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Negotiating social and academic identities

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Title:
Negotiating social and academic identities Russian immigrant adolescents in the United States
Creator:
Watson, Natalia V
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
Publisher:
University of Colorado Denver
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
x, 242 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Teenage immigrants -- United States ( lcsh )
Russians -- United States ( lcsh )
Socialization -- United States ( lcsh )
Group identity -- United States ( lcsh )
Group identity ( fast )
Russians ( fast )
Socialization ( fast )
Teenage immigrants ( fast )
United States ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 237-242).
Thesis:
Educational leadership and innovation
General Note:
School of Education and Human Development
Statement of Responsibility:
by Natalia V. Watson.

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Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
123127019 ( OCLC )
ocn123127019
Classification:
LD1193.E3 2006d W37 ( lcc )

Full Text
NEGOTIATING SOCIAL AND ACADEMIC IDENTITIES:
RUSSIAN IMMIGRANT ADOLESCENTS IN THE UNITED STATES
by
Natalia V. Watson
BA, Barnaul State Pedagogical University, 1990
M A., Northern Arizona University, 1997
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver/Health Sciences Center
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Natalia V. Watson
has been approved
by
Maria Thomas-Ruzic
P^cembaA t Z Date '


Watson, Natalia V. (Doctor of Philosophy)
Negotiating Social and Academic Identities: Russian Immigrant Adolescents in the
United States
Thesis directed by Dr. Maria Thomas-Ruzic and Dr. Sheila Shannon
ABSTRACT
This study investigates how Russian-speaking immigrant youth negotiate their
academic and social identities in their new sociocultural environment. Thirty-six high
school students who came to the United States from the former Soviet Union within
the last five years were involved in this year-and-a-half ethnographic study informed
by participant observations at multiple cultural sites and in classrooms in three high
schools, semi-structured interviews, and field notes. From a sociocultural theoretical
framework of human development, the analyses use the notions of agency and figured
worlds of the adolescent youth.
Despite their shared language and history, and though widely construed as a
monolithic group, the Russian adolescents mediated their academic and social
identities in markedly different ways. Through their ethnic and religious reassertions,
social roles, and academic trajectories, female and male students showed different
trends in how they adapted to new academic demands; engaged academically; and
dealt with negative stereotypes, low expectations, and a lack of community support,
as they persisted in, or dropped out of, school. The study showed that, despite
extensive experiences and talents these youth did not become part of the schools
social fabric and had limited contact with their U.S. peers.
The implications of this research point toward an urgent need for organizing a
dialogue in the relevant school districts devoted to the education and socialization of
Russian youth. Educators working with students from the former Soviet Union might
benefit from validating these youths previous educational experiences and
recognizing their diverse religious and ethnic cultures that greatly influence their
current adaptation processes.


This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Maria Thomas-Ruzic
Iheila Shannon


ACKNOWLEDGMENT
First and foremost I would like to thank my family, my husband Joe Watson and my
little son John (Vanya), who have supported me in numerous ways, and who always
encouraged me to persevere. I could not have done this without their love and
support. Also I would like to thank my father, Vladimir Alexandrovich Krapiva
(1937-2000) for watching over me. I love you, papa.
I would like to thank all the study participants from the bottom of my heart who
welcomed me to their homes, their lives, and their hearts.
Many thanks to all my teachers and professors, from preschool to the doctoral level in
Russia and in the U.S., who helped me to learn and grow and who had faith in me.
Finally, a word of profound gratitude to Maria Thomas-Ruzic, Sheila Shannon, and
Alan Davis for their guidance and encouragement.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Figures........................................................ix
Table .........................................................x
CHAPTER
1. IDENTITY NEGOTIATION
Introduction..........i................................1
Conceptual framework..................................3
Theorizing Identity.................................3
Context of identity development.....................5
Performing identities..............................10
Agency...........................................10
Typical mediational means in the immigrant context.12
Strategies of building relationships.............16
Conclusion....................................... 19
Research question....................................20
2. LITURATURE REVIEW
Introduction.........................................22
Trends in immigrants academic adjustment..........23
Model-minority discourse...........................29
Social dimensions..................................35
Research on Russian immigrant youth................40
Conclusion.........................................45
3. METHODOLOGY
Researchers role.......'............................46
Study design.........................................49
Population...........................................50
Methods of data collection...........................53
Participant observation............................53
Interview..........................................54
vi


Keeping a personal journal.............................57
Artifact collection....................................57
Data panning and collection matrix.......................58
Research subjectivity....................................64
Treatment of human subject...............................65
Stages of data analysis..................................65
Stage one: tidying up................................ 65
Stage two: domain analysis.............................66
Stage three: identifying items and codes...............67
Theme analysis...........................................71
Constant comparison and analytic induction...............71
Conclusion...............................................72
4. SOCIAL IDENTITIES
Introduction.............*.................................74
The context of Russian immigration..................... 75
The Evangelic community................................75
The non-Evangelic community............................80
Culture of the Evangelic community.......................82
Traditions and beliefs.................................82
Valued activities......................................87
Subgroups within the Evangelic youth...................89
Conclusion.............................................91
Cultural Activities of the non-Evangelic immigrants'.....92
Life trajectory........................................ 95
Stages of accommodations.....,.........................95
Reassertions of cultural, religious, and ethnic identities.103
Non-Evangelic youth................................103
Evangelic youth....................................109
Outcomes of language contact.......................115
School attachment..........................................118
A glance at school culture............................118
Taking part in social activities......................123
Interaction with peers in school......................130
General trends.....................................130
Contacts with Anglo and Mexican Americans..........132
Facing stereotypes.................................138
Confrontation stories: South High School...........142
Conclusion..............................................151
vii


5. ACADEMIC IDENTITIES
Introduction.......................................153
Academic traj ectory...............................154
History of education.............................154
General trends.................................154
Current academic standing........................155
Experiences with learning English................157
Future academic and occupational plans...........162
Conclusion.......................................165
Academic engagement................................166
Teachers expectations..........................167
Students attitudes to school curriculum.........171
School is too easy discourse.................171
Perspectives on math...........................173
Perspectives on history classes................177
Tensions in ESL courses........................179
Strategies of resolving the tension:
Do I elect ESL or more advanced content classes 184
Motivations and attitudes to school assignments..191
Attitudes to attendance..........................200
Conclusion.........................................204
6. DISCUSSION............................................208
IMPLICATIONS..................................................231
CONCLUSION ...................................................234
BIBLIOGRAPHY .................................................237
viii


LIST OF FIGURES
Figures
4. 1. Stages of accommodation
95
IX


LIST OF TABLES
Table
3.1. Demographic characteristics............................53
3. 2. Data planning and collection matrix.................. 58
3. 3. Dimensions of academic identity........................68
3.4. Dimensions of social identity..........................69
4.1 Means of integration in the community..................92
4.2. Negotiating social identities.........................151
5.1 Negotiating academic identities.......................205
x


CHAPTER 1
IDENTITY NEGOTIATION
Introduction
Adjusting to new living situations, learning a new language, learning how to get around,
making new friends, and all other details of daily life in a new country create stress for both parents
and children. Therefore, even under the most positive circumstances, immigration is viewed to be an
extraordinary challenging event. Describing the process of immigrants insertion in the host society,
Calderon (1998) states, This process of acculturation involves painful, sometimes unconscious
decisions, such as what is to be saved or sacrificed from the old, evaluating what one wants and needs
to adopt from the new, and integrating these into a comfortable sense of self (p. 10).
The period of accommodation, or learning how to be in a new environment, can be even more
complicated for immigrant youth because they face the transition from childhood to adolescence at the
same time as they are reworking their identities and membership in the new country. This is the time
when young people are in need to redefine themselves because they find themselves at a crossroad in
their lives as they explore potential roles for their future, set goals, and assess the probability of
achieving those goals. Then the questions arise: Can immigrant youth accomplish new
objectives in the new country? Are they armed with necessary tools to follow their dreams? According
to Noam (2003), people in the U.S. tend to idealize the opportunities for young people who move to
the Western world. In fact, she agrees that it is common for immigrants and their children not to be
exposed to the culture of opportunities, for example, in education and, instead experience downward
mobility and abandonment of academic aspirations.
Immigrant youth are increasingly found in schools all over the country. These young people
are largely of Latino, Asian, or Caribbean origins (Suarez-Orozco & Todorova, 2003). This study
1


intends to shed light on yet another group of immigrant youth in the U.S. individuals from the former
Soviet Union. Adjustment patterns of Russian-speaking students have been rarely examined. It is not
surprising then that educators often refer to Russian youth as invisible immigrants. Since the Soviet
Union was dismantled, millions of immigrants from the republics that once composed it have resettled
in the U.S. In the middle of the 1990s, scores of religious refugees were allowed to enter this country.
In addition, when the borders were opened, many people began seeking better economic opportunities
abroad. As a result, a large number of former Soviet citizens found themselves in the U.S.
In the recent past, researchers (Trickett & Vinokurov, 2002; Birman, Trickett & Vinokurov,
2001) examined identity formation of Soviet Jewish refugee adolescents coming from predominantly
highly educated families and their successful transition to American schools. But contemporary
Russian immigrants come from a variety of social backgrounds, and the current young generation
underwent distinctly different educational, cultural, and social experiences growing up after the
collapse of the Soviet Union. While being valuable, the research that involved Russian Jews does not
present a comprehensive portrait of Russian immigrants and indeed may be less informative in the
current sociohistorical context.
This research aims at uncovering Russian-speaking young immigrants academic and social
identity negotiation strategies during the transitional period in this country and attempts making these
youth more visible to the world around them. The emphasis in this study is made on the identity that
Russian adolescents themselves build and project. The investigation of the expression of identity
among immigrants is essential not only in combating upending stereotypical images about them, but
also in better understanding their insertion in the host society (DeFina, 2000). The intention to focus
on adolescents understandings of the world is based on researchers (McLaren, 1994; Cummins, 2000;
Pennycook, 2001) call to seek a pedagogy which accounts for students expertise and identities and
addresses the question of how the world is experienced, mediated, and produced by students. Kanno
(2003) who examined bicultural identities of Japanese adolescents argues that student voice is not an
2


omnipresent element of education discourse. In order to bring student perspectives into awareness and
claim their legitimacy, the researcher should draw on students stories. She suggests, Their ability to
report and interpret their experiences .. .should attest to the contributions that students could make in
enriching educational discourse (p.142). Paying attention to student voice permits one to construct a
fuller portrait of immigrant youth and allows educators to question their own roles and activities in
shaping the social world shared with their students (Rampton, 1995).
Conceptual Framework
People tell others who they are, but even more important, they tell themselves, and then try to act as
though they are who they say they are (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998).
Theorizing Identity
The construction of new identities or displaying the perceived existing identities is a vital
process for immigrants given that establishing themselves in a new country always implies a
redefinition of their place in the host society and of their position with respect to other social groups. A
consequence of these changes is that the immigrants identities may take new directions in relation to
the circumstances in which they find themselves and the new roles that they need to adopt. Therefore,
the conceptual framework adopted for this study views identity as a dynamic phenomenon that exhibits
multiplicity of its positions in an individual. This stance is grounded in discussions devoted to identity
in many disciplines striving to highlight its social origin according to which identity processes are
situated within social interactions and institutions in which and with which individuals are engaged .
Reflecting on identity issues, the psychologist Lima (1981) suggests, In order to explain the highly
complex forms of human consciousness, one must go beyond the human organism.. .one must seek
these origins .. .in the social and historical forms of human existence (p.25). Accentuating the
multiplicity of identity in their analytical framework, anthropologists Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, and
Cain (1998) argue that persons should be conceived of as composites of many, often contradictory,
self-understandings (p.8). The critical theorist West (1992), alluding to peoples need to build
3


relationships, links identity to desire the desire for recognition and the desire for affiliation. The link
between peoples desire and identity is an important one because it reveals peoples individual
sometimes hidden from others -- plans, dreams, and understandings of their life trajectories. Norton
(1997), a researcher in second language acquisition, sums up her elaborations on identity as she
incorporates broader issues in her efforts to define identity, Identity is how people understand their
relationship to the world, how that relationship is constructed across time and space, and how people
understand their possibilities for the future (p. 5). Holland (2004, personal communication) suggests
treating these understandings, especially those with a strong emotional power and enduring
characteristics, as building blocks of identities. Norton (1995) also explains the notion of negotiation
of identity. She argues that people are constantly organizing and reorganizing a sense of who they are
and how they relate to the social world. They are, in other words, involved in identity construction
and negotiation (Norton, 1997, p. 410). This thesis echoes the psychologist Veresovs (2005)
approach to defining identity development, Development is a process of restructuring of an
individuals self and consciousness in general; it is not just about the appearance and manifestations of
new facets and qualities... (p. 84). In this study, identity development and negotiations of identities
are treated as interchangeable notions.
The definitions of identity provided above have important implications for this study. First,
they reject the essentialist notion of identity according to which identities reside in individuals and
comprise given for example, particular ethnicity, language, or race cohesive qualities. In contrast,
the definitions of identity applicable to this study point to its situatedness and to multiple sites where
identity can be performed and observed. Second, although it may be impossible to trace all aspects of
individuals identities, following Holland, one can focus on the most salient features charged with
emotional power in a particular sociohistorical context. Third, contradictory identity discourses do not
obfuscate interpretations of the results; rather, they indicate a process of constant restructuring of self
that people are engaged in as they enter different sociocultural contexts.
4


For the purposes of this study, I also clarify academic and social identities. I view categories
such as academic trajectory and academic engagement (Johnson, Crosnoe, & Elder, 2001), as
constituents of academic identity. Academic trajectory comprises current academic achievement and
further educational plans whereas academic engagement focuses on behaviors that represent students
commitment to and participation in learning. Examples of such efforts include trying hard, attending
classes, completing homework, and taking pride in academic accomplishment. In other words,
academic trajectory points to results or concrete academic plans; academic engagement emphasizes the
processes one is involved in to achieve those results. To articulate the notion of social identity, I follow
Norton (1997,2000) and propose treating this dimension of identity broadly in the sense that it should
refer to the relationship between the individual and the larger social world which encompasses
socioeconomic status, gender, and ethnicity. Hence, social identity manifests in the breadth of relations
among people and attitudes to the world and its structures.
In order to trace identity manifestations and analyze how identities are negotiated and what
identity options are offered in particular contexts, and where, when, and how certain identities become
contested, it is important to draw on sociocultural theory of human development and its potential in
elaboration on identity.
Context for Identity Development
Immigrants have been traditionally described from the perspective of degrees of assimilation
(Gordon, 1964; Berry, 1980; Mendoza, 1984; Rogler, Cortes, & Malgady, 1991; Birman, 1994).
Assimilation is typically understood as the process whereby people of a particular subgroup are
absorbed culturally into another (Gibson, 1988). Within this framework, identity becomes fixed or
stable once someone is recognized to have assimilated to the host country. In addition, this approach
seems to focus on the idealized image of American or any other culture. Therefore, positive identity
manifestations are often associated with becoming a true American which is indeed a simplified
understanding of immigrants lives. It is worth moving beyond measuring how Americanized a person
5


becomes or does not become having resettled in this country. Besides, when globalization or
deterritorialization of basic economic, social, and cultural practices from their traditional moorings in
the nation-state (Suarez-Orozco, 2003, p. 50) spreads around the world so rapidly, it appears to be a
formidable task to pinpoint elements that make up exclusively American culture. To mitigate this
tension, Gibson (1988), for example, proposed using the notion of accommodation without
assimilation as an analytical framework for explaining immigrants development that effectively
avoids the notion of assimilation to the host country. Yet, it appears to draw a clear distinction
between what is definitely American and not American from the researchers perspective although this
perspective calls for equal treatment of cultural differences. However, I believe that utilizing
sociocultural theory of human development is more favorable for providing a comprehensive approach
to explaining identity among immigrant populations because it has generated a host of important
analytical tools. In addition, sociocultural theory of human development allows for a much more
nuanced, complex, and rich understanding of identity development because, by its own nature, it
accounts for cultural, institutional, and historical contexts (Wertsch, 1998). Clearly, immigration is the
embodiment of interplay of such contexts.
As the discussion of identity definitions above suggests, the creation and development of
identity depends on the environment, the source of human development (Vygotsky, 1978), where
particular people are present and where particular ways of being are maintained. Conceptualizing such
environments and drawing on sociocultural theory of human development, Holland, Lachicotte,
Skinner, and Cain (1998), propose the concept of the figured world. Explaining it, the authors state,
By figured world then, we mean a socially and culturally constructed realm of interpretation in
which particular characters and actors are recognized, significance is assigned to certain acts and
particular outcomes are valued over others (p.52). The authors argue that the figured world is a
simplified world populated by people engaged in actions and driven by specific motivations. With the
help of the figured world, one can decode the meanings of actions, cultural events, and actors
6


involvement in these events. This becomes possible because the figured world contains a landscape of
objectified (materially and perceptually expressed) meanings (p. 60), according to which individuals
develop and negotiate self-understandings and direct their own behavior.
The authors of the figured world pose that their concept draws upon the notion of activity as
articulated by Leontev and his followers. Thus, Leontiev (1978) and Engestrom (1990) explain the role
of activities in peoples learning processes and claim that activities embrace purposeful actions that
make up individuals daily lives such as teaching, going to school, and playing sports or music.
Activities are socially and culturally organized in the sense that they are filled with values, norms, and
expectations about what is natural, mature, and morally right or wrong (Miller & Goodnow, 1995).
Activities, similarly to the figured world, do not overlook peoples positionings for they are deemed to
be able to establish goals, roles, actors, durations, and organizational requirements. As a result, they
may divide or relate participants; they may assign them different positions according to a rank or
power status. This development is unavoidable because lived worlds the worlds populated by people
-- are organized around positions of status and influence (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998).
Thus, taking part in educational activities, immigrant individuals receive specific status in encounters
they have with more powerful others such as teachers and mainstream students. In schools, these
individuals, for example, become students of English as a second language (ESL) courses deemed to
be remedial or dummy by many immigrant and mainstream students (Kanno, 2003). Moreover, the
status of ESL learners often invoke terms such as language deficient and culturally disadvantaged
(Calderon, 1998).
At school sites, adolescents may be involved in extracurricular activities which, according to
Csikzentmihalyi and Schmidt (1998), are a big part of American public school culture. Engagement in
sports, music, and other socially oriented events serves adolescents two important purposes. First,
these activities establish connections with mainstream students. Second, they allow teenagers to
expand their skills, grow in competence, and consequently feel good about themselves and be more
7


attached to schools in general which may prevent negative developments such as low academic
engagement and drop out cases (Johnson, Crosnoe, & Elder, 2001). Similarly, taking part in activities
offered in immigrant communities, the newcomers learn the expectations, organizational structures,
and the roles of the participants. It is important to underscore that, even though immigrant individuals
may be associated with a particular community where members share a language or common history,
the newcomers, nevertheless, need to learn the rules intrinsic to the activities organized in the
immigrant context. By taking part in the community activities, adolescents have another arena where
they have opportunities to perform their social identities.
The figured world, presented by Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, and Cain (1998), has some
other important characteristics relevant to this study. For example, figured worlds can be multiple, and
therefore, people may become participants of several worlds simultaneously. In some of them,
individuals are active while in others their participation is limited. Another feature of figured worlds is
that they do not have to be directly associated with physical spaces containing tangible objects; they
can be indeed imagined or become imagined worlds. The authors of the notion of the figured world
used Andersons explanation of the imagined world:
.. .a potent and effective sense of commonality, of membership in a categorical social body -
a social body that exists despite the absence of direct or indirect social intercourse among its
members. Such an imagined community is developed and continued through common
participation in activities that figure for people their identification with others who also,
elsewhere or nearby, perform similar acts. The sense of abstract community is acquired and
maintained through the use of common cultural artifacts... (as cited in Holland, Lachicotte,
and Skinner, and Cain, 1998, p. 247).
Thus, Anderson points to the possibility for individuals to perform actions separately. Moreover, they
may be in different physical entities or even countries. At the same time people have a shared
understanding of how these actions should unfold and how their participation should be organized.
8


