Ofelia García

Migration gains: Lessons for language and education

Usually migrants are perceived as problems by the nation-state into which they come. Education is often the domain in which these alleged problems come to a head. Adult migrants enroll in courses for “second language” study with educators who usually have had some preparation to help them use the new language to live and work. The ethos of these programs is to help the adults survive. Their children, however, often attend schools where educators see their lack of facility with the “second language” as a problem to be remediated. The realization by the educators is that these migrants will become adults in this new society, and thus, their expectation is that they need to use the new language as “native” speakers, and especially to be able to use “academic language.”

This presentation inverts the relationship with which we have viewed the language education of migrants, especially migrant children. Rather than highlighting what they lack, and what we need as language educators to help them succeed, we highlight here what they have, and what we need as language educators to help us succeed. In other words, we focus in this presentation on what we call “migrant gains.” What is it that we gain by focusing on what migrants have, what they add to our understandings? How are migrants capable of transforming our epistemologies about language and education? By focusing on migrant gains, we, as scholars and educators, gain. We transform our epistemologies about language, about bilingualism, about language education.

In this presentation, we use testimonios from U.S. Latinx migrants and their teachers to show how a lens of “migrant gains” is capable of inverting the power relationship in which we hold natives and migrants, first language speakers and second language speakers. By doing so, we reveal how much we, as educators and scholars, need to remediate our own understandings of migrant students and their languaging. It is not the migrants, but us and the field of language education, that need remediation.

Ofelia García is Professor of Urban Education and of Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages, Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She has been Professor of Bilingual Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Dean of the School of Education at the Brooklyn Campus of Long Island University, and Professor of Education at The City College of New York. García’s extensive publication record on bilingualism and the education of bilinguals is grounded in her life experience living in New York City after leaving Cuba at the age of 11, teaching language minority students bilingually, educating bilingual and ESL teachers, and working with doctoral students researching these topics. Her publications include Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective, Translanguaging: Language, Bilingualism and Education (with Li Wei), Educating Emergent Bilinguals (with J. Kleifgen), Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity (with J. Fishman), Negotiating Language Policies in Schools: Educators as Policymakers (with K. Menken), Imagining Multilingual Schools (with T. Skutnabb-Kangas and M. Torres-Guzmán), and A Reader in Bilingual Education (with C. Baker). García is the General Editor of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language and the co-editor of Language Policy (with H. Kelly-Holmes). She was co-principal investigator of CUNY-NYSIEB (www.cuny-nysieb.org) from its inception in 2011 until 2016.