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79 Chapter 5 Identity Immigrant parents brought to discussions of identity a sense of idealism mixed with a pragmatism that reflected their assessment of the opportunities and constraints of the communities in which they had settled. Across our research sites, immigrant parents told us they want their children to become Americans, but also to maintain ties to their cultural roots. For example, Mr. Mohamed, an Egyptian father in Tempe, Arizona, suggested that his children needed to balance becoming active citizens in their adopted land with fidelity to their home culture’s values: This is my personal opinion. What I don’t want in my children, is, ah, I wanted them to preserve the values. But I wanted them, at the same time, to become a participant citizen in this country. So I wanted them to learn the culture that they live in, and if it’s not contradicting to my values, I’m okay with even having them in that pot. Mr. Mohamed’s comment that he accepted the necessity of his children being in “that pot” can be read either as a reference to the metaphor of America as a cultural melting pot or as a more general acknowledgment that people of different cultural backgrounds who live alongside each other inevitably intermingle, like ingredients in a stew. His attitude toward such mingling seems more resigned than enthusiastic, as indicated by the word “even” in the phrase “I’m okay with even having them in that pot.” In light of the anti-­ immigrant political climate in Arizona and the larger anti-­ Muslim climate of the nation, Mr. Mohamed acknowledged that his children need to be “participant citizens” in order to assimilate into American society. This pragmatic concern was outweighed, however, by his desire that his children preserve the values he considers most important . Mr. Mohamed’s use of the past tense in the phrases “I wanted Tobin_Book.indb 79 8/27/2013 3:41:10 PM 80 Children Crossing Borders them to preserve the values” and “I wanted them to become a participant citizen in this country” convey a hint of ruefulness and suggest a fear of loss of control over his children’s identity, a fear voiced by many immigrant parents in our focus groups. Although many of the perspectives on identity expressed by immigrant parents in our focus groups were consistent from location to location, we also found systematic variation, which we attribute both to differences in the immigrants’ cultural, class, and religious backgrounds and to characteristics of their receiving communities. Immigrant parents in our focus groups brought to discussions of religious, civic, and cultural identity the same kind of ecological pragmatism they brought to questions of school readiness and bilingualism, as detailed in the previous chapters. In this chapter, we show how immigrants’ perspectives on identity, culture , and experiences of prejudice take different forms in New York City, where immigrants live in the midst of heterogeneous communities accustomed to immigration, but with high rates of poverty and stressors that include the challenge of finding affordable housing; in a small town in Iowa, where a homogeneous Mexican immigrant community is endeavoring to settle into a rural Anglo society unaccustomed to receiving immigrants ; in Tennessee, where long-­ established African American and European American communities are confronting a sudden increase in their immigrant population; in Phoenix, where the great majority of new immigrants are Hispanic, where there is a sizable native-­ born Hispanic population , but where anti-­ immigrant rhetoric and harsh police practices make life precarious; and in Nuevo Campo, a small town on the Mexico-­ Arizona border where almost everyone speaks Spanish and identifies as Mexican, and where American culture sometimes feels far away. Resisting Negative Features of American Culture At the Islamic School in Tempe, Mrs. Kahn, a Pakistani mother of a four-­ year-­ old boy, expressed the belief that preserving home cultural values would allow her child to succeed in and contribute to American society: I think it’s important that everyone is still intact with their own individuality , and still able to bring something to the community. I admire and I love and I stand in awe of people who are truly, ah, like the Japanese, the Chinese, the Jews, the Muslims, whoever you can think of, who still have that type of family intact. And still be able to come into the community, produce and go back home, and still have their own-­ ness. There are some cultures, though I shouldn’t say cultures, I...


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