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Leaning on kids to connect immigrants with community

Posted at 3:16 PM on July 22, 2010 by Michael Caputo

On Friday afternoon, we wrapped up an online conversation on how to connect immigrants with the native residents in a community.

For a long stretch of the discussion we looked at the children of immigrants. There are more than 163,000 children under 15-year-old who are foreign born or have at least one foreign born parent, according to statistics compiled by Minnesota Compass. The discussion revolved around the awkward position these kids are placed as connectors for their immigrant parents.

Michele Garnett McKenzie, an attorney for the Advocates for Human Rights in Minneapolis, said "kids are frequently are pressed into service as interpreters. Service providers and medical personnel have had to learn to not put kids in this position in many cases."

Marcela Soleta, a multicultural liaison for Community Mediation Services, said there is an issue of role reversal for children.

"They are the ones translating for the adults in their lives and, therefore, have access to information and situations they would not have at that age. This changes the youth-adult relationship."

Francisco Gonzalez, an attorney who has worked on immigration issue and a member of the Cottage Grove Human Rights Commission, said providers need to be wary of using children as the conduit for parents. "It's not only unwise but would open some providers to liability issues," he said.

But there was also the belief that this kids serve as "natural ambassadors" for their immigrant families.

The forum also looked at how immigrants and native residents need to deal with the awkward moments if they want to connect... and at how the contentious "legal-illegal" debate serves as a distraction to real understanding.

(Background written before the discussion)

We know that the number of immigrants to Minnesota continues to grow. The percentage of foreign born people in Minnesota from places like Mexico, Laos and Somalia is 7 percent up from 5 percent in 2000.

We are also aware of the instances of tension and discord between immigrants and native residents. We're told the cure for this tension is bridging the cultural differences.

So just how do we do that? Who has the responsibility for making those connections... the immigrant... the community.... the government or institution that sponsored those immigrants?

Among the participants:

Marcy Costello, who emigrated from Peru and now lives in Lakefield, near Worthington. This business woman now helps other immigrants make community connections.

Sheldon Mains, who chairs the Seward Neighborhood Group in Minneapolis, which has been active in connecting with the East African community.

Kathy Clingman, of St. Cloud, the immigrant/refugee coordinator for Child Care Choices. In this role she's worked with immigrant families and their child care needs.

July 2010
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