People in essence perform their identities according to the imagined world whose directions and frame
of reference they follow.
The dialogical nature of the figured world is the characteristic that permits one to understand
the dynamics and intensity of actions and interactions framed by the cultural world. When individuals
are engaged in culturally organized routines, they may encounter the unknown. Bakhtin argues that, if
there is a difference between what is known and what is offered, then there is a ground for dialogue,
the principle of all existence representing a constant exchange between what is already and what is
not yet (as cited in Wertsch, 1998, p. 117). Invoking the notion of dialogue, Holland, Lachicotte,
Skinner, and Cain (1998) suggest that peoples identities are formed dialogically in the figured world.
According to Bakhtin (1981), participating in dialogue is about how people generally function in life.
A person takes part in dialogue wholly and throughout his whole life: with his eyes, lips, hands, soul,
spirit, with his whole body and deeds (p. 293). Dialogue should be treated as a field across which
multiple voices and multiple cultural logics contend with each other. The valuable contribution of
dialogue then is that it points to a web of interwoven voices stemming from a number of sources and
cultural logics and creating a discord of positions in one individual which explains the contradictory
nature of identity discussed earlier in this chapter. Thus, it should be stressed for analytical purposes
that people may routinely display a variety of positions, which should be viewed as a standard event.
Furthermore, the type of audience that an individual addresses contributes to the mismatch of positions
within one individual. The immigrant identity is one of the most vivid examples of where competing
voices and ideologies meet as a result of omnipresent dialogue. For example, at the intrapersonal
level, there may be a dialogue between peoples old and new ways of being. At the interpersonal level,
dialogue is capable of exposing tensions between the self-perception and the perception imposed by
others (Pavlenko, 2004). Therefore, individuals may feel compelled to address the perceptions they
formed about perceptions of others.
9


In sum, the figured world is a notion that captures peoples interpretations and understandings
about how the routines in a particular context with its traditions, power relations, and history are
organized. The figured world is dialogic in nature and provides context where identities emerge as
individuals partake in its culturally organized activities. The most important asset of the figured world
is that utilizing this notion in building an understanding of how immigrant identities develop permits
one to recognize individuals merits and supplies opportunities for constructing self-identifications no
matter how objective from somebody elses perspective they might appear to be. The figured world is
capable, of illustrating how and why people rely on certain objectified meanings in their pursuit of
demonstrating self-identifications.
Performing Identities
Agency.
As the discussion above suggests, the figured world is the context where identities are
performed. For identity to be observable, it should be acted out through interactions with and reactions
to the surroundings. In congruence with this thesis, Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, and Cain (1998)
pose, The identities that concern us are the ones that trace our participation, especially our agency, in
socially produced culturally constructed activities (p.41). The notion of agency then occupies the
center stage in the figured world because it makes identity visible, accessible, and interpretable.
Wertschs (1998) theoretical position on agency sheds light on dynamics of identity
negotiations that transpire in the figured world. According to Wertsch, agency is the interaction
between mediational means (tools that allow one to perform an action) and the agent (a person who
performs an action). He also refers to agency as mediated action and insists that it should be the unit
of analysis in sociocultural research. Several scholars allude to the significance of becoming an agent.
For example, Giroux (1992) ascertains that by becoming an agent, a person is capable of assuming
particular standpoints. Similarly, Bakhtin (1981) believes that persons, being exposed to various
events and influences, should be able to craft their own voices and find a space where these voices
10


can be acknowledged. Moreover, despite the myriad constraints and power relations in which
individuals may be placed, they do not always accept imposed identities, but rather behave as agents
who resist, negotiate, change, and transform themselves and others (Pavlenko & Blackledge, 2004, p.
20).
Wertsch (1998) also draws attention to the relationship between the agent to mediational
means claiming that a dialogue between agents and mediational means take on a variety of forms.
Sometimes such a dialogue is pleasant and easy whereas in some other cases it may lead to a conflict.
The former becomes evident when mediational means facilitate peoples actions. In Vygotskys terms
(as cited in Wertsch, 1998), such means have an enabling and empowering potential. For example,
learning English as a mediational means for adequate communication accelerates the pace of
expanding peer networks and improving educational opportunities among immigrant youth in this
country. Therefore, following Wertsch, one can claim that improving English brings affordances to
young immigrants.
However, in some other instances, the outcomes of agents dialogic interactions with
mediational means are not benign. Particular forms of mediational means may be less acceptable and,
consequently, irreducible tension (Wertsch, 1998) between the agent and the mediational means may
ensue. As a result of irreducible tension, such mediational means can be altered or rejected. In their
place, new or modified ones may be produced. Using the autobiography of Malcolm X as an example,
Tappan (2005) argues that the development of Malcolms identity in school was accompanied by
irreducible tensions. In one of such instances, Malcolms well-meaning English teacher recommended
that he be realistic about his chances of becoming a lawyer. The teacher offered Malcolm to
appropriate a set of tools to mediate his identity which embraced carpentry shop work, but excluded
the study of law. Malcolm resisted such a proposition because it was constraining for his own dreams.
Following Wertsch, one can argue that the tension between Malcolm and the set of tools proposed by
the teacher emerged. Malcolm set his mind on developing and producing mediational means that
11


would satisfy his own vision of mediating his identity in American society. Malcolms life story
illuminated the constraining nature of the mediational means he was expected to appropriate.
The foregoing discussion illustrates the centrality of agency in the analysis of identity.
Agency allows one to identify outcomes of the most salient interactions between persons and their
surroundings and to capture the trajectory of negotiation processes between persons and surroundings.
Typical Mediational Means in the Immigrant Context.
Elaborating on the relationship between the agent and mediational means, Penuel and Wertsch
(1995) assert, When identity is seen in this framework as shaped by mediational means or cultural
tools, questions arise as to the nature of cultural tools (p. 91). Inspired by Vygotsky, Tappan (2005)
suggests, Humans, in essence, are tool-using animals and the concept of mediated action extends this
insight from the physical realm, where technical tools like knives, shovels, machinery and computers
are used, to the psychological, semiotic and symbolic realm, where the tools employed are most
typically words, language and forms of discourse (p. 50). Expanding this thesis even further, Cole
(1998) proposes that mediational means may have real physical presence such as works of art,
literature, or clothing. This is evident, for instance, when peoples clothes reflect their ethnic or
religious affiliations, or when displays of national symbols, such as flags, demonstrate national
allegiance in multicultural contexts. These are examples of more visible artifacts. However, other
mediational means, such as life stories, norms, expectations, attitudes, and traditional beliefs are
invisible. Referring to these also as artifacts, Cole insists that all mediational means are material
because their material form has been shaped by their participation in the interactions of which they
were previously a part and which they mediate in the present (p. 117).
The significance of mediational tools for immigrants is crucial considering that the familiar
means of interaction with the environment based on their prior life experiences can be challenged by
new social situations. As a result, immigrants find themselves searching for additional social and
linguistic resources that allow them to position themselves in the new environment and be audible and
12


visible (Miller, 2003). At school and community sites, immigrant adolescents are likely to use and be
impacted by various means to mediate their interaction with the environment. For example, adopting
higher academic standards and educational aspirations as well as the model-minority discourse
facilitates immigrants participation in the ultimate goal of the mainstream educational institutions, and
simultaneously adhering to the religious community traditions and implementing them promote the
integration process between the old-timers and newly arrived immigrants within that community.
Furthermore, in multilingual and multicultural societies, immigrant status makes people
vulnerable to dealing with stereotypes, a mediational means offered by others. Stereotypes are
preconceived generalizations about the attributes or traits of people in different social groups (Laird
& Thompson, 1992, p. 499). Most stereotypes are negative, and they are recognized to be
oversimplifications. But they are wide spread in daily life. Hence, many immigrant students find
themselves categorized and treated differently from other students. Calderon (1998) asserts that such
treatment frequently involves prejudice, racism, and violence, at worst, and patronizing paternalism, at
best (p. 70).
Immigrant stories or narratives portraying the culture and history of the countries these
individuals arrived from are another natural link that immigrants use to mediate their entrance into a
new society. Wertsch (1998) refers to these as the narratives of the past. Such narratives establish ties
not only to the contexts of interaction in which they are told, but also to the wider social reality in
which speakers exist (DeFina, 2000). Researchers (for example, Mischler, 1986; Bruner, 1987)
underscore that the telling of narratives provides people with an opportunity to present themselves and
others in certain roles by placing themselves and others as characters in storied worlds. Thus, when
studying the adaptation of Vietnamese immigrants to American schools, Zhou (2001) pointed out that
the war and refugee camps interrupted these young peoples education. Their narratives about the past
were frequently associated with immense hardships and deprivations they had to endure in their native
country. The adverse circumstances forced the Vietnamese to seek refuge in the United States. Their
13


narratives of the past often elicited sympathy and compassion among people in the host country. The
Vietnamese refugees mediated their entrance into the American social fabric with the help of the
narratives of the past which, in turn, served as a strong motivation for high academic achievements.
All kinds of means that allow young immigrants to experience the new context are important,
language, however, is a central psychological tool (Vygotsky, 1978). In this study, language issues are
noteworthy in terms of attitudes toward and efforts exerted in language learning and the role of the
native language in the new context. For speakers of English as a second language, schools provide
critical contexts where language issues are dealt with. Because learning the language of the
mainstream society is one of the main preoccupations in young immigrants lives, it may enormously
influence identity formation and transform into another arena in which academic and social identities
are sought out and constructed (Miller, 2003). For high school students, in addition to using English in
functional and social situations, acquiring the discourses of academic English is a matter of priority to
succeed in the mainstream classes and achieve long-term goals. But Norton (1995) argues that learning
a language consists not just of acquiring grammatical systems. The person who speaks cannot be
understood apart from larger networks of social relationships. She suggests the term investment for
signaling the socially and historically constructed relationship of learners to the target language.
Alluding to language learners agency, Norton asks the question What is the learners investment in
the target language? (p. 411). She proposes using the term investment in place of traditional
motivation in order to better capture the complex negotiation between the language learner and the
learning context. Norton reasons that rather than having a fixed amount of motivation to leam a second
language, the learner assesses both the opportunities to practice the language in.a given context and the
symbolic (for example, recognition, friendship, voice) and material (for example, jobs, money) returns
for his or her investment of time and effort.
One of the participants of Nortons (1995) study Martina, an immigrant in Canada, developed
investment in English due to her role as a primary caregiver in her family. Over time this woman
14


invoked her identity as mother and wife to resist being marginalized by native speakers. This was
manifested in her determination to negotiate rent with the landlord. As Martina explained, at that point,
she did not care about English tenses. She simply could not give up and ultimately claimed ownership
of English in those circumstances. She spoke confidently and with a great deal of passion which
surprised even her children. From the perspective of investment, the learners progress in English
requires developing a relationship with the social world around him or her. And this is exactly what
Martina accomplished.
Drawing on the notion of investment in learning English, McKay and Wong (1996), analyzed
Chinese immigrant students progress with learning English. They found that, for these students,
maximizing returns on their investment was not always their sole focus. In order to preserve their self-
images, the students sometimes stopped their investment in English. The authors suggest that since
the identity made possible by proficiency in their target language is not the only available tool, other
identities may already provide sufficient satisfaction to the leaner at a given stage (p. 604). Kanno
(2003), describing Japanese students progress in learning English in a Canadian school, furnishes an
example when one young mans English seemed to have stagnated. This phenomenon occurred, as
Kanno insists, because the student was content when he reached the level of English he needed to
fulfill his ambitions in extracurricular activities. These activities in effect served as a terrain where his
identity could be performed and his efforts for doing so could be rewarded immediately. Therefore, his
investment in learning the English necessary for other objectives showed signs of slowing.
Furthermore, in the immigrant context, youth face a formidable task of balancing their dual
language use: There are sites for the first language use, sites for the second language use, and sites
where these intersect. For immigrant youth, recourse to the native language can bring psychological
comfort. But, in many schools, ESL learners rarely have a chance to present their voices in the native
language (Miller, 2003). Students learn that societies grant different power and values to various
languages. As a result of this perceived hierarchy, more powerful individuals such as teachers often
15


contest the immigrant students use of their native language because there is an urgency to master
English. In the end, many young immigrants arrive at the conclusion that their language and their
culture are not respected. They interpret such circumstances as a hostile environment where, as
Shannon (1999) -- who wrote extensively on the status of Spanish in American schools notes that
students learn that English is valued whereas any other language is barely tolerated. Minority
individuals, even if they want to develop and maintain their ethnic language, may not receive material
or any other symbolic reward for the use of their native languages. Worse, their efforts may be
circumscribed by negative images abundantly projected by the host culture toward immigrants or
minorities (Kanno, 2003).
In the immigrant context, individuals may encounter various means that will allow them to
demonstrate his or her own identifications. These means or tools may be tangible and intangible. The
roles of the native language and learning a second language are unique in such circumstances and are
predicated on the social relationships with the world.
Strategies of Building Relationships.
One of the most complicated mediated actions young people perform in the figured worlds is .
figuring in relationships with others. Kilmey and Rudolph (1998) remind us that as children mature
into adolescents the role of social networks in their lives increases. Similar to this thesis, Brown and
Theobald (1998) claim that the peer social system responds by creating a set of provisional identities
in the form of peer crowds (p. 127). Regulations intrinsic to such crowds permit one to understand
interpersonal interactions in the larger and more complex peer environment in schools and elsewhere.
In other words, when young people do things or say things, they not only send messages, but also
place themselves in degrees of relation toaffiliation with, opposition to, and distance from
identifiable others (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998).
The psychologist Leontiev (1978) allocates a special role to relationships people form in the
world and their influence on identity. Identity formation, according to Leontiev, depends on breadth,
16


diversity, and hierarchical structures of connections to others in the world. In this study, the
connections that the immigrant adolescents construct with others are interpreted in terms of tactics of
intersubjectivity, mediational means in building relationships.
Linguistic anthropologists Bucholtz and Hall (2003) pose that tactics of intersubjectivity are
the relations that are created through identity work (p.10). The relevance of this concept within the
framework of sociocultural theory is embedded in its ability to highlight the place of agency and
interactional negotiation in the formation of identity (p. 10). They propose several tactics of
inter subjectivity, three of them, pertinent to this study, are discussed: adequation, distinction, and
authentication.
The first of these, adequation, denotes both equation and adequacy and establishes sufficient
sameness between individuals or groups. The most prominent characteristic feature of this tactic is that
potentially salient differences are set aside in favor of perceived or asserted similarities that are taken
to be more situationally relevant (p. 11). This sameness may be temporary or long-term. Because
some unexpected relations become plausible, adequation may involve building alliances according to
politically motivated strategies. Bucholtz and Hall provide an example illustrating the most salient
meaning of adequation. They cite how the radio panelists responded to the situation that evolved
around the uprisings in Los Angeles following the trial of the police officers accused of beating
Rodney King. During the discussion, the panel participants of various professional backgrounds,
education, and life experiences united around the African American identity, the most salient feature
under those sociohistorical conditions. The panelists created the alliance which might not be formed
under other circumstances. By this example, Bucholtz and Hall illustrate that ultimately a common
identity is a social achievement (p. 120). When applied to immigration circumstances, immigrants in
a new society bond according to some kind of sameness. Among motivations for such bonding might
be their common native language or ethnicity. Other experiences may play a role such as a level of
education, a social class, or a religious affiliation. Yet, one of these elements under particular
17


