where I currently live in Dallas, Texas. As far as being an immigrant, yes I am one. But, since Puerto Rico is not a sovereign country, I may not be considered an immigrant by all sense of the word. We are one of the last colonies on Earth. Yet we are U.S. Citizens at birth. But that subject is a whole other essay.
By definition we must know the difference between a refugee, political asylee, and immigrant. A refugee is a person who seeks protection from UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) due to fear of “persecution or death because of race, religion, membership in a social group, political opinion, or national origin”. A political asylee is “a person residing in a country in which there is a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, membership in a social group, political opinion, or national origin”. An immigrant is a person who resides in “a particular country who decides to reside in another country”.
The difference about an immigrant is that he/she decides to move freely between the two countries. An immigrant does not necessarily moves to another country in fear of persecution, death because of race, religion, membership in a social group, political opinion, or national origin. Though political asylees, and refugees are immigrants since they are residents of a particular country who decide to reside in another country. The rights that immigrants have depend on the legal status of residency. Technically, if a person is a legal immigrant in the United States, then he/she has most rights that citizens have. They also have the right to reach citizenship through due process. An illegal immigrant does not have the same rights. Not to say that the United Nations recognizes universal human rights.
Refugees are those who flee across international borders in search of a safe haven. They live in refugee camps before resettling into a new host country. They petition “for protection from outside of the country in which they hope to live”. They have the right to establish permanent residency in the new host country to become “productive members of society”. They petition relocation from a country outside of their “country of last habitual residence to qualify as a refugee”. Refugees often times go through very difficult journeys leaving their home countries. After reading about experiences that refugees have in Dr. Cowart's article, I gained a profound respect for them. The stories about war impacted me the most. Particularly the one about Ishmael Beal growing up as a child soldier. I could not even fathom the idea of taking a human life as a child. We as teachers must take into account the experiences that refugee children inherit.
A significant difference between a refugee and a political asylee is that a political asylee “petitions the United States government for protection and legal recognition after entering the country”. “While the refugee requests protection from outside the United States”. Political asylees go through much of the same turmoil as refugees.
These children that migrate to the United States might go through cultural bereavement. “Cultural bereavement is the sense of being separated from the past and losing touch with all that is familiar from the homeland”(Cowart, 2007). It is very dangerous to lose ones cultural identity. Though we all have a name to distinguish ourselves, culture is the way of life that we take for granted. Children are far better at adjusting to a new life than adults. To an extent, it can hurt them in the long run. By assimilating more and more to a new culture, they begin to lose certain characteristics of their native one. They might not feel the impact of cultural bereavement until they reach adulthood. Take Spanish for example. If a child comes into this country and assimilates well with its peers, he/she begins to take off in the U.S culture. After reaching adulthood he/she applies for a job that requires them to be bilingual yet does not know how to read or write with proficiency in Spanish. It is a sad when a person realizes that he/she cannot reach back into its roots at that moment. But it is never too late. After my father retired from the Army, we relocated to Puerto Rico. My soul was half full of my culture until we reached the island. It was a cultural awakening. I was reborn. My sense of belonging was not even half of that when I was living in Killeen. Though I am sure I have not gone through half of what these children have seen, I must be aware of their experiences.
Acculturation on the other hand is the opposite of cultural bereavement. It should be embraced by all teachers of all cultures and backgrounds. It embraces the culture that students bring into a classroom. We as teachers must find materials that are pertinent to acculturation. We must “become or continue to be a student of cultures and languages, particularly those of our students so that our knowledge of their experiences and needs will grow regularly”. Two way immersion education embraces acculturation. It involves the students and community to learn and appreciate different cultures. I am still fascinated after watching a video of two way immersion. To see native English speakers embrace and speak Spanish is something that settles well with me. Caring about other cultures goes hand in hand when implementing acculturation. It is the unmeasurable tool that must be with teachers throughout their careers. If not, it will be a bumpy road. “Without a caring and knowledgeable adult to guide the acculturation experience and to provide reassurance that learning a new language and culture does not mean that the heritage language and culture must be eliminated or forgotten, the refugee student will flounder, literally taking one step forward and two steps back out of fear of losing his or her cultural identity”(Cowart, 2007).
Though I write this paper learning about how students retain or lose their cultures, I cannot help but see my life story applied into some of these ideas. My parents where the ones who facilitated acculturation for me. As a young boy, every time I stepped in our house, we only spoke Spanish. My mother also embraced other cultures. She always told me that whatever girlfriend I brought home was to be accepted, no matter what culture(acculturation). My father always played Salsa music wherever we lived, even in Germany when we were stationed there, yet we always found time to experience German culture (acculturation).