|A Review of
By Elizabeth Conde-Frazier
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Reviewed by Michelle van Loon.
“One of every five children in the United States today lives in an immigrant family. The majority of these children will become lifetime residents of the U.S., and their presence will affect the basic institutions of society.” Elizabeth Conde-Frazier quotes a think tank panel’s findings in order to focus our attention on the issues these children (and their parents) face.
The book’s 80 pages are in both Spanish and English. Though the book is brief in length, its seven chapters offer a helpful detail about the social and emotional journey often experienced by Hispanic immigrant families. Listen to the Children offers a particular emphasis on the experience of children with undocumented parents, but much of the material in the book is applicable to every immigrant family. From making the decision to leave a home culture in search of better economic prospects to the challenges of re-forming a family unit in an alien culture, Conde-Frazier allows the voices of both children and parents to describe their particular experiences. The conclusions she offers about the kinds of care and support these families need are not in-depth solutions, but wise and empathetic first steps for the teachers, clergy, social workers, friends and relatives who are involved with these families.
The chapter entitled Children and Raids was particularly haunting. After Cristina’s undocumented parents were arrested in a workplace raid, confusion and fear gripped the girl as well as her other relatives:
[The relatives] wondered if they should send the seven-year old to school. On the one hand, she would get a free lunch there, and school activities might keep her distracted. Yet they were afraid immigration officials might come to the school…Cristina clung to her aunt, screaming when she was left at school the next day…Psychologically, children experience great anxiety after a raid, which can take the form of depression, separation anxiety, or even trauma…Economically, the family will need food and daily provisions, and may need help with paying rent or utility bills. Some may have to pay heavy fines in order to gain a temporary release.
Conde-Frazier suggests that a working understanding of the effect of trauma is essential in the wake of a raid, as well as a commitment to provide as much stability to the children as possible in an unstable situation. This can include trying to avoid drastic changes in location, minimizing time away from parents, communicating with school administrators so they understand that disruption has occurred in the child’s world, and being appropriately honest with the child about the circumstances.
Listen to the Children is a primer about what social justice can look like in an arena where so much injustice occurs on a daily basis in our culture. Conde-Frazier writes,
The idea of worthiness is very important in the lives of most immigrants. A worthy person is someone who is valued enough to be deserving of basic human dignity…Most immigrants will do whatever is asked of them to fulfill the responsibilities that a part of being a person of excellent character, a person considered worthy by society. Yet this is an opportunity that many immigrant have not had in their countries of origin and have not found in the United States either.
Listen to the Children offers practical wisdom in a simple, readable package that can tune our ears to understand and respond well to the whispers, laugher and cries from immigrant voices – voices that are an essential part of American life.
Michelle van Loon is a frequent contributor to the ERB
and blogs at http://www.michellevanloon.com