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Shared Immigrant Journeys and Inspirational Life Lessons: Critical Reflections on Immigrant Punjabi Sikh Mothers' Participation in Their Children's Schooling


By 2040, one out of three children in the United States will come from immigrant households (Suárez-Orozco et al, 2008). It is imperative to understand how immigrant parents participate in their children's schooling. This study examined the dynamic ways immigrant parents participated in schools, which did not conform to conventional notions of parental involvement. Previous research studies showed that immigrant parents used their knowledge and skills to participate in effective ways in order to maintain high educational expectations. However, more research was needed to illuminate how immigrant parents transmitted social values regarding the importance of education.

This qualitative study utilized the immigrant Punjabi Sikh community in California as a case study for immigrant parental participation. Ethnographic interviews were conducted with immigrant mothers and their children from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in order to describe how Punjabi Sikh mothers from three migration periods in California participated in their children's schooling by transmuting obstacles and triumphs into educational messages. These messages were saturated with human and social capital acquired through a shared immigrant journey with their children. Knowledge and skills gained through difficult experiences of integrating into American society, such as English language issues, domestic violence, and navigating the job market, were used as fulcrums for developing positive messages containing the value of education. Theoretical frameworks and methods of inquiry such as, "funds of knowledge," "community cultural wealth," "standpoint theory," and "grounded theory" were used.

The significance of this project lies in conceptualizing immigrant women's experiences in more dynamic terms that do not re-victimize women, but, instead, highlight their agency. Immigrant parental participation can be better understood as a social process through which human and social capital within Communities of Color is cultivated and leveraged in order to achieve educational goals through a collective familial effort. This does not mean that immigrant parents do not participate in traditional activities within schools, but that these activities are not their primary ways of participating in their children's schooling. Therefore, focusing only on traditional notions of parental involvement do a disservice by overlooking the inherent strengths within these families, which can be maximized to build a more equitable American educational system.

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