circumstances may come to the forefront while others may be ignored because they do not meet
immediate objectives.
The second tactic, distinction, appears to be simple and trivial. However, the appropriateness
of including it in this discussion is explicable in terms of the deliberate efforts that people undertake to
accentuate their differences. People may strive to stress salient differences where similarities, when
discovered, are downplayed or even erased. In any immigrant community, differences between the old
and new cultures abound. Some individuals attempt to reconcile them searching for similarities; others
view these perceived differences as insurmountable and may choose to maintain a noticeable distance
from the differing group. Sometimes people are prompted to produce distinctions if those are not found
immediately. The distance may be manifested not only in a physical sense, but it could be exhibited in
their discursive practices. Bucholtz and Hall point to pervasively intentional and elaborate efforts of
reducing complex social phenomena to a single dimension: us versus them. The tactic of distinction
used in immigrant communities can reveal controversial dynamics within the community itself that
seems to be a cohesive and monocultural group to the outsiders. For example, Hispanic immigrant
communities are frequently seen as identical because people often do not distinguish among the many
ethnicities such as Nicaraguans or Columbians. For outsiders, these are Mexicans because they speak
Spanish. However, Hispanic immigrants themselves seek opportunities to illustrate their distinct and
discemable differences. Therefore, immigrants accentuate nuances within their separate ethnic cultures
(DeFinno, 2000). brother words, they use the tactic of distinction to respond to the demands of the
immediate environment. For example, some Hispanic non-Mexican immigrants strive to dissociate
themselves from the Mexicans if the former discover discrimination or stereotypical commentaries
directed at them because they are perceived to be just like Mexicans (Femandez-Kelly & Curran,
2001).
The third tactic, authentication, should not be confused with authenticity, and for the purposes
of this study, it is imperative to underscore the subtle difference between the two notions. Authenticity
18


is linked to the essentialist discussion devoted to whose identity is real. Authentication, on the other
hand, tends to highlight a claim to realness or, considering the importance of agency, it refers to how
individuals act asserting their realness and what they undertake or say in such pursuits. Authentication
is also pertinent in analyzing how Russian immigrants position themselves among other ethnic
immigrant groups. Authentication elucidates how some immigrants feel more entitled to the American
dream than others because they view themselves as more educated or equipped with more abilities to
contribute to American society. In other words, such individuals use the tactic of authentication in
claiming that they are more valuable immigrants and more real immigrants for the U.S.
In sum, tactics of intersubjectivity permit one to understand how social dimensions of
identities recombine and shift to meet new challenges as they emerge. Within the framework of tactics
of intersubjectivity, discussions of ethnic and religious identities become embedded in a particular
context. Furthermore, these dimensions of social identity vary as individuals define and redefine the
boundaries between self and others in response both to changes in their lives, such as displacement in
time or space, or participation in social action. Tactics of intersubjectivity invoke temporary alliances
and allow individuals to locate legitimacy for the criteria they rely on in the process of building
relationships. They are also capable of showing breadth, diversity, and hierarchy of connections to
others around them.
Conclusion
As the discussion above illustrates, identity is embedded in and emerges in actions and
interactions between persons and the environment, which is not neutral but populated by specific
norms and beliefs that are supported by people. The notion of figured worlds supplies the realm of
interpretation or the context of meanings for actions, cultural productions, performances, and disputes;
individuals construct understandings of themselves within the figured world and direct their own
behavior accordingly. When an individual enters a figured world, he or she through a dialogical
process interacts with available resources mediational means or produces other ones borrowed
19


from another figured world, a more familiar one. Mediational means can comprise a host of tools, both
tangible, such as technical tools, and intangible, such as language, forms of discourses, beliefs, and
behavior patterns. In addition, individuals search for ways to mediate new relationships they form in
the immigrant context. In order to interpret alliances they create, they employ tactics of
intersubjectivity such as adequation, distinction, and authentication. These tactics capture a sense of
deliberateness in accentuating or downplaying certain qualities that agents utilize in mediating their
relations.
The notion of the figured world is well suited for a deeper examination of immigrant identities
from their own perspectives. It provides immigrants with opportunities to construct self-understandings
and assess their qualities in relation to the happenings in the worlds that they attempt to culturally
figure. Immigrant individuals are subject to participation in multiple figured worlds and influenced by
multiple figured worlds; the task then is to trace the outcomes of the dialogical interactions among
competing ideologies that reside in different figured worlds. The notion of the figured world gives a
better chance to immigrant youths voices to be heard and actions to be seen because it underscores
immigrants agency. In this study, it is important to explore how Russian young immigrants envision
their engagement and the outcomes of this engagement in the figured worlds that they enter voluntarily
or involuntarily. Hence, the goal is to identify accounts of agency among Russian immigrant
adolescents framed by various figured worlds and discuss their nature, origin, and outcomes, both
positive and negative.
Research Question
The broad research issue under investigation in this study reflects negotiation processes as young
immigrants from the former Soviet Union enter the new sociocultural and linguistic environments in
schools and at cultural sites. The fundamental understanding of identity in this work has to do with
ongoing negotiations that individuals lead as they experience life around them. Overall, my hope is to
piece together the Russian youths story about who they are and how they mediate their social and
20


academic identities and what frames of reference and realm of interpretation, or figured worlds,
governed their understandings of the experiences in the world. The ethnographic inquiry helped to
reveal the complexities, richness, tensions, contradictions, and transformations involved in increasingly
multicultural and multilingual social and academic practices in American public schools and cultural
sites.
The central objective was to understand how Russian adolescent immigrants navigate and
negotiate, or organize and reorganize, their participation in the new society in general and in schools in
particular during the transitional period. In this research, negotiation is theorized as agency that
becomes meaningful in a particular figured world. Thus, the large research question is: How do
Russian immigrant youth negotiate their identities and resolve tensions at multicultural sites as they
attempt to accommodate to the new sociocultural environment? More detailed questions allowed me
to address the main research agenda:
1. How do Russian students mediate their academic identities?
2. How do Russian students mediate their social identities?
3. What is the role of schools and communities in identity negotiation processes of Russian youth
in the host country?
21


CHAPTER 2
LITERATURE REVIEW
Introduction
Migration and immigration are worldwide phenomena of huge proportions. Immigrant youth
in the U.S. are very diverse, with approximate 80 percent coming from Latin America, Asia, and the
Caribbean countries (Rumbaut & Portes, 2001). They bring with them an astonishing array of
linguistic, religious, and cultural beliefs and practices that defy generalizations (Calderon, 1998). Even
Latino immigrant students, the largest minority in this country, come from extremely diverse
backgrounds that vary along several dimensions: a country of origin, family history, parents
education, as well as socioeconomic levels.
The last fifteen years have witnessed growing scholarly attention to immigrant childrens
adaptation in the U.S. and systematic comparative research began to focus on their experiences in more
detail. There is increasing evidence showing that some youth thrive in immigration while other cannot
cope with it adequately. Suarez-Orozco and Todorova (2003) argue that some immigrant young
people in some ways are like all other children immigrant or nonimmigrant. Other youth share
particular traits and experiences that are unique to immigrants. Yet by any measure, for many
immigrants, immigration is one of the most stressful events a family can undergo. There is extensive
literature documenting successes and failures of foreign-bom children and trajectories of their identity
development. This literature review presents current trends in immigrant youths identity development
across various ethnic groups in terms of academic achievements, academic engagement, and social
dimensions of identity. It also points to differences and similarities existing among youths of various
ethnic backgrounds.
22


Scholars provide extensive evidence regarding academic successes of Asian students, the
model minority, and lower academic accomplishments of Hispanic students. At the same time, among
almost all immigrant adolescents, girls are viewed to be better students and indeed academically-
oriented. The last section discusses research that explored adjustment patterns among Russian-
speaking immigrants. Although there is a paucity of in-depth analyses on identity development among
Russian-speaking youth in the literature, several useful and relevant research endeavors devoted to
Russian adolescents are discussed in this section.
Trends in Academic Trajectory of Immigrant Youth
Educational results and aspirations are understood as a principal link to socioeconomic
background and eventual attainment in adulthood (Wilson & Portes, 1975). The issues of academic
accomplishment and academic engagement along with a number of social aspects became the subject
of research in the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (OILS) through the 1990-s and are
worthy of special consideration. The CILS was a joint effort by a group of various scholars who
carried out their research on both coasts of the United States and involved over 5,200 youths from
several dozens nationalities, mostly from Latin America and Asia. The main asset of the project is the
systematic examination of the adaptation patterns and life trajectories of children of immigrants. This
research produced striking results examining immigrants and their children and how they were being
transformed into the newest Americans. Thus, Lopez & Stanton-Salazar (2001) collected a large
corpus of data examining academic achievements of Hispanic immigrant groups and Asian youth in
San Diego. Their findings in terms of grade point average (GPA) and test scores among second
generation immigrants confirmed general trends that existed in the U.S. for decades (Gordon, 1964;
Grebler, Moore, & Guzman, 1970; Ramos & Sanchez, 1995). The Asian subgroups scored almost a
full grade above Mexican students whose GPA was 2.25. Of the Asian subgroups, only the Hmong had
scores comparable to those of Mexican Americans and yet their GPAs were higher too. The same
results held true in terms of reading and math scores. Mexican students achieved 26 and 31 points in
23


reading and math respectively while Chinese, for example, reached 68 and 63 points, the highest
among all immigrant students. Moreover, Asian students math scores in general exceeded those of
white students. There were also differences in SAT scores. Latino students lagged behind both whites
and Asians by 144 to 211 points. The drop-out rate for Mexican students was somewhat higher,
although not significantly, than for other groups. The authors lamented that the most distressing piece
of evidence stemmed from the fact that Mexican students participation in gifted children programs
was disproportionately low. It made up only six percent form the whole student population in these
programs. The highest percentage, thirty five, was among Chinese Americans. In addition, the scholars
noted on the immigrant students potential to enter the states future elite measuring their eligibility
and real enrollment into the University of California. By that measure, over forty percent of Asian high
school graduates were headed for the states elite, compared with eight percent of Latino graduates.
Besides Mexican students, representatives of other Hispanic subgroups were involved in the
large-scale project. Thus, Frenandez-Kelly and Curran (2001) explored dynamics of academic
progress among Nicaraguan students and illustrated that they were more likely to report strong
bilingual abilities than their counterparts in other national groups of Spanish speakers. A deeper
analysis pointed out that their math abilities were no different from those of other Hispanic immigrant
students, but they performed significantly worse on standardized reading tests. The Nicaraguan
students confided that it was very challenging for them to study in American schools. The authors
noted the increasing tension between Nicaraguan students and their parents; the latter articulated
mistrust for the elementary and secondary system of education in the U.S. It was not uncommon that
Nicaraguan students parents were well-educated and former professionals in their native country and
felt confident to express their insights on education in this country. Some of these opinions contained
critical comments of the U.S. system of education. For example, some of these adults viewed the U.S.
school curriculum les rigorous and U.S. teachers less demanding. In many cases, they claimed that
such trends in the American system of education caused their children to be less motivated in schools.
24


Even though they attempted to establish a strict control over their childrens school efforts, the parents
could not provide their children with effective assistance in their school preparation due to English
language limitations. In addition, the youths perceptions of their parents expectations to help them
with domestic chores and expenses contributed to Nicaraguan students high risk for dropping school.
This trend was growing even though many of these students were academically successful. Nicaraguan
youths parents had a firm belief in education. However, frequently immediate family needs or a
youths desire to be independent in many instances overrode educational aspirations. Femandez-Kelly
and Curran (2001) argue that. making a substantial contribution to the support of a family, whatever
means; having a child; and living independently are interpreted as proof of maturity. Most of the time,
those behaviors parallel the abandonment of educational aspirations (p. 147). Drawing on the factors
that predicated positive trends in the case of Nicaraguans, researchers underscored adolescents strong
bonds with their fathers and pointed to their crucial role in academic success, school retention, and
college plans.
Overall, the CILS project, whose evidence is described above, bore tremendous importance
for educators, but several ethnographic accounts complemented this large research as well because
they furnished evidence of nuances involved in the processes of building academic identities. For
example, Calderon (1998) discussed whether her four Hispanic study participants were sufficiently
exposed to the culture of opportunities in the new country and how they acted upon becoming involved
in it. Her ethnographic analysis revealed that all four students differed in how they mediated their
academic experiences. Thus, a seventeen-young-old Mexican boy was taking Honors and Advanced
Placement course and maintained a very high grade point average. The researcher noted that his
parents, especially his mother, were instrumental in such tremendous academic achievement. She
directed her sons mobility through his high school classes and was setting up the ground for his
attending Harvard University. Other three students in Calderons study, one of whom was Japanese-
Mexican, one was from Nicaragua, and the third one was from Salvador, showed different results. The
25


Japanese-Mexican young man demonstrated his capability to master the most demanding school
material, but he lacked resilience to pursue his objectives more vigorously. If his minor efforts did not
result in a high grade, he did not pursue improvement. The young man from Nicaragua kept failing
basic courses and became involved in gangs. The young woman from Salvador dreamed of becoming a
teacher, but was not sure of her capabilities to reach her goal.
An inquiry by Suarez-Orozco and Todorovas (2003) explored attributes of school
engagement that allowed immigrant Hispanic youth to overcome traumatic events in their lives and
stay in school. These scholars described academic accommodation of Dario, a young man who arrived
from Central America at the age of ten. He underwent enormous stress related to his family
circumstances when his mother was first to immigrate. The authors pointed to a striking disparity
between his psychological vulnerability, sadness, and extreme shyness in the school context and the
bravado he projected on the street. He spent two years in a bilingual program and then was
mainstreamed, upon which he became disoriented and anxious. Darios personal situation was coupled
with still-limited English skills. His grades and his academic engagement fell. He began linking
academic progress only with attendance and behavior, and both were very good. But the teachers
observed that he did not understand the class material and, according to their conclusions, that situation
led him to frustration. The authors argue that Darios downward spiral continued because the school
paid no notice to him and he had no genuine academic supporters. However, in high school, he was
able to create a strong connection with one counselor, a relationship that is probably critical in
keeping him in school (p. 17). Consequently, Dario did not reject academic goals. While he appeared
well-adjusted in many ways, the authors insist that this balance was fragile. They concluded that
establishing genuine relations with adults in schools may be decisive for such students as Dario who
found themselves in a precarious position.
The discussion above suggests that there is a substantial disparity between Hispanic and Asian
students in terms of general academic accomplishments. And yet, there is also an apparent similarity
26


among all immigrant groups when the gender factor is taken into consideration. The scholars of the
CILS project and researchers from a separate group, Longitudinal Immigrant Student Adaptation
directed by Carola Suarez-Orozco and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, demonstrated how academic
accomplishment is a highly gendered process of psychosocial adaptation. Thus, girls across most
ethnic groups tend to have higher educational aspirations than their male counterparts. Espiritu and
Wolf (2001) illustrated that Pilipino girls had higher academic results GPA amounted to 3.16 and
educational aspirations than boys GPA was 2.71. Many boys aspired to become engineers (25
percent) or medical professionals (18 percent). The girls expressed a desire to seek careers of doctors
(29 percent), nursing (15 percent), and teaching careers (9 percent).
In another study, not related to the large-scale projects, exploring academic identities of
Vietnamese high school boys and girls, Centrie (2000) drew attention to the future academic plans of
these youth. Surprisingly, the girls who were considered to be academically more successful were less
certain building their college plans and outlining professions whereas the boys showed more
confidence and were more self-assured. The data drawn from a five-year mixed-method study by Qin-
Hilliard (2003) have substantially advanced an understanding of how recently arrived immigrant girls
and boys from Central America, China, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico become adjusted to the
new realities. The study findings suggest that the immigrant girls managed to overcome risk factors in
their educational process better than the boys did. Girls across many ethnic groups, including Hispanic
and Asian, were more confident to finish school and continue their education at a college level. In
fact, in the fifth year of the study, the girls were more academically oriented across all ethnic groups
with the exception of Chinese students among whom both boys and girls exhibited high aspirations for
college. Boys in general were more likely than girls to be work-oriented and become less engaged in
schooling; in Qin-Hilliards (2003) study, this was particularly true for Dominican and Mexican
students. There was also a trend toward widening of the gap in grades between Mexican boys and girls
with female students average GPA of 3.15 while male students GPA reached only 2.63. Compared to
27


all ethnic groups, Dominican girls reported the most positive attitude toward school while Chinese
boys, surprisingly, indicated the least positive attitude to school. Thus, only 39 percent of Chinese boys
(compared to 62 percent of Chinese girls, 84 percent of Dominican girls) considered it very important
to get good grades in school. Time spent on homework was linked to better academic outcomes.
Among all ethnic groups involved in the study, Chinese girls dedicated the most time. More than 67
percent of them reported spending over two hours a day on homework compared to 16 percent of
Mexican boys and 0 percent of Dominican boys. In order to deepen an understanding of students
engagement in school, Qin-Hilliard (2003) interviewed teachers as well. Teachers perceptions of girls
were very positive while boys were frequently viewed as trouble-makers due to their behavior
problems.
Qin-Hilliard (2003) attempts to answer the question why the girls were doing better in schools
and why they were proving to be more academically-oriented over time. The explanation that lies at
the center of her study points out that the girls had minimal exposure to the negative influences such as
violence. Many of them believed that school was a liberating social space where they could be free
from their parents traditionally strict control. Girls had better relationships with their teachers and
other peers. In addition, their friends were more serious about schoolwork and more supportive of
academics, and their parents were demanding of their daughters as well. Qin-Hilliard (2003) also
utilizes the notion of social capital, a closed system of social networks that promotes its own values
and beliefs. She explained that social capital was more available and instrumental in girls
development. Parents were more restrictive toward their daughters. For the immigrant boys, on the
other hand, the system of social capital was weaker since they did not capitalize on its sources as well
as the girls did. There was less monitoring for the boys from the parents; they were given more
alternatives in addition to attending school. The scholar further elaborated that for immigrant minority
boys, their construction of a gender identity was closely linked to their racial and ethnic identity. To be
respected among peers, these boys often acted tough. Consequently, their teachers perceived
28


