Cover of Language Brokers by Hyeyoung Kwon
Language Brokers
Children of Immigrants Translating Inequality and Belonging for Their Families
Hyeyoung Kwon

August 2024
256 pages.
from $26.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503638686
Paperback ISBN: 9781503639461
Ebook ISBN: 9781503639478

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Excerpts and More

How successfully families in the U.S. navigate various institutional contexts frequently relies on a parent's ability to be continuously available for and capable of supporting their children. But what happens when one or both parents are immigrants who have limited English proficiency? This is the case for two-thirds of immigrant families in the U.S., and more often than not the children in these families must support their parents by acting as "language brokers," or translators, often in high-stakes situations. In Language Brokers, Hyeyoung Kwon shines a light on these lived realities for working-class Mexican- and Korean-American youth in Southern California. Focusing especially on healthcare and criminal justice contexts, Kwon shows that the work of translating is about much more than just words. These children learn early about the harsh financial realities their parents face. They are burdened with portraying their parents as "normal" Americans who deserve full citizenship rights, not as inassimilable and undeserving free riders of social welfare. Kwon's stirring account proves that, as long as immigrants' values and behaviors are blamed for what are actually structural problems, children of immigrants will have to perform Americanness to cultivate a sense of belonging.

About the author

Hyeyoung Kwon is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Indiana University, Bloomington.

"Powerful and illuminating, this book uncovers the overlooked but essential language labor of children in working-class immigrant families living in the contemporary US. Through evocative stories and careful analysis, Kwon shows how bilingual Mexican American and Korean American children creatively navigate daily life in a society with limited resources for non-English speakers and work to ensure that their families don't fall through the holes in our threadbare social safety net. In doing so, Kwon challenges deficit-based assumptions about immigrant youth and their families while also revealing the multiple and compounding challenges that these young people and their families face. This book is a must-read not only for scholars of immigration, childhood, family life, and social policy but also for policymakers and for all the professionals—healthcare providers, educators, police officers, social workers, bank tellers, insurance agents, realtors, and so many others—who may knowingly or unknowingly find themselves communicating with the help of a child."

—Jessica Calarco, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Language Brokers offers an illuminating, complex, and theoretically sophisticated account of Korean and Mexican immigrant youth who translate for their parents within the context of American institutions. In a compelling, beautifully written book, Kwon uses an intersectional lens to expand our understanding of the multiple inequalities that immigrant youth navigate and resist on behalf of their families, providing new insights about race, immigration, citizenship, and deservingness."

—Dina Okamoto, Indiana University