Notes from Translating Childhoods: Immigrant Youth, Language, and Culture: Homework as Domestic Duty

“Homework is a powerful artifact, one of the few items that regularly crosses the divide between home and school. Homework brings school into homes and shapes household rhythms” (51).

Homework is schoolwork that is done at home, an activity that imposes itself on children’s daily lives and family life, often inflexibly and inexorably. But families’ experiences with homework are little known in part because homework, like other labor performed in the domestic sphere, is an ‘invisible’ sort of work. Like housework, it is generally unremunerated (except indirectly by teachers’ rewards, praise, or classroom grades), and it csometimes causes considerable stress and strife in homes” (51).

What Orrellana deems as unremunerated indirectly, classroom grades, rewards, and teacher praise) are incentive enough to do the work for some students to feel rewards from their work. Likewise, rewards and praise are incentive for doing housework. When becoming “chores” or tasks with little agency or motivation, the feeling of unremunerated work sinks in.

“homework is also housework–labor done in the domestic sphere–and it is consequential to families, yet largely invisible to the public eye” (51).

For Orellana’s multi-sited research, “Everyday, at-home interpretation of English texts was the most common kind of translation work that immigrant children engaged in” (52).

Argument: “I want to bring greater visibility to this hidden labor and explore the assorted kinds of translation work that children did in everyday ways at home for their families–as both household contributors and activities with at least as much potential for fostering children’s language and literacy development as offered by school homework exercises” (51).

“Reduced home language development meant that younger siblings were ill prepared to take over translating tasks, even as it potentially introduced the need for another kind of translating–between Spanish and English speakers in the same family.” Translation skills suffer, development of translation competencies.

Group translingual events: group translations of texts.

“Everyday, at-home interpretation of English texts was the most common kind of translation work that immigrant children engaged in” (52).

Factors weighed in to determine which child in the family became the “designated translator”:

1. Perceived dispositions of the children: their willingness to engage in such tasks

2. Perceived abilities: shaped by their dispositions, but also shaped through practice and experience

3.  Availability: access to the children when necessary (53)

Gendering for the designated translator: “When brothers and sisters were close in age a gendered division of labor sometimes took hold. This gendering seemed partly shaped y the girls’ greater general willingness with household chores, and perhaps by parents’ greater expectation for their daughters than for their sons to do such chores. But it was also relational; children translated for their mothers more than for any other adult, and girls often spent more time with their mothers than with their fathers. [. . .] our observations suggested that gendered patterns took a stronger hold as children moved through adolescence because of the gendered nature of family relationships and different constraints on boys’ and girls’ movements outside of the home” (53).

Spanish-dominant parents assisting with English homework: “Even when parents did not speak much English, they supported children in translation tasks. They did this by supplying background information and Spanish vocabulary and negotiating meaning with them” (55). Role-reversal? Rather solidifying of roles in the family domestic duties, including helping with homework with strengths different family members bring to the table.