South East Asian Immigrants
Most studies of recent Southeast Asian immigrants to the United States have focused on their adjustment to life in their adopted country and on the effects of leaving their homelands. James Tollefson's Alien Winds examines the resettlement process from a different perspective by investigating the educational programs offered in immigrant processing centers. Based on interviews, transcripts from classes, essays by immigrants, personal visits to a teacher-training unit, and official government documents, Tollefson relies on an impressive amount and variety of documentation in making his arguments about processing centers' educational programs.
Tollefson's main contention is that the emphasis placed on immediate employment and on teaching the values, attitudes, and behaviors that the training personnel think will help the immigrants adjust more easily to life in the United States is often counterproductive and demoralizing. Because of concerns that the immigrants be self-supporting as soon as possible, they are trained almost exclusively for low-level jobs that do not require English proficiency. In this respect, Tollefson claims, the processing centers suit the needs of employers more than they suit the long-term needs of the immigrant community. Tollefson also detects a fundamental flaw in the attempts by program educators to instill in the immigrants the traditionally Western principles of self-sufficiency and individual success. These efforts often have the effect of undermining the immigrants' sense of community and, in doing so, sometimes isolate them from the moral support and even from business opportunities afforded by the immigrant community. The programs also encourage the immigrants to shed their cultural traditions and ethnic identity and adopt the lifestyles, beliefs, and characteristics of their adopted country if they wish to enter fully into the national life.
Tollefson notes that the ideological nature of these educational programs has roots in the turn-of-the-century educational programs designed to assimilate European immigrants into United States society. Tollefson provides a concise history of the assimilationist movement in immigrant education, in which European immigrants were encouraged to leave behind the ways of the Old World and to adopt instead the principles and practices of the New World.
Tollefson ably shows that the issues demanding real attention in the educational programs for Southeast Asian immigrants are not merely employment rates and government funding, but also the assumptions underpinning the educational values in the programs. He recommends many improvements for the programs, including giving the immigrants a stronger voice in determining their needs and how to meet them, redesigning the curricula, and emphasizing long-term language education and job training over immediate employment and the avoiding of public assistance. Unfortunately, though, Tollefson does not offer enough concrete solutions as to how these reforms could be carried out, despite his own descriptions of the complicated bureaucratic nature of the programs.