In a recent study by the University of California, children born to immigrant Hispanic parents were found to lag behind their peers in early age, as NY Times columnist James McKinley Jr. reports. The difference not noticeable when they are between 9 to 15 months becomes noticeable when the child reaches the 2 years old mark and beyond, especially those born to Mexican parents (1). In 2000, immigrant children represented one in five out of all children under 18; the number of children of immigrants enrolled in Pre-K through12th grade was 11 million out of 58 million children nationwide (U.S. Census of Population and housing, 2000). Due to the large flow of Hispanic immigrants in the United States in the past 10 years these numbers will increase a considerable amount. Children who are born to immigrant Hispanic parents lag behind their native peers not because they are less intelligent, but rather the circumstances which they are born, like: coming from low-income families, not being proficient in English as they reach school age, and the lack of education of their parents.
The socioeconomic status plays a very important role on the child's education. The National Task Force on Early Childhood Education for Hispanics, an organization geared towards improving the overall education of Hispanic children, annual report stated that as much as 63% of children born to immigrant Hispanic parents come from low-income families, with White children coming in with about 27%. Although it is a large percentage, this number is not due to unemployment, but rather low wages and high part-time jobs (5). Parents sometimes cannot afford to pay for their child to attend a program that would increase their cognitive skills and readiness for school. A study by the Social Science Quarterly indicates that a higher number of enrollments in preschool of immigrant children could improve their readiness (703-704). The availability of early childhood educations programs for children of low-income families is vital.
Secondly, these children are not proficient in English when they begin school. As Bella Acevedo, a parent of two school age children admits "when my two kids play this is typical; she's 11 and he is 4. He only understands Spanish and she speaks mainly English. Whenever he doesn't understand what she's saying to him in English, she translates it to Spanish and the playing continues. I never tough of teaching them English, I figure they would learn it once they started school. It never occurred to me that it would have a negative impact on their education." The fact that most Hispanic homes have a least one parent that speaks Spanish to their children, makes the English transition even harder; yet another barrier that children born to Hispanic immigrants have to overcome when they begin school; while same age White children have a vast understanding, and large English vocabulary when they start school. According to Census data out of the 10.8 million school-age children of immigrants, 3.4 million were limited English proficient (LEP) with about three-quarters speaking Spanish as their primary language. High levels of linguistic isolation shows how difficult the challenge is on educating LEP children and involving parents who also have a limited English vocabulary.
Finally, the parents' lack of formal education is an issue that affects the children in various ways. Hispanic children are most likely to have parents without high school degrees (49 percent) when compared to their White counterparts (8 percent). It interferes with their capability of helping and getting involved on the child's education, like helping their children with their homework, and understanding their children's and school's performance. Also, because some of the parents may be undocumented and fear what could happen to their children, these children miss out on good early start programs available to them. When the parents do not have formal education, they sometimes have to settle for lower paying jobs with longer hours; that affects the quality time that they spend with their children. Parents' lack of education is not always a negative impact; parents that do not have formal education themselves usually make great sacrifices for their children to have a good education.
In conclusion, the fact that these children are born to underprivileged circumstances does not imply that they are less likely to succeed due to early on barriers; in fact, they might overcome these obstacles easier than someone that has never experience them. It simply means that there is a greater level of help needed for children born to immigrant Hispanic parents. Being born to parents that do not have formal education, not speaking English by the time they are school age and living on low-income should be the clear reason why children born to immigrant Hispanic parents lag behind their peers.