Vikki Katz

Kids as Immigrant Family Brokers

More than twenty percent of children growing up in the U.S. today have at least one immigrant parent. Over half of those parents reported difficulty speaking English on the 2010 Census, a proportion that has increased steadily over the past several decades.

Language proficiency is only one dimension of the communication challenges that immigrants and their families face when interacting within their adopted environments. Over the last decade, I have worked on identifying the strategies that immigrant parents and their children develop to address their communication challenges, and how these are received by individuals they encounter in community settings.

In Kids in the Middle, I draw on 4 years of ethnographic data to examine how children of Latino immigrants help manage their families’ interactions with local schools, healthcare facilities, and social services when they are the primary English speakers in their households. Their efforts require brokering language, cultural norms, and a range of media and communication technologies. I explore how children’s activities influence family dynamics, social integration into the local community, and their own developmental trajectories in and out of school.

My earlier work on children’s media brokering was published in the Journal of Children and Media and featured on National Public Radio. You can read more about my current work on technology adoption and engagement in U.S. Latino families here.

Kids in the Middle

I have also explored immigrant settlement processes and experiences more broadly. In Communication Yearbook, I examine the communication dynamics of immigrant integrataion; in Journal of Communication, my co-authors and I reported that family interaction predicted these kinds of behaviors.

Immigrant families’ healthcare experiences have been a sustained interest for me. In Social Problems,  I examine the challenges that immigrant parents, their child brokers, and providers face during healthcare interactions. Using national data from the Pew Hispanic Center’s Latino Health Survey, in Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, my co-authors and I ask whether informal health communication connections—including friends, family, mass media, Internet, churches, and community organizations—can compensate, even partially, for not having access to doctors. And in Journal of Health Communication, my co-authors and I examine how family- and community-level communication affect Latino and African American residents’ health behaviors in a shared low-income community.

Children Being Seen and HeardFinally, it is very important to me to make sure my research is useful and accessible to immigrant families and to the people who work with them every day. I helped PBS develop content on immigration and on children’s brokering for their "It's My Life" website, which covers diverse issues and life experiences for children.

I also published a practical primer on immigrant families and how their children help communicate in local institutions in 2011. Available in English and Spanish, this short book draws on my own and others’ research and is a resource for teachers, healthcare professionals, social services providers, and others who work in immigrant-receiving communities around the world.