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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Examining the Reception of Bolivian, Peruvian, and Paraguayan Immigrant Students and Families by the Public Education System of Buenos Aires, Argentina

  • Author(s): Bigham, Jaycee Layne
  • Advisor(s): Brenner, Mary E.
  • et al.

Currently, more people than ever are migrating globally as a result of issues such as the search for economic resources, negative effects of environmental degradation, and displacement due to political conflicts. Considering that the mass movement of peoples is continuing at a strong pace, it is evident that immigration and its regulation by the state are major issues to be faced the 21st century. While there are multiple sites within the public domain in which the state and immigrant communities may interact, schools provided an ideal environment to investigate this relationship in Argentina due to the state-mandated enrollment of all children. Consequently, many immigrants had at least some contact with the state through educational institutions, as a substantial portion, such as Bolivian, Peruvian, and Paraguayan (i.e., Latin American) immigrants in Buenos Aires, often relocated with their children.

Given the increasing heterogeneity of student populations around the world as a result of immigration, public schools occupy increasingly conflicting roles; while there is potential for formal education to serve as a means for attaining social and economic mobility, public schools also have been heavily criticized for reproducing inequities within society. This unique position of schools makes them especially salient in the experiences of nondominant immigrant populations, and therefore this study utilized the reception of Latin American immigrant populations in the public education system of Buenos Aires as a window into examining the treatment of nondominant immigrant populations by state institutions. Taking special consideration of the impacts of the intersection of race, class, and culture in the reception of such populations, this research was carried out as a 15-month ethnographic, comparative study of two public primary schools in Buenos Aires, Argentina from 2014-2016. Methods included participant observation within the schools, semi-structured interviews with 13 school personnel, and photo-elicitation interviews with 48 5th grade students.

Findings from this study suggested that despite outward promotions of equality and the recognition of diversity, deeply-rooted biases and notions of the superiority of whiteness dominated the interactions between public schools in Buenos Aires and Latin American immigrant communities, reflecting the treatment of Latin American immigrants throughout Argentine society. Overall, problematic perceptions of Latin American immigrant students and families circulated among school personnel, negatively impacting their approaches to working with such populations. Nonetheless, there was also a small yet determined group of school personnel engaged in critical education working to improve the educational experiences of Latin American immigrant students and families. Ultimately, however, formal and informal policies upheld by the schools systematically positioned Latin American immigrant students and families as outsiders within the school system, leaving them at a disadvantage in their pursuit of an equitable educational experience.

These findings indicated that in addition to examinations of formal policy, there is a need for investigations of the implementation of such policies and other informal policies that shape the day-to-day happenings within schools and other public institutions. This is vital as they relate to the promotion of the equitable treatment of nondominant populations by the state, as this study indicated that superficial multicultural policies alone were insufficient at combating biases among the dominant population and dismantling institutionalized discrimination. Findings from this study also suggested a continued need for the examination of race and whiteness in Latin American contexts.

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