Laurie Olsen *Made in America*

We are a wonderfully multilingual and
multicultural nation. But we are not yet a fair
nation. We continue to perpetuate language
and cultural destruction. We have so much to
gain by welcoming, supporting, listening to
and learning from the voices encoded in each
of our languages. -Laurie Olsen
According to Olsen
 In the past decade, Madison High School has
shifted from having primarily white working-class
students to having a student enrollment that has
no single majority ethnic group.
 It is a truly multicultural school that celebrates
 The school population is ¼ immigrant and the
students speak 16 different languages.
The article questions the status quo
regarding race relations in the United States
(specifically in southern California).
The article reviews the struggles that
immigrant students have in integrating into
an Americanized society.
The article explores how a students identity is
Exploring what it is like to go to school and to
teach in school during a time of increasingly
complex cultural relations and political
dissension, and amidst the pressures of a
large urban, fiscally strapped public school
system. Ultimately this is the story of the
latest chapter in a profound and mighty
struggle within our United States. [1]
How are we as a society going to respond to
our diversity in this last decade of the 20th
Will we embrace a diversity of cultures and
languages, forging a strong, inclusive, and a
united community?
Or will we end up enforcing a more narrow
and exclusive vision out of fear that diversity
will weaken our cohesion?
First, What they collude is in not seeing is the
active process of exclusion and sorting that
goes on in the school’s program and practice,
a sorting that consigns students by skin color,
class, and English fluency into positions of
very unequal access to resources,
opportunities, and education. [1]
Second, The task of learning English is
accompanied by another major taskbecoming racialized into our highly
structured social order, where one’s position
is determined by skin color. [1]
In the process of “Americanizing”
newcomers, all of us engage in a massive
struggle over the values of this nation, the
meaning of diversity, the content of our race
and language relations, and our visions of
fairness, democracy, and inclusion. [1]
In the past decade, Madison has shifted from
having primarily white workin-class students to
having a student enrollment that has no single
majority ethnic or racial group, speaks sixteen
different home languages, and is almost onefourth immigrants. It is a truly multicultural high
school campus that celebrates its diversity. [1]
How is it that despite the rich multiculturalism of
the people despite the creation of some
programs and spaces that support a
multicultural, the end product is still separation,
conformity, and exclusion? [1]
An Ethnographic Methodology
 For two years I simply spent time at Madison High in
classrooms, on the Quad, observing life, and talking
to people.
 I selected ten female students and five teachers to
focus on in more depth over the two years of the
 I explicitly elected to focus on female students from
differing cultural and social groupings in the school in
order to illuminate relationships between gender and
cultural reproduction.
Because schools are one of the few public
arenas in which established residents and
immigrant newcomers engage in regular,
sustained interactions, the school site is an
essential point in that negotiation.
Public schools of our nation have held forth a
proud rhetoric and vision of access for all.
The only potential for change is in the cultural
production of the students themselves.
The biographies of the following students: an
Afghan immigrant, a Brazilian immigrant, a
Latina (Mexican American) born in the United
States, a Fijian Immigrant, an East Indian
immigrant, a Vietnamese immigrant, a white
student born in the local Bayview community,
an African American student born in the
United States, a Chinese immigrant, and a
Mexican Immigrant.
How did they understand “America”? What does it mean to be
What borders and boundaries did they create or detect in social
relations? What language did they use to articulate and create
those borders and boundaries?
How were the crossings, the borderlands and terrain in between
languages, cultures, and national identities experienced shared
How did they experience and view their encounters with each
other across languages cultures and national identity?
What was it like for those students and teachers who felt
themselves involved in forging new terrains of language, culture,
racial, and national identity?
Why were they in school, and how did they experience school?
What relationship did school have to the rest of their lives?
The research involved examining processes
and mechanisms of decision making;
language policy; student grouping;
curriculum content; and the placement of
students and enrollment in specific gatekeeping courses.
The Storyteller
The Anthropologist
The Advocate
The high academic classes are filled
disproportionately with White, Vietnamese,
and Chinese students.
The “skills” remedial track is filled
disproportionately with Latino and African
American students.
Americanization to newcomer students is an
abandonment of hope that others will see
and accept them in their full national,
religious, and language identities.
Students choose marginality as a means of
resistance. They choose to remain off the
social map, to remain “foreign,” and not give
in to racial categories. But within two years,
very few of the students followed in this
research maintained this stance.
…Certain racial groups that process appears to
be accompanied by giving up their immigrant
belief in the American dream”
Those on the Latino “race track” more often
gave up the immigrant ideology and belief in
school success. Their peer group at Madison
seldom appears in the college preparatory
classes, has the lowest rate of school
attendance, the highest rate of disciplinary
referrals for truancy, the lowest grade point
Making a place for oneself and finding one’s
race are central to student life at Madison.
Newcomer students develop conscious skills
for interaction, careful ways of behaving an
habits of monitoring their own and each
other’s behavior as they engage in this
The schooling process itself segregates,
excludes, and discriminates. This is an overt
manifestation of a racial project at the school.
But it is heavily denied and hidden.
The social separation and the academic
tracking are part and parcel of slotting
students by skin color, language, and class
into their places in a hierarchy in the world.
Their belief in individual effort clouds their
ability to see this sorting process.
A complex issue such as this is virtually
impossible to solve. However, if funding and
research is present, and the willingness to
overcome the boundaries that individuals of
other cultures experience then there is the
ability to have success.
Start with the basics. Give teachers the tools
to succeed.