"Now We Are Here": The Impacts of Forced Family Separation at the U.S.-Mexico Border on Children's Education Experiences
Gabrielle Oliveira

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Harvard University

Primary Discipline

Family separation policies' impacts on children's education are the critical issue of our time. Some school districts are receiving more immigrant students than usual due to children who were separated from their parents at the border. This ethnographic research project asks: how current forced family separation practices impact children's educational experiences? How do teachers and administrators respond to their needs? The instability children and parents faced during separation is compounded by parents and other family members, exposure to violence, housing and food insecurity, uprooting from familiar environments, interrupted schooling, prejudice and discrimination, and anxiety about the future. Given the sheer number of school-age children who are entering U.S. education systems, there is a necessity for both researchers and practitioners to understand, assess and develop new practices that not only support students in the classroom, but entire families in communities. This study is rooted in the anthropology of education and the sociology of immigration and education traditions. Immigrant education experiences in the U.S. have been widely researched; arguments about trajectories that focus on "acculturation,"? "integration,"? "incorporation,"? and "assimilation"? have long dominated the sociological narratives of immigrant life in the U.S. Through my ethnographic fieldwork I am able to identify the raw, everyday lived experiences of children and parents who were forcibly separated at home and in their communities and how these experiences are translated into the classroom and in schools. This ethnography is focused on ten families and children from Central and South America who were reunified between July and October of 2018. Children are currently enrolled and attending two different elementary schools in Massachusetts where the study has been conducted.
About Gabrielle Oliveira
Gabrielle Oliveira is assistant professor of foundations of education at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College. Her research focuses on immigration and mobility?on how people move, adapt, and parent across borders. Her expertise includes gender, anthropology, transnationalism in Latin America. Merging the fields of anthropology and education through ethnographic work in multiple countries, Oliveira also studies the educational trajectories of immigrant and first and second generation children. Oliveira received her bachelor?s degree in her native Brazil and earned her master?s and doctoral degrees from Teachers College and Columbia University, where she was also a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation. Oliveira has recently published Motherhood Across Borders: Immigrants and Their Children in Mexico and New York (2018) by NYU Press that won the Inaugural Outstanding Book Award in Ethnography at the Penn Ethnography Forum. Oliveira was also a 2018 Concha Delgado Gaitan Presidential Fellow awarded by the Council of Anthropology and Education. She is also the co-founder of the group Colectiva Infancias, a Latin America group of women scholars who study migration of children across the Americas. The group was recently awarded a grant by The National Geographic Foundation to assemble an online mosaic of migrant children?s experiences. Oliveira lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two children.

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