immigrant boys as having more behavioral problems than girls and viewed them as more threatening
which, as the author asserts, may have led them to punish boys more severely. In general, such a
situation had a potentially negative impact on their academic development.
As the discussion above illustrated, the general academic portrait of immigrant youth points to
disparity between Asian and Hispanic students in terms of academic achievement and academic
engagement. Many scholars offer a different approach at viewing foreign-bom students academic
trajectory claiming that effective family support or genuine school attachment keep students in school
no matter how challenging it might be. Despite outstanding differences among various ethnic groups,
there is also a similarity in that girls across all ethnic groups fair better in the academic environment
than boys.
Model Minority Discourse
In contemporary American society and culture, Asians are depicted as model minorities.
Scholars (Sung, 1987; Wong, 1992; Okihiro, 1994) have shown that Asians possess traits that are
highly regarded by the dominant group: hard work, motivation, respect, and the delay of gratification
for future success. However, as McKay and Wong (1996) note, Asians are associated with global
economic competition and may be treated by Americans with caution as well. Zhou and Li (2003) note
that the parents of all minorities support education and stress its value, and yet only Asian Americans
seem to have actualized their potential whereby they earned a reputation of model minority. In the
research literature, the model-minority thesis has been one of the most popular generalizations with
regard to educational successes. This thesis gained credibility in the 1960s largely because it appeared
to explain the relatively high academic achievements and enrollment of Asian American students at
elite universities and served as an effective means of discussing the lack of success among domestic
minorities, especially African Americans and many Latinos. The implication, overtly stated, was that
the trouble-making minorities should emulate the Asian Americans industry, self-help, and
uncomplaining behavior. In other words, Asian Americans have been characterized as hardworking,
29


disciplined, and academically inclined. The personal assessment reflected the model minority
characterizations espoused by the media, scholars, peers, and teachers. The flip side of model-minority
discourse is a stereotyping of Asians as over-conformist, lacking in individuality and initiative,
emotionally repressed and socially inept, and physically unattractive (Hu, 1989; Nash, 1991).
The model minority discourse appears to rest upon three main themes: teachers expectations
for Asian students, strong family support or community pressure, and the availability of supplementary
educational means to maintain the high standards. What follows further exemplifies how these threads
unravel among Chinese and Vietnamese immigrant youth.
McKay and Wong (1996), conducting their research in a high school in California with a
large Chinese student population, found model-minority discourse operating as a very powerful force
in the life of the focal immigrant students which was observed in the pronouncements and actions of
the teachers. One ESL teacher openly declared his fondness for Chinese students, allowing for
statements as this, I love the Chinese families here they are so supportive. According to the
researchers, some teachers rewarded Chinese-speaking students for quiet and compliant behavior. To
that end, they reduced the ESL hours to some students even though their work was mediocre in
comparison with other students. In other cases, the teachers were influenced by the popular model-
minority discourses and thought of their Asian students as high achievers in math and science classes,
and hence, facilitated their transfer to mainstream classes out of ESL.
McKay and Wong also alluded to the emerging tensions in the school where the study took
place. For example, a male student, one of the top ten students in his native Shanghai, began a school
year as an eager, lively and outgoing individual. But he experienced tremendous difficulties in
acquiring English, and, according to the researchers, showed a downward trajectory in his English
learning. His teachers did not have a favorable view of him calling him dishonest because if he did not
understand something, he always responded as if he did. His frustration was evident because he could
not exhibit the literacy level that he reached in a Chinese school. In fact, his new teachers regarded his
30


native-language accomplishments as irrelevant. Another student, one of the female study participants,
did not fit the image of the model minority; her grades fluctuated and she was not consistent with her
homework. Surprisingly, her parents did not push her as much as usually they did with their sons. This
young woman found her call in music which exempted her from much of the parental pressure exerted
by model-minority discourse. The authors claim that this phenomenon is in line with contemporary
Chinese culture where educational expectations are lower for girls than for boys. Besides, this girl
found gender-appropriate achievement to compensate for her mediocre school grades.
Tension was evident in the parents behavior patterns as well. The Chinese students,
encouraged by their parents, overtly despised their ESL status in schools and many undertook decisive
actions to finally free themselves from this image. The scholars remind us that, unlike previous
immigrants from China, the current individuals are more diverse whereby many appear very assertive
in their pursuit of success in the new country. McKay and Wong described one students mother as the
type of new model minority. She was savvy, businesslike, and aggressive when dealing with the U.S.
educational system. Despite poor pronunciation in English, she assumed a very forceful role in
shepherding her son through ESL. She even attempted to hire her sons ESL teacher to be a tutor for
her son to expedite his exit from ESL classes. The teacher rejected the proposal. Then this parent
became the teachers aid in the classroom to stay in the loop at the school. Her son responded to the
pressure from his mother by becoming a model student; he was always attentive and obedient in
class, worked hard, did everything he was asked, and gave to-the-point answers to the teachers
questions. Another student in the same school was also subject to the parental pressures to excel. He
was receiving As in all his classes with the exception of his ESL class. His mother exercised strict
supervision over his success as she intensely edited all his essays and persistently negotiated his
transfer to non-ESL courses. Because he remained in ESL, he displayed resistance to the status of an
ESL learner, perceived to be humiliating for Chinese adolescents: He did not do homework, frequently


misbehaved in class, and was consistently reprimanded for chatting. He reported being bored in ESL
classes.
While McKay and Wong (1996) demonstrated an account of diversity of academic aspirations
and engagement among their Chinese study participants, another scholar, Yen (2006), conducted her
ethnographic research in a large high school in New York that involved over four hundred Asian
students. Her findings demonstrated opposite trends from the model-minority discourse. She insisted
that there was a growing percentage of drop-out instances among these immigrants. Depression,
poverty, and truancy were becoming frequent. However, these students were attempting to mask their
failures because they feared that they did not fit the model-minority image. These Asian youth were
clearly alienated among their American school peers. They did not have definite college plans because,
as Yen suggested, they did not see value in the long-term educational goals. The issue of increasing
depression among Chinese students was also raised in Qin-Hilliards (2006) study.
Another aspect that mediates the academic identity development of many Chinese students is
Chinese language schools. Zhou and Li (2003) furnish historical background of such institutions in the
U.S. stating that in essence these are supplementary educational facilities set up by the Chinese
communities in this country. These schools offer a variety of academic and tutoring programs in such
subjects as English, social studies, math, and science. In addition, they aim at providing very extensive
college preparation. Some of these schools have excellent Mandarin language programs whose
objective is to assist high schools student in obtaining foreign language credits. These scholars took a
notice of the school advertisements that contain the following messages: Little Harvard, IQ 180, Ivy
League School. Zhou and Li add that often these institutions do not have structured programs, but
adults are satisfied with the fact that they can keep their children under supervision after school. Such
schools serve as information resources for students parents and allow them to keep track of events in
American schools because teachers there make an effort explaining how the system of education in the
U.S. functions. One of the most important aspects of Chinese language schools, the scholars
32


underscore, is that the immigrant students have opportunities to socialize with their peers and express
themselves in their own terms without any parental pressure (p. 69). Zhou and Li insist that Chinese
Language schools are complementary rather than competitive with formal education. Considering how
much time Chinese youth invest in their homework while at these facilities, then it should not be
surprising that they succeed in schools. The scholars conclude that it is this ethnic environment with
enormous tangible and intangible benefits to the immigrant family that helps promote and actualize the
value of education (p. 72).
Similarly, Vietnamese students are stereotyped as model-minority in a number of studies.
Despite limited socioeconomic support, an evident language barrier, and lengthy interruptions in
schooling due to social calamities, a large number of Vietnamese students achieved academic
excellence. Saito (2002) identifies the type of school disciplines Vietnamese youth were inclined to
pay special attention to. Their persistence with choosing math and science classes is linked to
practicality because these are mandatory classes to enter college in the fields of medicine, for example.
They try to avoid language intensive courses such as social sciences and history. Their free time was
spent on studying English or doing homework. Saito poses that 41 percent of the study population
were enrolling in community colleges, and 57 percent were going to four-year colleges. Students felt
competitive and superior to others because they were taking more challenging courses. As was the case
with the Chinese students, Vietnamese parents were usually seeking opportunities to push their
children to move on with their educational goals. As a result, these students attributed their success to
their home environment and their parents support. For them, the familys honor was at stake. The
scholar passionately argues that the success of the Vietnamese is apparent not because they assimilated
or absorbed into American mainstream culture, but, on the contrary, because they managed to maintain
their culture, language, and traditions of village loyalty and solidarity with its extended kin-centered
network that displays a sense of communal pride. The motto succeed in all aspects of life stems from
the old sociocultural values.
33


Conchas and Perez (2003) also analyzed Vietnamese students adaptation patterns. In part,
these students attributed their success to adults perceptions and expectations of them as model
students. The scholars suggest that Ideologically, teachers high expectations reinforced students
high motivation and self-esteem. Structurally, these higher expectations meant that students were
enrolled in the more advanced classes (p. 52). In this study, the teachers and school administration
ascertained that Asian students were focused, enthusiastic, and prepared to do work. Furthermore,
teachers were readily comparing these students with other ethnic groups, specifically with Latinos,
referring to the latter as lazy and less motivated. The outstanding outcome of this study was that the
students shared their ambivalent feelings on the issue of teachers high expectations. Many students
acknowledged that their teachers expected great things from them simply because of their ethnicity,
Teachers look at appearance and just because we are a certain thing, they expect us to do good all the
time. Another student shared her thoughts in frustration, we are supposed to be smart, so they want
you to be smart in some ways and they think that you are smart by looking at you. All they want to see
is the stereotype. Even though not all Vietnamese students showed excellent academic
accomplishments many dropped out of school and took up drinking and smoking they were
generalized as an example for other ethnic groups to follow in the school where the research took
place.
Some researchers discuss supplementary educational entities in immigrant communities and
their role in immigrant students academic success. For example, Conchas and Perez (2003) describe
the Medical Academy as a school-within-a-school program which began as a dropout prevention
initiative in 1985. It enrolls students with high potential who are interested in health and bioscience
careers. The core principle of the Medical Academy is that all students low achieving or high-
achieving and of all ethnic groups should aspire to high education. A large number of students in this
program were Vietnamese. Centrie (2002) conducted research in a high school that hosted the .
Vietnamese room. These high school Vietnamese students were closely monitored by a bilingual
34


teacher who was quickly arranging some remedy for a failing student. The Vietnamese room
represented a space that was free of stereotyping and used for recuperation and intense academic work
thereby contributing to the assessment that the Vietnamese were strong and serious students.
Analyzing model-minority discourse, researchers suggest that high learning motivation,
including the English language acquisition, emanates from preserving traditional values such as hard
work and consistent orientation for success. While the socioeconomic background of the Chinese
immigrant youth pointed to parents high education and income, in the case of Vietnamese students,
they came from more humble families whose lives were interrupted by wars and refugee camps. The
findings of the studies above strongly suggest the importance of preserving traditional ethnic cultures
because they are a valuable source of inspiration and stability for immigrant students. The remarkable
feature of Asian students success is the ability of community members to mobilize their resources and
set up supplementary educational facilities. In addition, the model-minority discourse is also utilized
by teachers who provide Asian students with a strong impetus to persevere when in doubt. Even
though, not all Asian students follow the positive trend, the model-minority discourse is still present to
support them. There is an emerging trend in research that reveals more complexity among Asian
students. Some of it shows deepening depression and a steadily increasing drop-out rate among Asians
students.
Social Dimensions of Identity
Immigrants, being in an unfamiliar sociocultural environment, seek new strategies that allow
them to position themselves in relationships with others and designate their niche in society at large.
How immigrant children are related to American society is largely contingent upon particular patterns
of language use, ethnic identifications, immigrants perceptions about daily experiences of the people
in the immediate environment, and various forms of social relations. At the societal level, it involves
cross-exposure and intergroup relations.
35


As Stepick and Stepick (2003) claim, many immigrant children perceive that Americans do
not welcome them, in fact, they disparage them as undeserving to partake in the American dream. As a
result, immigrant students are forced to deal with racial insecurities and stereotypes. In fact, these
scholars insist that up to this day, the system of education has not been able to cope with interethnic
tensions present in modem schools. Hence, many young immigrants remain to be isolated in school.
For example, Zhous (2001) study about the integration process of Vietnamese students revealed that a
large number of Vietnamese adolescents held pessimistic views on interethnic relations in their
schools. Saito (2002) posed that her Vietnamese study participants, overcoming tense peer
relationships, took part in school bands and were among cheer leaders. In another study dedicated to,
Vietnamese refugees, Centrie (2002) asserted that American students, African-American and Latino
students in particular, perceive the Vietnamese as being privileged which created an atmosphere of
resentment which sometimes led to the harassment of the Vietnamese. These students had to cope with
a hostile racial and ethnic climate in school. Black students picked on them because they perceived
Vietnamese students as nerds and weak. In turn, the Vietnamese students frequently expressed
animosity to African Americans and Latinos.
Perceptions of school interethnic tensions were also investigated among Nicaraguan youth
too. Femandez-Kelly and Curran (2001) reported a high percentage of youth, 51.33, who believed that
they were treated poorly by other ethnic groups. This group of immigrant students felt that Cuban
students held prejudices against them. Espiritu (1994) argued that the Filipino students in California
where he conducted his quantitative study shared experiences of discrimination too from Anglo
Americans. Avoiding such encounters, they tended to connect with Asian students of various ethnic
backgrounds and also Latino students. The authors pointed out that very few of their study participants
had friends among African American adolescents.
One of the most fascinating accounts of immigrant experiences in the .U.S. is an ethnographic
study carried out by Gibson (1988) and her team who examined patterns of acculturation in the
36


community of Punjabi Sikh adolescents. These young immigrants were striving to be active
participants of school social life as they frequently engaged in sports. These efforts were not always
welcomed by their own community members. Despite some instances of interactions with classmates,
the study participants reported that others made fun of their way of talking or doing things. The
researcher pointed to the pervasive prejudices aimed at the very cultural essentials of this immigrant
cohort. On numerous occasions, American peers told Punjabi adolescents that India and Indian culture
were inferior to Western and American ways of being. On some occasions such derogatory
commentaries did not elicit responses from the Indian students; however, there were instances that
resulted in violent incidents. The latter, in turn, earned the Indian boys the reputation of trouble-
makers.
Kanno (2003) explored how Japanese students adjusted to a Canadian school. She noted that
the positive school experiences were intertwined with contending racial remarks from their English
speaking peers: Frequently the immigrant youth were forced to deal with derogatory commentaries and
obscenities coming from the mainstream students. The Japanese boys and girls were often referred to
as Chink and asked to leave a basketball court because Chinese could not play basketball. The
researcher argued that racism was part and parcel of socialization at school. Moreover, their being ESL
students with accents in their English had a major impact on how they were viewed by others. Because
these Japanese students were in small numbers at any given school, they chose to learn to overcome
cultural and racial barriers. They preferred to keep negative feelings to themselves. Kanno also
recounted that the Japanese students excelled in music and athletics; this allowed them to develop a
sense of inclusion and build temporary friendships with others.
Ethnic identification is an important aspect of immigrant adaptation (Femandez-Kelly &
Curran, 2001). DeFinna (2000) reminds us that there is a trend in social constructionist theory to view
ethnicity as the category that embodies the social circumstances under which groups exist. In other
words, individuals and groups are seen building and negotiating identities according to social
37


circumstances. This became evident when Nicaraguan adolescents were faced with the question: Are
you Hispanics? Initially, they viewed the panethnic category of Hispanics as their protection in the new
country. However, this perception was short-lived, and with the passage of time the Nicaraguan youth
were inclined to identify themselves with their home country and demanded this differentiation form
others in the immediate surrounding. Such a change in ethnic identification occurred as a result of
discovering discrimination against Mexican Americans or the negative stereotypes associated with
them. Yet, if Nicaraguans felt that Hispanic images were linked to Cubans, then often they preferred
to be in the Hispanic category. Furthermore, some scholars (Kazal, 1995; Lieberson, 1980; Qin-
Hillard, 2003) argue that gradually and consistently, immigrant children tended to usher American or
hyphenated American identities. But among Nicaraguan children the opposite appeared to be true: An
inclination to associate themselves with their home country grew over time (Femdandez-Kelly &
Curran, 2001).
Espiritu and Wolf (2001) arrived at a similar conclusion examining accommodation patterns
among the Filipino students. Within just three years, these individuals desire to be affiliated with the
Filipino ethnicity rose significantly. The authors claimed that, for the Filipinos, ethnic identifications
over time did not gravitate toward assimilative or American national identity. Zhou (2001) confirmed
this trend among the Vietnamese young immigrants who after having spent three years in the U.S.
rejected their initial identification with the category American and preferred either Vietnamese or Asian
Americans.
McKay and Wong (1996) provided evidence of complicated dynamics of ethnic
identifications among Chinese students. The authors noticed that the Chinese nationalistic discourse
appeared crucial to the adolescent immigrant students as these discourses furnished a means to define
their identities calibrated, highly elaborated ways during a period of sudden, often traumatic,
transition from one society to another (p. 588). In their study, some students ethnic identifications
shifted from stressing affiliations with the Republic of China to Taiwan during the study period.
38


