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April 8, 2005

Filipino scholar addresses new phenomenon of displaced children

Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, an associate professor of Asian-American Studies at the University of California-Davis, shed some light on children of global immigration in her talk titled "The Overlooked Second Generation: Children and Transnational Families in the Global Economy." Parreñas talked about her new book Children of Global Migration: Transnational Families and Gendered Woes April 1 at the School of Social Service Administration. Samahan, the Filipino Students Association, the Center for Gender Studies, the Center for International Studies Norman Wait Harris Fund, and the Office of Minority Student Affairs sponsored the event.

The members of the "second generation" are children left behind by parents who emigrate to find work, specifically from the Philippines, where Parreñas has focused most of her research.

Parreñas had initially assumed that the parents of these transnational families would be undocumented immigrants, but discovered that many were actually legal immigrants afraid that they would not be allowed back home. Consequently, many children never see their parents again after they leave.

According to Parreñas, various causes can be attributed for this parental exodus, including better economic prospects abroad. Cultural aspects, such as having extended kin and neighbors raise the children make it easier for parents to leave, while structural aspects, such as migration laws, make it difficult for families to reunite.

At the end of the lecture, several audience members related their own experiences with the phenomenon. One participant, whose own family has had children divided between countries, asked about psychological effects that Parreñas noticed between these separated siblings.

Parreñas replied that she found a strong undercurrent of jealousy between the siblings. Trying to compensate for their absence, the parents of the children left behind often buy their children plots of land or send money. This creates tension between the siblings: Children either resent not being with their parents or are jealous for being "materially neglected."

Parreñas also noted that children abroad do not have the opportunity for close relationships as do other children. Instead of the unconditional support of their parents, they must choose what to disclose to their relatives. "[The children] didn't have the flexibility to unload on their aunts and uncles," Parreñas said.

While the talk focused primarily on Filipino families split between the Philippines and the United States, Parreñas also mentioned the relevance of her study on immigrants from other countries and criticized U.S. immigration policy as a whole.