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Centering Latina immigrant mothers: Pandemic parenting & educational hopes

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

Introduction By: Sophia Rodriguez, PhD, University of Maryland, College Park

Guest Blogger, Vanessa Delgado, PhD, Dept. of Sociology, SUNY-Stony Brook

October 25, 2022

In this week's blog, we are excited to highlight the work of sociologist, Dr. Vanessa Delgado, postdoctoral fellow at SUNY-Stony Brook. In her new article in Sociological Forum, she discusses the challenges that Latina immigrant mothers faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how existing inequalities were exacerbated. Detailing the experiences of specific mothers, Delgado highlights the challenges and realities they face. Her work builds upon past research in education and broader policy conversations that outlines the "digital divide." This relates to access to and use of technology for many children of immigrants and their parents. Across the country, schools scrambled to provide resources and technology access to families in need; however, barriers persist. In addition to parents having to navigate access to technology and language barriers, many school district populations have rising numbers of language learners, and the shift to online learning presents new challenges for families and schools. Research also suggests a need for federal education policy change and for policies to reflect the needs of immigrant communities. In effect, this could position Latina immigrant mothers as critical policy-thinkers.

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By Vanessa Delgado

On March 31st, 2020, the California Department of Education advised that children not return to in-person learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. Teachers and school officials scrambled to find virtual alternatives so learning could continue in a safe manner. Parents were thrusted into lockdown and found themselves navigating the new world of online learning alongside their children.

The transition to remote learning presented new challenges for Latina immigrant mothers. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration research made clear that Latino/a immigrant parents face numerous barriers in their children's schooling. Such challenges include language and cultural differences, discrimination, unfamiliarity with the U.S. schooling system, and unhelpful school agents. The new world of online learning amplified these challenges as Latino/a immigrant parents struggled to navigate new technology and access stable internet, faced language barriers, came across unresponsive teachers. The pressures of the pandemic led Latina immigrant mothers to experience negative psychological and economic tolls.

In the fall of 2020, I conducted a study to understand how Latina immigrant mothers in Los Angeles overcame the barriers that emerged during the transition to remote learning. Findings suggest that Latina mothers did not passively succumb to the challenges of remote learning. Instead, many leveraged their connection with a local advocacy organization to learn how to use technology, get district-related updates, secure devices necessary for at-home learning, create complaints or demands for services at their children’s school, fill out paperwork, and access community-based referrals.

A common struggle among the participants was navigating technology. First, participants noted that they did not have a computer or stable internet access at home prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Single mothers, like Ariana, took an exceptional financial hit when high-speed internet and a computer was now required at home. Ariana was simply unable to afford the unforeseen costs of virtual learning and was grateful when the lead organizer checked in on her: “They spoke to me, they said: “Do you need a computer, do you need internet?” As an undocumented immigrant, Ariana struggled to find a job that did not require a social security number during the lockdown. Her immigration status also excluded her from any social services such as stimulus checks or unemployment benefits. Receiving a new computer allowed Ariana to use her limited financial resources towards basic living expenses.

Second, mothers also worried that their limited technology skills would negatively impact their child’s academic performance. All participants shared that they struggled substantially with the technology demands of virtual learning. For instance, Amanda, mother to a 13-year-old boy with autism, became so frustrated with managing her son’s online classes that she would frequently break down in tears. Jenny, a lead organizer for the advocacy organization, carved out time in her schedule to speak to Amanda via phone and taught her how to use the Zoom platform:

I struggled a lot at the beginning, I even cried and said: “no, I’m not going to be able to get into it, because I don’t know where to push it.” Jenny taught me how to share the screen, she taught me a lot of things there, she trained me [on how to use Zoom].

Mother’s participation in this local advocacy organization helped them keep up with changes in school instruction, learn about school-based services, and even secure community referrals for local programs or pandemic relief.

The findings of this study have important implications for schools who serve racialized immigrant parents. Prior research makes clear that school personnel, administrators, school social workers, and teachers play an important role in the incorporation of migrant youth. Yet, the additional networks of support from local organizations also assist immigrant families. This study suggests that these inclusion efforts should also include their parents. Such efforts can include creating a curriculum that centers the lived experiences and knowledge of immigrants, hiring bilingual teachers and staff, and offering family-engagement programming that builds connections between school officials and parents. Other services can include working closely with immigrant parents training on how to access web-based services, providing resource sheets in parents’ preferred language, and hiring school advocates that work directly with parents who request additional support. Schools and districts that adopt meaningful engagement practices are likely to bolster the educational incorporation of both youth and their immigrant parents.

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Suggested Citation: Rodriguez, S. & Delgado, V. (2022, October 25). Centering Latina Immigrant Mothers: Pandemic parenting and educational hopes. Immigrant Ed Next.

Copyright © 2022: Sophia Rodriguez, Immigrant Ed Next-All Rights Reserved

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