In sum, the discussion on ethnic tensions and ethnic identifications illustrated that these are
very complex issues for any immigrant. In many American schools, interethnic tensions have not
disappeared. Immigrant youth are still subject to stereotypical images. Furthermore, in immigrant
context, one can observe what circumstances lead to ethnic and cultural reassertions. The current
research data point out that as a result of perceived discrimination practices, in some cases immigrant
youth are less inclined to refer to themselves as Americansthey prefer to retain identifications linked
to their native cultures.
Religion is another aspect of individuals social identities. Within immigrant communities,
religion has been highlighted as a key aspect of several immigrant cultures. Bankston and Zhou (1995),
for example, argued that religious affiliation was very instrumental for Vietnamese immigrant youth
who felt that their association with the religious community strengthened their ethnic identification.
Saitos (2001) research revealed that the Vietnamese religious communities provided their members
with access to Vietnamese newspapers and TV programs. Argueta-Bemal (1990) claims that religion
was vital for the Hispanics because it produced a sense of security, membership, and well-being and
constituted a means of reducing stress and tension. The immigrant youth in Argueta-Bemals study
described their religious experiences as very real and tangible as they participated in regular religious
rituals such as burning the incense or church festivals. Their belief in God was unquestionable and
helped them in every domain of life. Many of the interviewed adolescents spoke about concrete ways
in which their religious belief influenced their lives, actions, and behaviors such as abstinence and
honesty. Their religion served as a moral compass for their lives pointing to directions and answers,
revealing the right and wrong way and providing boundaries. The young immigrants spoke of real and
powerful personal experiences.
In contrast, for Chinese immigrants, as Thompson & Gurney (2003) discovered, religious
practice in general appeared to play a significantly lesser role. This, the authors speculated, reflected
39


the secular nature of the Chinese society under communist mle. Qin-Hilliard (2006) recent data
confirmed this trend among Chinese immigrants too.
In general, the research shows that immigrant community churches may serve as a sanctuary
where immigrant youth find comfort and a sense of belonging. For some, chinch affiliations supply
opportunities for reaffirming their identifications and genuine memberships. However, for Chinese
youth, religious traditions hold a lesser value.
Research on Russian-Speaking Students
There are very few studies that have examined the phenomenon of the adjustment process
among Russian-speaking children. Among them are studies by Birman, Trickett, and Vinokurov
(2001) and Trickett and Vinokurov (2002) involving Russian Jewish refugees of the Soviet era. The
main objective of these studies was to measure the degree of acculturation among adults and their
children in various spheres of human life. The scholars drew on the theory of acculturation
popularized by Berry (1980), according to which once immigrants find themselves in a new country,
gradually they will experience changes in their language repertoire, behaviors, and self-identifications.
Then individuals begin to ascertain their acculturation to two cultures which may result either in
divergence, convergence, or conflict (Birman, & Tyler, 1994). The scholars who examined results of
acculturation among Russian Jews reported that up to 80 percent of the parents of the study
participants had a university degree and various careers in the former Soviet Union. While being aware
of their Jewish identities, they were closely connected to Russian culture and the Russian language.
The Russian immigrants felt pressured to assimilate to the American Jewish community culture. The
Russian Jews found this proposition unacceptable because they positioned themselves as secular Jews
and persisted with strong affiliations with the Russian high culture such as literature and music.
Trickett and Vinokurov (2002) as well as Birman, Trickett and Vinokurov (2001) posed that the
Russian Jews came from a country that for many years had been seen as an enemy of the U.S. and one
which in many respects was defined as its opposite. Thus, cultural values and practices of the other
40


culture were likely to be interpreted in a negative light by the refugee and the American-born
communities. The general cultural differences between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union,
according to the researchers, made the transition by the Jewish adolescent refugees challenging. The
study findings revealed that the social dynamics of the Jewish immigrant enclave was very complex.
In fact, the adolescents in their study were acutely aware of the demands of both Russian and
mainstream American cultural environments imposed on them. In school, these individuals were
expected to assimilate into the American Jewish culture and give up their affiliation to the Russian
culture (Birman, Trickett, & Vinokurov, 2001, p. 590). Persistence for Americanization in the school
environment caused many Russian Jews to limit contacts with the American Jews. Interviews with the
Russian youth contained comments expressing concern over discrimination against them due to their
immigrant status. The researchers suggested that there was no strong indication among Russian
immigrants to develop bicultural identities: These individuals were either reluctant to identify with
American culture or they were inclined to achieve complete assimilation. Despite negative
discriminatory encounters the Russian children faced, the researchers believed that these immigrants
associated themselves more with the American behavior patterns and identifications. They also noted
that fact that they were white facilitated their acculturation to the majority U.S. culture as was
predicted by Gordon (1964). The researchers drew conclusions that American identity and Russian
language competence predicted GPA, both in the positive direction. They also analyzed self-
identification patterns over a period of time. The scholars claimed that, although the identification with
American culture was slightly increasing with length of residence, Russian identity did not decline.
While the study conducted by Birman, Trickett and Vinokurov (2001) as well as the research
by Trickett and Vinokurov (2002) offer some noteworthy findings, they both have substantial
weaknesses. First of all, these scholars neglected elaborating on the notion of American-oriented
patterns of behavior. Similar to the research that propagates assimilation, for these researchers, positive
educational outcomes were linked with Americanization. The researchers did not explicate what
41


Americanization implied in terms of concrete behavior patterns or a belief system. As a result, this
research does not furnish sufficient data for making a judgment on how the processes of identity
development were occurring and what actions and interactions Russian students were undertaking.
Second, the researchers did not clarify whether they discerned between acculturation, assimilation,
integration, and accommodation. According to their data, these immigrants success was predicated on
how rapidly they freed themselves from old cultures. As a consequence of a one-sided approach, it is
easy to blame trouble-making tendencies among immigrants on their native cultures. Overall, the
portrait of Russian immigrants in these studies is rather vague.
Considering the paucity of research on Russian immigrant students, the studies above provide
some understanding of how Russian childrens identities insertion in American society unfolded. But
these individuals were from the wave of the Russian immigration, highly educated individuals, who
arrived shortly after the Soviet ban on immigration was lifted in the mid-1980s. Since that time, many
changes have occurred in the countries that once composed the Soviet Union. The economic
tribulations and an acute political instability of the 1990s had their toll on the young people in
particular. Maturing in the society with new economic and moral aspirations, youth found themselves
estranged from their parents who espoused the old social values and more drawn to the prospects of
the market economic system and material prosperity it promised at any price. Many young people
therefore tended to discard the values of family, morality, and state as the elements of the old lifestyle.
As a result, there was an unprecedented increase in youth participation in criminal activities especially
among boys (Molchanov, 2000). It was during those times that haves and have-nots classes were
being formed. Ironically, the individuals with high credentials in science, medicine, engineering, and
education became the class of poor. Such occupations as lawyers, businessmen, and accountants
gained prestige because they were viewed to bring substantial monetary reward. Taking into
consideration persistent negative developments that emerged as a result of social calamities, many
Russians were seeking opportunities to immigrate.
42


Ageyev and Goulah (2004; 2006) pioneered research work with the contemporary Russian
immigrant youth in North America. They recently embarked on the project which brought them to
another Russian enclave on the East Coast. These researchers examined the new immigrants of lower
social status and educational backgrounds who settled in Upstate New York. Drawing on sociocultural
theory of human development, Ageyev and Goulah outlined fundamental differences as they
perceived them in school cultures between the former Soviet Union and the United States. Although
a valuable approach, such a comparison discarded the recent developments in the systems of education
of the countries that composed the Soviet Union. These authors proposed a model of interpreting and
even predicting an adjustment process among Russian-speaking immigrant youth. According to this
model, school cultures were divided into collectivist (Russia) and individualistic (America) ways of
being. Although it is hardly plausible to completely concur with all positions proposed in the earlier
stages of their work, especially the simplistic understanding of the culture in Russian schools, one can
still benefit from considering their research findings and conclusions. Thus, the valuable feature of
their research is the ethnographic method of inquiry: Researchers employed standard techniques such
as collecting stories, observations, interviews, field notes, and a reflective journal. Among participants
were children from Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia. The semi-structured interviews with the students
and their parents exposed an intense negotiation about the issue of ethnicity. In the school
environment, these individuals were viewed as simply Russians. At home, however, they referred to
themselves according to their places of origin. For example, one female student indicated that she was
from Belarus, not from Russia. There was a general sense of being unaccepted by their school
monolingual English-speaking school peers. Russian-speaking students cited numerous examples of
fights in the cafeteria and perceived social ostracism. Some parents were concerned that their children
never left the house and could not find friends. The study participants were religious and therefore
adhered to a particular manner of holding themselves in public, which was ridiculed and derided by
their American classmates. The researchers suggested that such interactions negatively affected
43


academic attainment and caused resistance among older students. Furthermore, there was virtually no
connection between schools and students parents. In Russia, parents were used to being informed by
their teachers on weekly progress of their children. This type of close communication allowed them to
be aware of childrens successes through establishing long-term relations with the teachers, which,
according to Ageyev and Goulah, illustrated the collectivist way of being or high context of
communication. In contrast to that, in American schools, unless behavioral problems arose which
were rare with these particular students teachers were reluctant to make phone calls. Moreover,
these children felt left out of fuller participation in extracurricular activities, partially because they
lacked English language proficiency skills. All this caused educators to place these students in a group
of nonassertive students in need of developing ambitions. The question emerged: Did teachers really
know who these students were?
The authors also pointed to extreme sensitivity among immigrants children, which posed
certain challenges for their teachers. These scholars strongly recommended drawing on cultural and
linguistic capital of these students so that their perception of hostility toward their ethnic groups could
diminish. The findings illustrate that Russian students struggled with asserting their place in American
school. In school, they subscribed to the term Russian although privately they referred themselves to
the places of origin.
In Ageyev and Goulahs (2004, 2006) studies, it was not clear how these Russian students
faired in terms of academic achievement. The researchers from the very beginning mentioned that
these data were the first step in their endeavor to describe who these students were and what kind of
life they were aspiring to have in their new country. Hence, their conclusions were tentative. Yet, these
studies most important strengths lie in its methodology and the type of subjects involved recent
immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Conclusion
44


Research shows that immigrant groups display diverse trends in their adjustment patterns in
the U.S. Hispanic students are frequently viewed to be less successful due to their lower academic
achievement in schools whereas Asians students are referred to as the model minority. Current
research points to more successful accommodation among female immigrant students across all ethnic
groups in the U.S. Also, one should pay closer attention to what allows immigrant students to
persevere. In some cases, it might be a strong relation with their parents while in others a trustworthy
connection with a teacher or counselor increases immigrants chances to stay in school. Furthermore,
the dynamics of model-minority discourse permits one to understand that this group is also diverse and
filled with tensions.
It is also common across ethnic groups that immigrant children have to surmount negative
aspects of accommodation such as discrimination, pressure of assimilation, racial comments, and
alienation. For many youth, ethnic immigrant communities, religious or educational institutions,
remain valuable and secure places which give them a share of inspiration and confidence.
Although some research exists pertaining to Soviet-era immigrants, research addressing
nearly a decade of post Soviet immigrant students, many of whom have immigrated under different
circumstances, is lacking. Specifically needed is research that thoroughly examines the agency of.
Russian-speaking immigrant adolescents in the new immigrant context. This study intends to fill this
gap-
45


CHAPTER 3
METHODOLOGY
Role of the Researcher
Conducting this research was a true journey for me in many ways. I covered an enormous
distance and spent a tremendous amount of time, traveling among school sites and community centers
as well as to the study subjects homes. The initial steps in this study began when a high school ESL
teacher invited me to observe her classroom activities and share my insights on how her Russian
students were participating in them. Also, she was conducting an action research project and asked me
to comment on some of the events she encountered teaching Russian students. She referred to them as
Russian students although she did not realize that they came from several independent countries of the
former Soviet Union. The ESL teacher mentioned that many male students had difficulties in adjusting
to school, and, following the schools position, she linked this trend with Russian culture. She was
sincerely interested in my expertise.
When I became acquainted with those ESL students, I learned that they represented a
community of religious refugees Baptists and Pentecostals. These young people immediately
inquired about my religious affiliation and asked me why I came to the U.S. They also invited me to
their church services. The ESL teacher admitted that she was not well informed about the backgrounds
of her Russian students, but she felt they were being stereotyped by some of her colleagues. I also
learned that by that time some male students had dropped out of school, and some others had been
involved in violent incidents. This was my first encounter with Russian immigrant adolescents and one
of their ESL teachers. Subsequently, I spent a great deal of time in her classroom observing Russian
students class participation.
46


Even though I was from the same country as many of these young Russians were, I was not
familiar with their religion. Therefore, I anticipated the entrance to the Evangelic community to be
challenging. During the data collection stage, the Pentecostals frequently shifted the study questions to
religious conversations. Also, in the beginning, one of the community leaders viewed my research
interest with suspicion. He insisted that I acknowledge my association with a spy agency because he
knew an individual whose command of Russian was native-like and he was an agent. While genuinely
surprised, I treated these suspicions with understanding. Gradually, the pastor of the Baptist Church,
other parishioners, and their children warmed up to me and saw me in a non-threatening way. They
opened up their homes and their hearts to me; I am profoundly grateful to all of them.
As I was searching for study participants in two different school districts who could meet my
criteria, I encountered another community of Russian adolescents. I was told that several years prior to
my study, there had been a large number of Russian Jewish immigrants in that area. But gradually the
number diminished. However, over a hundred young people from the former Soviet Union were
students of two high schools in the area. The school district cultural liaison assisted me in every way to
recruit students for the study. I did not experience obstacles with establishing contacts with non-
religious immigrants. They were eager to share their views in depth.
Throughout the study period, I regularly assisted a number of young people from these
communities with their home assignments. I was able to help them in classrooms too at the teachers
request. In the end, they thought of me as someone who could provide a sense of direction when
choosing a college or a profession. In addition, the school administrations frequently appealed to me to
act as an interpreter between them and the Russian students parents. In addition, when three Russian
students, two males and one female, searched for financial assistance to study in college, they
contacted me for advice as well. I spent many hours trying to help these young people with writing
essays and simply sharing with them what I knew about American universities. As a result of mutual
efforts, three of them were accepted at the local university and awarded scholarships.
47


I believe it is worth commenting upon another challenging issue that emerged as I was
collecting data. I learned that my research aspirations were not welcomed by several faculty and staff
in one of three high schools. Despite the general sense of very positive experiences, I encountered
some dramatic events. The head of the ESL department in one of the schools involved in the study
attempted to undermine my presence there. Pursuing her objective vigorously, she called for a meeting
with the intention to revoke the permission that the school district and this school principal granted me
to conduct research. She felt that my conversations with the Russian students dismpted their
integration process. After that meeting, some other ESL teachers began avoiding me. Having analyzed
the comments coming from the ESL department, I drew the conclusion that the ESL teachers felt
threatened and expressed a desire for me to terminate my research in their school; however, they did
not have sufficient authority to do so. Consequently, the principal of this school initiated a talk asking
me questions that bore resemblance to a police interrogation procedure. He also tentatively inquired
whether I had any connection or knowledge of Russian organized crime in the state. He bashfully
concluded that the teachers who approached him on this issue exaggerated the danger coming from me.
Ultimately, the principal and I concurred that I should be able to finish my research without any further
impediments.
As the description above illustrates, conducting this research, I drew on the critical
paradigm to inform my role as a researcher. Critical theorists attempt to understand the historical,
political, and cultural tensions among groups and individuals in society. Researchers, adopting the
critical approach, are expected to function as intellectual advocates and activists.. .to bring about
change in inequitable distribution of power, cultural assets, and other resources (LeCompte &
Schensul, 1999, p. 45). I believe that I have skills and a moral obligation to contribute to educating
youth from the former Soviet Union. Indeed, one of the reasons for conducting this research was to
reveal the existing misunderstandings about the cultures represented by Russian-speaking immigrants
and find a way for them to become visible and enact their untapped immense potential for the
48


American society. These issues will be discussed in depth in the following chapters. I lent my insights
on the dynamics of the adjustment process among Russian adolescents, when asked, to the educators of
the relevant school districts.
The position of researcher as advocate affected my study in two ways. One, I have formed
strong opinions on how Russian young people are perceived by their American peers and many
teachers, how they position themselves in the world and the origin of their views. I refrained from
expressing my insights during interviews with the study participants. Second, some of the
circumstances such as an overt resistance to my presence in one school that became evident during the
data collection period impacted me personally and taught me a lesson as a novice researcher to keep a
balanced stance in conflict situations.
The Study Design
The study focused on exploring how young immigrants from the former Soviet Union were
making a transition to the new social and educational environment and what was becoming salient in
the adaptation process. I offer to consider particular spaces, relationships, activities, and forms of
expression as instrumental in examining identity negotiation processes. This study lasted for a year and
a half. Populations in my interview samples included students from three high schools in a
metropolitan are of a Western city in the U.S. South, Central, and Washington and their parents,
teachers, school administrators or security personal, school district interpreters, and community
leaders. Methods of data collection I employed included participant observations, field notes, semi-
structured interviews, informal conversations, artifact retrieval, and a personal journal. Data collection
was achieved in two stages:
Stage One
(Emphasis on Russian youth in South High School)
Meetings with administration of three high schools
Participant observation in South High School
Observations at churches
Interviews with teachers and administrators
49


Informal conversations with students
Identifying key informants in South High School
Semi-structured interviews with key informants from South High School
Interviews with the religious community leaders
Participant observations in Central and Washington High Schools
Interviews with teachers and administrators of Central and Washington High Schools
Keeping a personal journal
Visiting key informants homes (South High School students)
Interviews with the parents of students from South High School
Stage Two
(Emphasis on Russian youth in Central and Washington High Schools)
Identifying key informants from Central and Washington High Schools
Informal talks with key informant in Central and Washington High Schools
Semi-structured interviews with students from Central and Washington High Schools
Follow-up observations at all school sites
Follow-up observations at cultural sites
Follow-up interviews with all key participants
Collecting artifacts
Population
My sampling was purposive and criterion-based (Lecompte & Schensul, 1999). These
students were of diverse ethnic backgrounds from the former Soviet Union; therefore, the names of
their republics or countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Latvia, and Kazakhstan are
mentioned throughout. In this work, they are referred to as Russians. The term Russians does not
necessarily reflect their true ethnicity. Another important consideration was that these children arrived
in this country at least at the age of 12. The age range was between fourteen and eighteen years when
the study began. Among the study participants were 36 high school students in a Western state of the
U.S., 16 parents, 20 teachers, counselors, and administrators, two school district interpreters, and three
community leaders. Eighteen students were my key informants. These were the individuals whom I
chose as the persons with the most inside knowledge and as the ones who could substantiate their
views in more detail. Nine of them four of whom were boys represented the Evangelic
community; the remaining nine five of whom were boys were from the mixed or non-Evangelic
50


group. The term key informants refers to the depth of communication with the students themselves
and their parents. This said, I add that I was able to interview these students at least two times and
>
maintain close contacts with them throughout the study period and beyond. Close contacts also
manifested in numerous informal conversations with these young people in school and after school, at
dinners in their homes or at their cultural sites. I had such opportunities of informal communication at
least once a month for a year. On many occasions, I had phone conversations with them or they
contacted me by phone. During the analytical stage of the study, I asked four young people in both
cohorts to verify my understandings and interpretations.
Another criterion was the length of residence in the U.S. The individuals, who lived in this
country for at least five months (a semester) and five years at most, were viewed to be the most
suitable for the purposes of this study. In fact, there were only two students both from Latvia --who
by the beginning of the study had lived in this country for five years. Half of the total number of the
young people were affiliated with the Evangelic refugee communities Slavic Baptist and Pentecostal
Churches. The other half were of the mixed immigrant origin the children of Russian Jewish
refugees, children of green card holders as part of the brain drain phenomenon, and children of
women who married American men. The individuals of the Baptist or Pentecostal background are
referred to as Evangelic throughout this work. The individuals of other backgrounds are referred to as
non-Evangelic.
As was stated earlier, my first study participants were from the ESL classroom of South High
School whom I observed upon the teachers request. Further, I utilized chain referral selection also
known as the snow ball tactics (Lecompte & Schensul, 1999, p. 55) recruiting study participants.
This tactic entails that those who initially agreed to take part in the study suggested their friends or
relatives with whom I followed the same strategy. The school district Russian cultural liaison assisted
me with the initial recruitment stage of the non-Evangelic students.
51


Relying on my initial conversations with the school administrators and students, I composed a
list of teachers who were believed to have had experience working with this particular student
population. Some of the teachers then referred me to their colleagues who could assist me in the study.
Therefore, I either called these teachers to recruit them or came to their classrooms. One counselor and
two teachers opted to contribute in this study by e-mailing their answers to some of the questions. Two
teachers among those whom I contacted declined my request to participate in the study. Among
teachers participants were those who worked with the Russian adolescents in ESL and mainstream
classrooms. They taught ESL, biology, math, chemistry, physical education, English, Language Arts,
reading, computer science, and history classes. In order to compose a comprehensive academic portrait
of the adolescent study participants, it was important to involve educators from a variety of academic
disciplines. These teachers were from three different high schools.
Throughout the research process, I had meetings with one principal, four assistant principals,
and the head of an international program. Moreover, the security personnel and the police officers on
the sites were often willing to comment on the issues under consideration as well.
In order to conduct this study, I applied for permission from the University Human Subject
Research Committee. The next step was to contact two school districts research departments for
permission to access public schools. After I received approval to conduct the study from the Human
Subject Committee of the relevant school districts, I had access to three schools where Russian
students studied. In compliance with the school district policy, I asked students for a voluntary
participation. In the beginning, I orally explained my objectives to potential study participants; then I
handed them two written consent formsone for the parents and the other one for the children. They
were both in Russian and English. The study began when I obtained signed consent forms
The following table summarizes the study participants main characteristics as a group.
52


Table 1. Demographic characteristics.
Number of youth participants Community Place of origin Age range
1. 19 males 1. Evangelic refugees: 1. The Russian 1. males: from 15 to 19
a) Pentecostal Federation:
2. 17 females b) Slavic Baptist ethnic Russians and 2. females:
ethnic Armenians from 14 to 18.
2. Mixed or non-Evangelic: 2. Eastern Ukraine
a) Jewish refugees 3. Western Ukraine
b) Russian American marriages 4. Belams
c) Brain drain 5. Kazakhstan
6. Latvia
7. Uzbekistan
Methods of Data Collection
Participant Observation
Because this was an ethnographic study, the techniques were intended to reflect a naturalistic
approach (LeCompte & Pressle, 1993), which presupposes participant observations. Discussing
participant observation, Wolcott (2001), a qualitative researcher, refers to it as the heart and the
heartwood of all'qualitative inquiry, its substantial core (p. 91). Expanding this position, Penuel &
Wertsch (1995) argue, Identity researchers must be open to the variety of settings and sites in which
an individuals identity is being constructed or expressed (p. 90). Three churches, study participants
homes, the Russian cultural center, ESL and mainstream classes in there high schools as well as a
number of different areas in the school buildings and outside of them were the sites of my participant
53


observation. Some of the observations can be categorized as what LeCompte & Schensul (1999) call
less obtrusive or more obtrusive. The former included my hanging out in school hallways or the
school cafeteria and the outside area. I attended the World Awareness Day at Washington High School
dining which adolescents from the former Soviet Union delivered a presentation on the Russian
culture. In all schools, I was able to observe parent conferences. In South High School, I was able to
attend a meeting between the principal and Russian boys as well as ESL department faculty meetings.
In addition, I visited nine Sunday church services in three different churches. I sat quietly in the comer
in the chinches or some of the classes as I was making mental notes if I could not enter them in the
journal directly at the site on what was going on in order to document them in the field notes
immediately after leaving.
The other type of observation was more obtrusive because it required more interaction with
the study participants. Thus, in the churches, I was present at the religious holidays and youth group
gatherings during which I had opportunities to interact with others. I visited Evangelic and non-
Evangelic young peoples homes where frequently I was treated wonderful dinners during which we
conversed about their lives in their home countries, their new experiences in America, and schooling. I
assisted a number of students in doing their home assignments specifically when their second language
skills were concerned. I held informal conversations with the students in the schools cafeteria and
libraries; I even played volleyball with the Evangelic students outside the school building. On several
occasions, I acted as an interpreter between the administrators and those students and parents who
lacked English language proficiency skills. I kept detailed field notes of proceedings of the interactions
with the teachers, students, and their parents as I visited classes, school meetings, and cultural
gatherings.
Interviews
In general, interviews provide more in-depth and qualitative answers to specific questions that
arose from observations in schools or viewing the artifacts. Patton (1990), for example, categorizes
54


interviews into three groups (1) informal conversational interview, (2) the general interview guide,
and (3) the open-ended interview (semi-structured). In this study, I utilized all three types of
interviewing technique; this strategy emerged as a result of taking into consideration the respondents
contribution to the research questions. Thus, the initial talks with the students and their parents were
conducted in an unimposing manner and were embedded in a conversation. The study participants had
a chance to narrate their experiences in a more natural way. This was a useful tactic because stories
allow expressing and debating social values and belief systems revealing the speakers alignment. As
De Fina (2000) suggests, stories about others communicate speakers positions and stances about their'
identity and their differences and conflicts with others. The approach of informal interactions allowed
me to determine those individuals who had the communicative ability to articulate their insights or the
genuine inside knowledge of the culture.
The general interview guide was more beneficial with the school administrators and some
teachers, especially in Central and Washington High Schools: It contained questions seeking to address
a set of more general issues outlined in advance. The open-ended interviews with the adolescents were
face-to face which ensured rich data. The following questions guided the interviews, but were not
limited to them:
a. What is going on in the lives of these young people?
b. How has the transitional period been?
c. What are the plans for the future?
d. How do they feel in school? Are they successful in school?
e. Is there noticeable progress with learning English?
f. Does the ievel of English slow down their dreams in America?
g. What are the new cultural traditions they are ready to accept?
h. Do they have new friends among students in their new schools?
55


I held interviews with the key informants, their parents, the pastor of the Baptist Church, two
cultural liaisons, and a number of teachers from high schools. To administer the interviews, I met
usually one-on-one with the subjects. The exceptions were with several youth of the Evangelic
community who participated in the interview either with their parents or their close siblings. However,
when they felt more comfortable they were willing to share their thoughts privately too. Interviews
took between forty five minutes and two hours depending on how much the interviewee had to say;
they averaged about fifty five minutes. The interviewees identities were held in strict confidence.
Subjects real names or their schools are not revealed in this report. I audiotaped interviews when the
participants agreed to it; all but five all from the Evangelic community participants did. When I
was not allowed to audiotape, I took notes during our conversations. Questions were open-ended which
facilitated answers that were unique to the individuals circumstances. This allowed the collection of
the data that I might not have thought of in constructing the interview instrument. Several of the
original questions were changed or omitted because they were found irrelevant, inappropriate, or
simply too obscure for some individuals. Some adjustments needed to be made also for several
participants due to their unexpected inability to understand the initial wording. Mostly the male study
participants from the Evangelic community required rewording of the questions or, as they put it put
them in simple words.
The interviews with the students and their parents were conducted in Russian, translated by
me, transcribed and analyzed. The transcriptions were done only in English while listening to the tapes
in Russian. Although all views revealed in communication were important, the voice of the students
figures centrally in this study.
The following illustrates interview proceedings:
Participants interviewed Number of interviews conducted
Focal students (18) 36
Teachers (16) 16
Administrators (4) 4
Other school-related personnel 6
56


Parents
Community leaders
16
3
Keeping a personal journal
I kept a reflexive journal in which I carried on a conversation with myself to record
insights, ideas, working hypotheses, unanswered questions, and doubts. I was interested in tracking my
personal feelings as I had to face emotional dilemmas, for example in South High School, when I faced
a hostile situation involving ESL teachers. I wondered how my personal feelings on this topic would
affect my ability to carry on this research. Erlandson et al. (1993) affirm, The reflexive journal
supports not only the credibility but also the transferability, dependability, and confirmability of the
study (p. 143). I had the hand-written entries in my journal or, at times, I recorded my thoughts as I
was driving to numerous study locations which later were written in the journal. In retrospect, my
concern about my capacity to remain objective did not play out. While I felt great passion for this
research, I believe I was able to identify my reactions and remain balanced in the analysis and
presentation of findings.
Artifact collection
The documents I collected included:
1. A report, offering observations in school A, provided by the school district liaison.
2. A city newspaper article describing immigrants from the former Soviet Union
3. An article from the newspaper describing a personal triumph of one of the study
participants sister
4. Two newspapers from the Church community
5. A booklet from the Russian cultural center describing activities offered at this
facility
6. A booklet describing activities and awards the Baptist Church received from the
president of the Russian Federation
7. School essays written by students for ESL classes
8. Studentsart work
9. Students certificate from Russia or Ukraine with their academic record
10. Certificates recognizing leadership in their native countries schools
11. Students ESI Certificated received in their American schools
12. School pamphlets describing school policies and accomplishments
57


The documented collected for the study allowed me to confirm students assessment of their
school progress and how they faired in the general school academic portrait. Moreover, the artifacts
provided me with a wealth of knowledge pertaining to the Evangelic communities.
Data Planning and Collection Matrix
The matrix in Table 2 (adopted with minor changes from Schensul, Schensul, & LeCompte,
1999) illustrates data collection strategies in detail. Table two shows links to some concepts and
research questions. The necessary time required to gather relevant information is also indicated.
Table 2. Data planning and collection matrix
What do I need to know? Why do I need to know that? (linking inquiry to research questions) Sources of Data Data type, content and collection method Timelin e for acquisit ion of data:
1. What are the Identifying aspects of social 1.Leaders of 1. Interviews with
reasons for identity: immigrant status the community community leaders Fall of
immigration of the immigrants from the and families contribution to identity formation centers 2. The 2. interviews with 2004
former Soviet Union? 1. To understand how these communities are embedded in general history of immigration community literature parents; 3. collecting
2. The basic demographic in the US 3.Parents information in the church library and
characteristics 2. To answer the question 4. School the Russian
of Russian How do the immigration district cultural center
families. reasons impact their negotiation of the immigrant interpreters. 4. Artifacts: a. )The
3. How does the transitional status? 5. Statistics on Russian interpreters reports on the students
period look like for these young people? 3. Do they feel they assimilated or accommodated to American society? What is their life trajectory? 4. to understand potential impact that families socioeconomic status has on these youth immigration background
58


2. What are the traditions, rituals, and expectations in the Pentecostal and Baptist communities? Identifying aspects of social identity in the cultural community: the contribution of family and community 1. To leam what kind of social and cultural life is offered to the youth in the religious communities. 2. To leam what is valued the most in the religious community. 1. The Baptist and Pentecostal churches 2. The students and their parents 3. The pastors of the Churches; 1. Field notes with observations about rituals, services, and peoples behavior; 2. Transcripts of Auditaped interviews with adolescents; 3. Entries form the personal journal 4. Field notes with observations at home sites; 5. Informal conversations. 6. Artifacts: paintings, chinch newspapers and pamphlets. Sept., 2004- Sept- 2005
3. How Identifying young peoples 1. Church 1. Field notes with
involved are agency in the community? services observations in Spt
the young churches 2004-
people in the 1. How do the young people of 2. Youth
community the religious community groups 2. Fieldnotes with Sept.
activities? negotiate their role? Gatherings. observations of 2005
special youth
.a) To understand what role 3. The Church events.
the religious community plays leaders.
in these young peoples lives 3. Fieldnotes with
b) To track down their 4. The young observations made
participation in them; people and at church
c) Do they Tesist the identities members homes
available in the religious 5. Home sites.
community? 4. Interviews with
d) Do they alter traditions? the parents and the
e) Is there a difference young people;
between males and females in
the strategies they choose to 5. Interview with
negotiate their relationship the youth group
with the religious community? leaders
6. Entries from the
59


person journal reflecting upon students participation in community activities.
4. How do the Identifying aspects of social 1. The Russian 1. Interviews with Jan.
non-Evangelic youth organize identity: families contribution to cultural center the students and their parents 2005-
their social identity formation 2. Non- Oct.
activities? 1. To learn what expectations and priorities exist for the non- Evangelic young people 2. Does religion play a role in their lives? Evangelic young people and their parents. 3. Home sites. 2. Interviews with the Russian cultural liaison. 3. Fieldnotes with observations of home visits. 2005.
60


5. What Identifying aspects of 1. Schools 1. Fieldnotes with
academic academic identities: school administration observations of Sept.
accomplishme attainment and school and ESL and
nts do these engagement; schools counselors. mainstream 2004-
young people contribution to forming 2. Teachers classrooms.
demonstrate in academic identity 3. School. 2. Interview with Oct.
American Districts teachers, school
schools? 1. To outline the way these cultural administrators. 2005.
individuals integration in liaisons. 3. E-mail
American schools takes place: 4. Current communication
GPA. with counselors
a. to systematize their 5. Past and teachers.
strengths and weaknesses as academic 4. Interviews with
they enter American schools attainment the students and
b. Do they take advanced from Russian their parents;
classes? schools. 5. Students school
c. What is the trajectory of 5. Students documents.
further academic aspirations 6. Their 6. Students awards
d. to trace the gender parents. for academic
difference in academic 7. Home visits. success.
aspirations 7. Fieldnotes of
e. what kind of prior observations of
experiences are relevant for the current ones? home visits.
f. drop-out rate information. g. what views do the teachers have pertaining to teaching these students? h. What motivates these individuals in school?
61


6. What is
then-
experience in
learning
English?
Identifying aspect of 1. ESL 1. Fieldnotes with
academic identity: classrooms; observations from
investment in leaning 2. Home sites; ESI classrooms and
English: 3. School other school sites:
hallways and allow to see
1. To assess their attitude to cafeteria; language use.
learning English. 4. ESL 2. Essays from
Teachers ESL classes.
2. To understand their 5. Mainstream 3. Fieldnotes with
motivation of learning teachers observations from
English. home sites: allow to see langue use
3. What impact does the level 4. Interviews with
of English language skills ESL and
have on academic goals? mainstream teachers.
4. What is the place of the 5. Interviews with
native language in learning students.
English? 5.. Is there sufficient assistance with English in school? 6 What are the settings for the English language use among the students? 7. What language changes occur as a result of the second language learning? 8. How is their progress evaluated by ESL teachers? 9. How do the students assess their own progress in English? 10. What are their views on ESL classes?
1. Sept.
2004-
Sept.
2005.
62


7. What do the students perceive of the school culture? Identifying aspects of social identity: school attachment 1. What cultural elements do they accept or reject? 2. How are they seen by others? 3. What role does their culture have in schools? 1. School sites. 2. Teachers, and other school personnel 3. Students. 1. Fieldnotes with participant observations from schools; 2. Fieldnotes with the comments by school related personal such as security and police; 3. Interviews with the youth 4. Interviews with teachers; Spring 2005 Fall, 2005
Identifying aspect of social
8. Do they identity: extracurricular 1. School 1. Interviews with Spring
participate in activities administrators. teachers and 2005
sports, music, administrators.
or other 1. Do they have skills or 2. Teachers
extracurricular experiences in music or and coaches. 2. Interviews with
school various sports? the students and
activities? 3. Students. their parents.
2. What motivates or prevents
their participation in school 4. Their
activities? parents.
3. Is there a difference
between males and females in
school engagement?
Identifying aspects of social
identity: 1. School sites. 1. Fieldnotes with
9. What Negotiating tactic for observations of Spring.
criteria do they forming relationships 2. Teachers. classrooms.
employ as they 2004-
establish 1. How do they perceive 3. School- 2. Fieldnotes with
contact in the themselves? related observation in Oct.
multicultural personal. school cafeterias
school 2. How do others see them in and libraries. 2005.
environment? school? 4. Russian
cultural 3. Interviews with
3. How do they cope with liaisons. the students and
stereotypical images? their parents
5. Students
4. Do they have friends among and their 4. Interviews with
63


non-Russians in school? parents. teachers and other school personal.
10. How do Identifying aspects of social
their negotiate identity: negotiating tactics 1. School sites. 1. Fieldnotes with Spring
other aspects for observations of
of their social Ethnic, cultural, and 2. Home sites. home visits of2004-
identity: Ethnic, religious reassertions 3. Interviews 2. Fieldnotes with Fall of
religious, 1. Are there changes in ethnic with the observations at
cultural/langua affiliation as a result of students and school sites: 2005
ge? immigration? their parents. classrooms, cafeterias
2. Are there nationalistic 4. Interviews
discourses? with the 3. Fieldnotes with
teachers. observations at the
3. Are religious identities displayed in public? 5. Interviews chinches
with the 4. Interviews with
church leaders. the students.
Researcher Subjectivity
Controlling bias and researcher subjectivity were concerns in this study. I handled this by
stating my biases up front (in this document but not during interviews). I am from the country that a
number of study participants came from. While I shared some of the background similarities with
many of them, I nevertheless occupied a different position and had different life and educational
experiences. My purpose in this study was to provide information that will help others to better
understand this relatively unknown group of young people and to successfully work with them. While
interviewing these youth, Evangelic and non-Evangelic, as well as their teachers, I attempted to remain
aware of my own subjectivities. I did have the very real desire to understand the points of view of the
Baptist and Pentecostal community members and their worldviews which otherwise I considered
opposite to mine. Before I received access to this religious community, I was aware of the biases that
existed towards Evangelic individuals in my native country. I admit that I was not free of those in the
beginning either. Therefore, it was especially important to explore the dynamics inside this community
64


and start seeing individuals behind the collective notion of the religious refugees. Also, to listen to
some of the ESL teachers perspectives on the educational traditions of the countries these students
came from and so did I was not an easy task. However, I had to step back and begin looking at all
these peoples perspectives objectively. This was a good learning experience and, I believe, made the
research deeper.
Treatment of Human Subjects
Individuals involved in the study are not mentioned by their authentic names. Participants I
interviewed on an individual basis received and signed a consent form that explained their right not to
take part, the right to omit answers to any of my questions, and the right to withdraw from the study at
any time. In addition, if during the interview I noticed a trace of hesitation, I always reminded them
that if they felt uncomfortable answering a particular question; they had the right to ignore it. Any tape
recordings made during interviews were kept in a secure place. I did my best to conceal the true
identity of all people and places in this research by not revealing personal characteristics. This was
another challenge considering that the general number of schools educating Russian immigrants was
low. All the names I used in this report are pseudonyms.
Stages of Data Analysis
Stage One: Tidying up
When the data collection process was completed, my data contained fieldnotes, translated
transcripts of the interviews with the children, notes of informal talks with the parents, and the
teachers, entries from my personal journal, artifacts, and numerous pieces of paper where I registered
my observations, feelings, insights, questions, and simply relevant ideas. It was appropriate then to
tidy up the data that I had collected. Steps for tidying up the data included:
Making hard copies of the data. I always kept an updated back up copy on an
electronic devise. In addition, I continuously e-mailed myself copies of my
dissertation as I wrote it to have a back up copy in case of emergency.
Putting fieldnotes in order.
Managing transcribing notes.
65


Cataloguing the documents and artifacts.
Labeling and sorting the data.
Checking for missing data.
Starting to read and review the data
Then, as the final step of tidying up was to ask myself:
Have I deviated from my original purposes?
How have I altered any of the original research questions and why?
Am I addressing the interest and needs of the target audience for which this
research was originally intended? (LeCompte & Preissle, 1993, pp 235-236).
In retrospect, I did not deviate from the original intentions other than to realize that my research was
not only about the young peoples views. It was also about how the powerful people teachers,
parents, and community leaders contributed to shaping these youths identities. In addition, I made a
stronger emphasis on the negotiation aspect of these individuals experiences in school and out of
school. This was necessary considering the age and maturity level these study patricians displayed. I
also decided to include the immigration circumstances as a powerful factor in describing what made
them immigrants and the inconsistencies around this issue.
Stage Two: Domain Analysis
I deemed the domain analysis (Spradley, 1979) to be the most suitable approach for the data
analysis. This kind of analysis is undertaken using descriptive questions, which induce people to
describe the components of the world in which they live. In effect, domains are large units of cultural
knowledge (Lecompte & Schenseul, 1999, p.71). These domains were pre-determined by the main
objectives of the study examining negotiation of social and academic identities. Therefore, the cover
terms as Spradley (1980) called the names given to domains were dimensions of identities. The
domains were the most inclusive and general notions and they subsumed subdomains. The subdomains
became a combination of issues that emerged in the study itself and those that were derived from
readings. As a result, a host of notions from the tenets in the conceptual framework helped me to
organize subdomains in respective domains. For example, the domain of academic identity
encompassed such subdomains as academic trajectory, academic engagement, including investment in
66


learning English, and parents influence. Some of the terms applied to subdomains such as academic
engagement and school attachment were inspired by readings. But they are defined differently in this
study. Thus, as is mentioned in the conceptual framework, academic engagement points to study
efforts and pride one takes in education. School attachment rests on individuals feelings that arose as
result of their figuring in the school social fabric. The domain social identity is more voluminous; its
components were also derived from the conceptual framework and as a result of data collection.
Social identity comprised the following subdomains: school attachment, ethnic, religious assertions,
language contact, and immigrant status discourse.
Besides, the taxonomy in the domain social identity is expanded by developing sub-
subdomains. The subdomains school attachment, religious assertions, and immigrant status contain
several sub-subdomains that emerged as a result of the data analysis.
Stage Three: Identifying Items and Coding
It was important to make sure that the items, included in a particular subdomain or sub-
subdomain, were connected in some logical way. Lecompte and Schensul (1999) wrote, One of the
most important things the domain analyst does.. .is to establish the boundaries of the domain by using
rules that permit the ethnographer to make distinctions between what is and is not included in the
domain (p. 73). For example, academic attainment evoked associations with grades,
accomplishments, results and other categories that implied close links to receiving knowledge in the
present or in the future. Academic engagement, on the other hand, was linked with investing efforts,
diligence, being proud of accomplishments, and complying with school requirements such as
completing homework or attending school. In other words, the former corresponds to what they show
and ambition they have whereas the latter intends to address what they do in order to attain this
performance. The items that were included in subdomains or, in some cases, sub-subdomains,
emerged as the study progressed. Therefore, item-level analysis consisted of designating sentences,
chunks of interviews and observation narratives from the field notes aimed at a certain thesis. These
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items were coded. For instance, the sentence For me school is the place where you go if not in
church was coded as feelings about school or math was the class I adored was coded as math as
a facilitating tool. Spradley (1979) also refers to these coded items as included terms. The
following is the complete matrix that illustrates the taxonomy that emerged as a result of domain
analysis.
Table 3: Dimensions of academic identity
Included terms Sub-domains Domains
- previous educational accomplishments - current academic attainment Academic Academic
- future academic aspirations (future professions) - (gender differences) - (community differences) - preparedness in English upon arrival -current success with English trajectory identity
- motivation to get education Academic Academic
- attitude to school curricular - attendance engagement identity
- efforts in studying - completion of homework - study ethics - (gender differences) - (community differences) - math as a facilitating tool - History as a cause of tension - teachers expectations for students attainment - AP classes or IB
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- general level of English skills Investment in Academic
- motivation learning English identity
- assessments of ESL classes by students as part of
- assessment of ones own English skills academic
- contexts of use of English - dilemma: spoken vs. academic English - learning English as affordance and as a constrain for educational goals - place of the native language in the process of learning English engagement
- links to parents education Parents
- emotional support - authoritative parenting influence
Table 4: Dimensions of social identity
Included terms Sub-subdomains Subdomains Domain
- assessment of school behavior of others - clothing style - communication with teachers - communication with school-related personnel -feelings about school Perceptions of school culture School attachment Social identity
- reasons for participating/non- participating - abilities in various fields - (gender differences) - (community differences) Extracurricular activities School attachment Social identity
- facing stereotypes and reacting to them - criteria for establishing friendships - agents in fight stories - self-perceptions - attitudes to other ethnicities and races in school - (gender differences) - community differences) Negotiation of relationships School attachment Social identity
- definitions of being Russian - presenting ones culture in school n/a Ethnic and Social identity
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context - language ideologies - definitions of culture - participating in cultural events at the Russian cultural center - types of Internal divisiveness - discursive means of expressing anti- affiliations - solidarity - (religious community differences) - outcome of language contact as a tool for adjustment cultural reassertions
- controversy on reasons for immigration: Are we religious refugees? -change in socioeconomic status - life trajectory n/a Immigrant status Social identity
- dress code - the culture of dating -frequent early marriages - priority of families - traditional roles for women: caretaker - taking advantage of the American dream and its economic opportunities - material values as a social worth restricted access to modem technology - dancing or theater performances are disallowed - anti Orthodox positions Traditions values beliefs Negotiation of Religious identity Social identity
- services and rituals - choirs - playing music instruments - religious youth festivals - youth group gatherings - preparing for missionary work - teaching Russian to small children -exhibitions of art work - church as the recreational place Valued activities Negotiation of Religious identity Social identity
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- feelings about church - resisting to the dress code and the dating Agency of young Negotiation of Social identity
culture people religious
- independence aspirations - girls build plans for future careers - a group of the hesitant -children of believers as a group of resisters identities
Theme Analysis
Spradley (1980) explains a cultural theme as a cognitive principle which is something that
people believe and accept as true and valid; it is ah assumption about the nature of their commonly
held experiences (p.141). My conceptual framework suggests that one should be able to understand
the nature of reality and of meaning that people bring to their understandings of human interactions.
Thus, theme analysis helped me identify the outcomes of interactions between agents and mediational
means the study participants utilized in presenting their selves. Ways of identifying themes included
uncovering tacit or explicit meanings in peoples mediated actions and discursive practices, looking for
relationships between discursive and behavioral patterns, and immersing myself in the data until
themes emerged. As Miller (2003) pointed out, it is typical for qualitative research that it does not
provide any neat contours for a trim table in the final chapter, no deft linear argument leading
ineluctably to an uncontestable conclusion (p. 171). Therefore, conflicting and even contradictory
positions are inevitable, and a big volume of themes is possible. This is what indeed occurred in this
study.
Constant Comparison and Analytic Induction
LeCompte and Schensul (1999), drawing on Glaser and Strauss, describe constant comparison
as a strategy where the researcher constantly compares the language used by those being studied,
paying special attention to names or identifiers, relationships, behaviors, settings, actors, and other
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dimensions of cultural life (p. 76). The researcher is then able to make inferences about any
differences and to develop a set of consistent identifiers. I paid close attention to the nuances in the
individuals comments and compared them between the two groups and within the groups. I then
outlined beliefs and worldviews which allowed me to come up with a set of consistent identifiers for
the two student cohorts as well as their parents and teachers. I found that members of each group could
be identified based on similarities in the opinions they formulated and behavior patterns they exhibited.
I pinpointed the deep meanings of beliefs for each group. There were, however, some exceptions or
atypical patterns within each cohort of students. And I managed to document and single out these
exceptions.
Conclusion
My aims for this analysis were to identify accounts of mediated actions exhibited by Russian
youth as they interacted with the resources of the figured worlds they were exposed to. I explored
Russian adolescents interactions at multiple sites. Among the study participants were Russian youth
who arrived in this country at the age of 12 or older and had lived in this country five years at most
when the study began. To conduct the study, I used typical ethnographic methods of inquiry:
observations, interviews, and collection of artifacts. I intended to paint a comprehensive portrait of this
unknown group of immigrant students. In order to analyze the copious data, I used domain analysis
strategy. While embarking on the research path, I outlined general dimensions that needed to be
explored. However, a number of themes integrated in this study emerged in the process of data
collection and constant comparative analysis. Some of the terms in the analytical framework were
borrowed from the relevant readings whereas many others were derived from the interview excerpts
and fieldnotes.
The ethnographic approach helped to explain the nuances and salient features of the study
participants social and academic identities that consisted of several aspects. One of my goals was to
demonstrate the complexity of the Russian students backgrounds and point to factors that may predict
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outcomes of their educational and social experiences. Moreover, it was also essential to exemplify the
dynamics of the processes observed among the study participants as they were immersed in the
activities organized by school and community figured worlds. The tensions within the subgroups, the
Evangelic and non-Evangelic, were also tangible. I attempted to identify points of misunderstanding
and breakdowns in communication between the South High School personnel and the Russian students
that affected the Russian students social integration process.
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CHAPTER 4
SOCIAL IDENTITIES
Introduction
This chapter addresses the aspects of the research questions that shed light on the processes
involved in meditating social identities among Russian adolescents as they participated in the dynamics
of the new sociocultural context. As was discussed in the conceptual framework, social identity is
understood how people relate to the world around them. Therefore, this chapter attempts to illuminate
the ways Russian-speaking adolescents ascertained their positioning in American society in terms of
immigrant status, life trajectories, forming relationships, and presenting religious, cultural, and ethnic
identities. For the Evangelic immigrants, their religious identity came to the forefront. In fact, their
social activities were revolving around the religious immigrant community with its specific rules and
expectations. For the non-Evangelic young people, language and elements of higher culture such as
classical music, literature, cultural traditions, and history were more important in identifying themselves
as a group.
The analytical category, school attachment, as a means of making connections with others in
the school environment, was explored. The findings suggest that the Russian youth were alienated in
schools. Russian students expressed low motivation to participate in school extracurricular and other
socially-oriented activities and pointed to a lack of encouragement from others to feel more attached to
their new American schools. In schools, many Russian students were not known about unless dramatic
events such as fights took place. In addition, the study participants were engaged in reflecting upon or
battling stereotypes which inevitably impacted the process of building relations with other students. In
general, the Russian adolescents did not seek closer contacts with Anglo and Mexican youth. However,
the non-Evangelic youth welcomed relations with other ESL students. The differences that arose
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between females and males as well as between the Evangelic and non-Evangelic adolescents pertaining
to the outcomes of mediating social identities are also addressed.
Context of Russian Immigration
The Evangelic Community
. The Evangelic study participants were affiliated with two churches: Slavic Baptist and
Pentecostal. As the churches archive documents suggested, both religious groups were founded in
Tsarist Russia at the end of the 19th century by missionaries from Germany and Holland. Scores of
Baptists and Pentecostals were known to have lived either in Southern Russia or Ukraine. The main
goal of the Baptists and the Pentecostals was to oppose the perceived corruption that penetrated the
Russian Orthodox Church even though it was and is viewed by many as the mainstream religion in
Russia and Ukraine. Since the communities inception, its members were persecuted by the Russian
tsar and later by the Soviet government. The stories, revealing unjust and discriminatory practices of
the past, permeated children and their parents accounts when asked what motivated their or their
relatives immigration. An 18-year-old woman recalled her grandparents and parents accounts
describing those events, My grandfather was captured and thrown in jail for ten years because they
found a Bible in his house. But he continued believing in God. Discriminatory state policies caused
thousands of believers to emigrate. In 1987, the last Soviet President Gorbachev lifted the Soviet ban
on emigration. The contemporary immigrants who arrived dining the last twelve years were
reported to join their extended families who had settled in America earlier.
According to the stories told by the families, one needed to prove that his or her family
member suffered persecution under the Soviet government, and, as a result, they were able to obtain
the status of a political refugee even though they did not experience discrimination directly. Because of
the ambivalence linked to the refugee status, the immigration circumstances triggered debates or, at
times, even a rift within the community itself as new immigrants attempted to present their immigrant
stories to others to prove their right to share the American dream. In fact, there were wide spread
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views that, despite the refugee status, many community members did not consider the current
immigrants as true refugees. The Baptist pastor explained:
When I was leaving my country, I was practically forced to go. Nowadays, those who come
leave under different circumstances. Nobody takes their property away from them when they
emigrate. In fact, many sell it and bring the money to America. When I left, I could not bring
anything with me except personal belongings.
As a result of the discussions on who was a true immigrant, the reasons that made these individuals
leave their home countries were becoming more elusive and their clarity hinged upon the type of the
surrounding in which this story-telling was unfolding. It was especially confounding for the children of
these immigrants. The Evangelic youth were faced with questions regarding immigration from their
American peers and teachers. In schools, the Evangelic adolescents cited religious persecution as the
reason that drove their families from their home countries. In their essays, the students described their
grandparents lives in the former Soviet Union and the persecutions they were subject to. And their
teachers associated these experiences with those of their students as well. Therefore, the Russian
students garnered sympathy among their teachers and some of their peers in schools. In addition, in
2001, a local newspaper published an article dedicated to the Russian community. The author wrote,
Most of them (the Russian immigrants) cite religious persecution as the primary reason for leaving
their home...denominations like the Fundamental Baptists are still deemed forbidden.
In contrast, when not in school, the children themselves were inclined to talk about vibrant
chinch lives in their home towns although mentioning derogatory remarks from their old school peers
and teachers who did not hide their contempt for the Baptist and Pentecostal faith and the traditionally
large families in these communities. For example, Diana, an 18 -year-old female student, was proud of
her Baptist church in a large Siberian city as she showed a pamphlet issued for the centennial
celebration of the local chinch. In her Russian school, she tried to conceal her religious identity. When
her peers found out that she was a Baptist, they referred to her as a nun. Other young people mentioned
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the newspaper The Good News printed in the Russian Federation under the auspices of the United
Evangelic Organization with the Headquarters in Krasnodar, a large Russian city in the South of the
country. The Evangelic community members were able to receive this newspaper in the U.S. as well.
It usually contained some information on general political and social news in the former Soviet Union
as well as religious essays and poems written by Baptist or Pentecostal community members. Many
people named this newspaper as the only source of information about the world outside of these
churches.
When families gathered for dinners, conversations about the various reasons for immigration
surfaced frequently. For example, Aram explained that it was not easy to be an ethnic Armenian in
Russia after the Soviet Union was dismantled. His wife and he were bom in Azerbaijan, a Muslim
former Soviet Republic, but they spent most of their lives in Southern Russia. Their children were bom
in Russia too; there was a traditionally large ethnic Armenian population in this Southern region. He
said that they spoke Russian with an accent; their children, however, did not have an accent. In his
opinion, their physical appearances differed from those of an average Russian a darker complexion
and very dark hair. He further reminisced that all negative events in Russia were invariably blamed on
ethnic Armenians by Russian nationalists. In addition, they lived near the war-tom zone, Chechnya,
and felt constant danger languishing in this area.
A Ukrainian family, as many other families in the Evangelic community, cited dire economic
conditions in their towns as their real reason for immigration. Factories and farms were declining after
the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were no jobs available. In another family, there was a medical
emergency that made the family immigrate. A 17 year-old Valya from a Baptist family shared a
moving story. Her sisters health was deteriorating as days went by. Her parents were talking about
expensive dialysis and even a kidney transplant that would save her life. But, in Russia, they could not
afford it. One could not find a job to earn a sufficient amount of money to cover the expenses. Her
uncle who had already settled in the U.S. said that Valyas family should try to immigrate. Shortly
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after they arrived in this country, her sister had a kidney transplant done in the city hospital, and the
donor was the young man, a young immigrant from Ukraine who became her fiance.
Many individuals in the Evangelic community had large families and arrived in the U.S. from
rural areas in Russia and Ukraine. In some of their new houses, pictures and portraits frequently
black-and white of their families and relatives in front of their village houses and farms were
displayed. In order to maintain their life style, many older immigrants cared for small gardens on the
rented city plots. The younger generation, on the other hand, was visibly embarrassed by their
grandparents and parents love for working on the land.
Despite the noticeable presence of immigrants from rural areas, a large number of the people
in this community, nevertheless, came from urban areas such as Novosibirsk, with the population of a
million and half, Rostov-on-the Don, and Krasnodar, both with the population of a million people.
None of the study participants in this community came from the capitals of their home countries.
It is important to underscore that in the Soviet Union, Baptist and Pentecostal believers were
considered to be members of harmful sects (from interviews with the parents). Taking this fact into
consideration, it is not surprising then that the overwhelming majority of the current religious
immigrants from Russia and Ukraine were minimally educated. These people were banished from
active participation in many areas of society, higher education in particular. Although the restrictions
for the religious communities were abolished after the collapse of the Soviet Union, for many, the lack
of educational aspirations was rooted in the historical memory, which, according to the Baptist
pastor, could be formulated as they wont take us in why bother. Therefore, as the Baptist pastor
claimed, there are no former or current professionals in the community at all. However, most of the
people were skilled blue-collar workers as well as owners of stores and construction companies in the
area. The conversations with the key informants parents although they were often reluctant to reveal
their educational backgrounds indicated that one male had an associate degree in art, one female had
a university degree in physics, and another woman had a three-year degree required for nurses in
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Russia. The majority of the fathers reported that they finished nine grades of regular public schools
and a trade school while the majority of the mothers received high school diplomas. In their home
countries, the adult members of the religious communities were involved predominantly in occupations
such as construction workers, janitors, drivers, farmers, cooks, and sales clerks. Considering that a
number of families had as many as twelve children a rare event in Russia and Ukraine where a birth
rate stands at 1.1 per family mothers were predominantly homemakers. Similar trends were observed
among these families as they resettled in this country. Thus, there were several men in the community
who were employed in construction and remodeling companies as well as car repair shops. Community
members were particularly proud of a middle-age single father he lost his wife to cancer who
raised seven children and ran a multimillion dollar construction business with the help of his sons. This
individual frequently trained adolescents from the Russian Evangelic communities in skills such as
polishing granite and laying tile. In addition, the owners of the car repair shops encouraged teenage
boys to spend time around their work sites so that they could watch more experienced mechanics doing
their job. Some women, on the other hand, obtained caretaker jobs: They either worked in nursing
homes or attended to older women in the community.
In sum, the Evangelic communities represented by members of the Baptist and Pentecostal
churches were somewhat elusive about the reasons for immigration as if it were unpopular to name
better economic opportunities as the motivation to immigrate. They felt lost and uncertain when asked
what motivated their departure from their home countries. Many Evangelic families came from rural
areas although predominantly they arrived from cities. When resettled, these families tended to form a
close network. Only three parents among the study participants had an education beyond high school.
Women tended to have high school diplomas whereas men finished nine grades and vocational
schools.
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The Non-Evangelic Community
Unlike the Baptist and Pentecostal study participants, the non-Evangelic individuals could not
be characterized as a cohesive community confined to a designated residential area. Furthermore, the
immigration of these individuals was caused by a variety of circumstances: Jewish immigration, the
brain-drain phenomenon, and Russian-American marriages. The Jewish immigration began at the end
of the 70-s when the Soviet government removed barriers for the Russian Jews to leave the country. A
large number of the Russian Jews immigrated to North America. This type of immigration, even
though of a slower pace, continues currently as well. It is important to note that in the former Soviet
Union, being Jewish was traditionally considered to be a nationality or ethnicity.
Among the study participants, there were five families that came in this country as Jewish
refugees. All of these Jewish individuals were married to the non-Jewish people. In two families, one
from Moscow and the other one from a Siberian small town, the wives were Jewish whereas their
husbands were ethnic Russian. In three other families one from a Russian city of Krasnodar, one
from Riga, the Latvian capital, and the other one from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan the
husbands were Jewish, and their wives were Russians. In some of these individuals circumstances, the
reasons were rather mundane as some of them aptly expressed. They acknowledged using the
refugee status to immigrate for economic and security motivations. The family from the Siberian town,
for instance, believed that, in the U.S., their children would be in less danger considering the
unbearable daily concerns for their safety due to a high crime rate in their home town in Russia.
Besides, immigration allowed their son to avoid military draft. Ludmila explained, We lived well. My
husband and I were both professionals. I was an economist, and he was a computer engineer. And yet,
as this family stressed that moving to the U.S. was also prompted by better opportunities for their
children. The economy stagnated, and, according to the parents, the future of their children looked
bleak. Other family members and relatives had resettled in this state earlier, and this expedited making
the final decision to immigrate to the U.S.
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In two other families, both from Russian cities cited similar reasons for immigration. Yelena
from Moscow, a mother of three children, recounted, This decision was difficult. But we were
concerned about staying further in this huge city with its criminals and permanent terrorist acts. I could
not even use the subway anymore. I was afraid. She and her husband were engineers. Luba from
Krasnodar and her husband were hesitant of their decision to immigrate, but viewed the U.S. to be the
country of opportunities for their sons. In her home country, Lubas prior occupation was a chef, and
her husband was a driver.
The remaining two Jewish families from Uzbekistan and Latvia had different reasons for
immigration. The uniqueness of their circumstances was embedded in crossing ethnic boundaries.
Some dramatic situations were recounted. While officially Jewish, these individuals subscribed to
Russian culture, and as a consequence, the local mainstream people Uzbek and Latvians saw them
as Russians. These Russian Jews reported that they were not wanted in their home countries anymore
after the collapse of the Soviet Union because they were Russians, unpopular ethnic minorities in these
areas. Thus, a successful musician from Uzbekistan and a popular high school principle from Latvia
whose pedagogical innovations were described in a book published in the U.S. were ousted from
their positions. When threatened, they decided to flee.
Two families, the study participants, came to the U.S. as a result of American companies
recruitment policies. Among those who joined an enormous exodus of highly qualified specialists was
a computer programmer from Eastern Ukraine. According to the Russian bureau of statistics,
approximately seven hundred thousand scientists, engineers, sports coaches, and other specialists left
the Russian Federation abroad since 1989.
In addition to the families described above, there were Russian-American mixed families.
The women who married American men brought their children to this country. These adolescents came
with their mothers from large urban areas in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. In their home countries,
these women had university degrees and were employed as engineers, economists, and sports coaches.
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The parents of the non-Evangelic study participants with few exceptions experienced
downward mobility in their current employment. They cited having such jobs as janitors, daycare
workers, and drivers. In some cases, this drastic change caused family disharmony. Thus, Slava, a
former principal of a Latvian high school, recounted his childrens reaction to his being nothing.
Slava recalled,In the beginning, the fact that I was not holding the same position anymore exacerbated
the relationship with my children. They were not blunt in their comments, but I was acutely aware of
their embarrassment that I had some odd jobs in this country when we just came. Two years later, he
was able to become a teachers aid in school, and he began writing a book on the philosophy of
teaching to satisfy his intellectual drive. Dans father, a composer by training, was employed at a
construction site before he was invited to work in a New York music studio. In many interviews, the
Russian adolescents touched upon this issue and commented that their hope was that their parents
different kinds of jobs would not last for a long time.
To summarize the findings regarding the reasons for immigration and socioeconomic status of
the non-Evangelic families, it is essential to stress that these peoples motivations to immigrate to the
U.S included economic and safety concerns in their home countries, better employment opportunities,
marriages, and ethnic discriminations in their home countries. In contrast to the Evangelic community,
all parents but three had university degrees, and having arrived in this country, experienced downward
mobility.
The Culture of the Evangelic Immigrant Communities
Traditions and Beliefs
The traditions in the Baptist Slavic and Pentecostal Churches were very strong; these
communities were leading very active social lives. The Baptist one was a larger congregation between
the two which gathered several times a week in a spacious white-washed building. The Pentecostal
Church was situated not far from the Baptist Church; it was significantly smaller. The Baptist Slavic
community boasted a building equipped with modem technology for weekly services including several
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video cameras and a large TV screen in the hallway. Both churches had grand pianos and a stage
designated for choirs. In the entrance hall, book shelves had stacks of church literature and newspapers
printed in Russia or Ukraine. In the Baptist Slavic Church, a massive staircase led to the basement area
which offered more space to its members for holding religious classes and choir rehearsals as well as
sports activities such as ping pong. There was also a library with a small number of books mainly
describing the history of the Evangelic movement in the former Soviet Union.
A typical Sunday service lasted for about two and a half hours. The congregation halls of both
chinches were always filled to their capacity. The Evangelic youth made up a big part of the
communities. The sermon was typically held in Russian. However, the Pentecostal Church offered
services in Ukrainian too, which usually elicited an emotional approval from the audience such as
Ukrainian! Yes! That is the language, our language. The non-Ukrainian speakers showed quiet
resistance to the use of Ukrainian in their church as they whispered throughout the building,
Ukrainian again!
Both communities vigilantly guarded their traditions. The numerous home visits revealed that
none of the Evangelic families had non-religious books at home or any Russian nostalgic souvenirs.
The only literature displayed on the shelves was the translated versions of biblical stories. Both chinch
communities restricted access to modem technology such as television and computers. Theater
performances, serious involvement in sports, secular music, and dance were disallowed too.
Clothes became one of the major debatable subjects between the old and the young in the
religious communities. Many families insisted on a stricter approach to the way their youth dressed.
They became exasperated with their daughters tight skirts, revealing shirts, jewelry, and noticeable
make-up. The older women blamed the Slavic Church in America for such relaxed rules, which
contradicted to what they were accustomed to in the Evangelic churches of their home countries.
Others gravitated to the middle position which was embodied in the slogan Let them wear what they
want as long as they dont do at church services. The dress-code frequently inspired the church
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leaders to hold special sermons. Thus, a preacher in the Baptist Church during the service reflected on
how this issue should be treated in their community, I must make a confession. Recently my wife told
me that she wanted to put some clothes on, the type that many young girls wear. But think of what kind
of example you are setting for young women in our community. I believe it is inappropriate to expose
your skin especially if you reach a certain age. Zhenya, a Pentecostal 18-year-old man, supported his
community tradition for women stating that, Womens clothes should not stand out in a seductive way
and cause an interest among men. The Bible says that women should not wear mens attire. It distracts
them from serving God. This tradition was not always observed by young women. They appeared for
the church services in short skirts and with exposed arms, which angered the older women as the latter
turned their anguished eyes to the girls. Besides, in schools, many wore, as an ESL teacher explained,
rather provocative outfits. Anya, a 16-year-old girl, clarified her position on defying the rules, I am
a new believer. I can wear pants and use a bit of make-up unless my brother tells me not to. She and
her family joined this community upon their arrival in the U.S.
In addition to the dress code, the role of women was frequently brought to everyones
attention during Sunday sermons, family gatherings, and youth group meetings. It was an
uncontestable opinion among youth and older community members that womens primary obligation
was to raise children and take care of their homes. Thus, Gleb, a Pentecostal young man, shared his
thoughts on the qualities of his future wife, My dream is to find such a woman who would love me
and cherish me just as the Bible says. I imagine I could come home from work, and she would greet
me cheerfully and serve me dinner. It might not be popular with other Russians, but that is what I
want. Inna, a non-Evangelic girl, shared her perceptions on the Evangelic girls customs, I met a
Russian girl form the local Baptist Church. She said that she would do anything for her future husband.
She would be very obedient just like the Church teaches them to be. I strongly disagreed with it.
Dating traditions and the attitude of the young people to them are worthy of special
consideration. As school teachers noted, female members of the religious community tended to marry
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early in their lives. The Baptist Church pastor commented on the upcoming marriage of a 16-year-old
girl, I think for some of them, an early marriage is a kind of protection from learning how to deal with
the culture and language outside of our community. When the Evangelic girls gathered for lunch in
school or their Churches, one of the most popular themes for a daily conversation was invariably
related to weddings. These themes could range from discussing dresses to sharing personal dreams
about their future weddings. School teachers also noted that every time a wedding took place in their
students community, the girls proudly recounted the wedding events in great detail. Considering that
on average these families had between four and six children, weddings were frequent affairs in the
community. The young women compiled picture albums and brought them to school to share a very
important episode in their lives with other Russian-speaking peers. The Evangelic youth pointed out
that, in order to marry somebody, their community members usually chose someone from their
community or even arranged trips to Russia or Ukraine to look for a bride or a groom in the Evangelic
communities there. If a young man chose a girl, then they began dating which took place under strict
supervision only when friends or relatives were present. If a young man and a young woman proved to
be committed to each other, then their courtship was announced to all in the congregation.
The Evangelic Church leaders accentuated the purity of the relationship when youth groups
gathered for meetings. This was the reason for girls and boys being seated on the opposite sides of the
table as they came to the church praying room to study the Bible. Observations of Sunday services
showed that, when a large number of young people attended services, the most popular individuals
were whose who had recently exchanged marriage vows. Other youth appeared to covertly follow
these couples with a degree of envy in their facial expressions. Despite the requirements or
supervision, there were some controversial cases of dating against the church rules among adolescents.
For example, elaborating on a female teenagers aspirations to receive Church membership, or to
repent, the pastor commented, She has dedicated a great deal of time to studying the Bible. This is
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good. However, she has been noticed to violate certain requirements. She is dating a young man who
has not repented yet, and she is rumored to spend too much time with him alone.
The Evangelic Church leaders battled their youths deviations from the norms (from the
interview with the Pentecostal youth leader) especially if it concerned such attributes of youth culture
as popular music, non-standard language use, and efforts to be financially independent. In fact, the
adults in the community invested a great deal of energy and time in preventing the Evangelic youths
fascination with American and Russian popular youth culture. In some cases, they succeeded; in
others, their efforts were futile. Raya, a Baptist young woman, confided, I rent video tapes with
Russian pop music. As I listen to it, some Pentecostal girls start either crossing themselves or
immediately run away. I dont mind listening to good non-religious music eve if it is not approved by
our church. To denounce the use of profanity in English, the leader of the Evangelic youth group
appealed to the whole Church community:
Listen to our young peoples language. They, perhaps in order to fit in, curse in English. They
suppose it does not sound rough like it would in Russian. Therefore, it is not a sin. They also
listen to very loud and senseless music. It should be rejected by good Christians. This is
exactly what some of the parents were taking their children away in Russia or Ukraine.
Furthermore, a number of children were rebellious with regard to their parents demands to turn in all
the money they earned. The youth leaders discussed these cases too. They recounted that some
teenagers told their parents that they should not be giving all the money they made working hard to
their parents. These children were resorting to harsh words in their communication with the parents,
You bought a Mercedes for yourself with my money. What do I have? One girl left home
demonstrating her decision to stand firm. To be independent, according to the evangelic Church
youth leaders, was the outcome of the influence of American culture and did not correspond to the
communities expectations for the children to live with their parents until they were married.
Valued Youth Activities
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The majority of the Evangelic study participants, especially females, associated their social
activities only with the Baptist and Pentecostal Church centers. Even a simple question How is it
going evoked themes related exclusively to their religious communities. Indeed, lives there were
vibrant. There were always many people in the churches engaged in various activities. One could trace
peoples genuine emotions and interest in being there. Both Evangelic communities offered youth a
number of activities that were held in high esteem.
Teaching the Russian language in both religious communities was important. The Russian
Baptists and Pentecostals relied on newly arrived youth to teach the Russian language to those children
in the community who were bom in the U.S. According to the pastors, there were fifteen teachers, the
community youth, who worked with one hundred children. The community members were concerned
that new generations in the community would not be able to understand the church services in the near
future. Another valuable activity the young people were engaged in was preparing to conduct
missionary duties in the countries they arrived from. To that end, the Evangelic youth were trained
extensively by the chinch elders. There were as many as thirty adolescents being lectured on the
Biblical tenets for at least one year. If they proved to have a good standing with the church counsel,
and after a host of meetings with the pastor, they could be sent on the mission to the former Soviet
Republics. During the study period, the young people were being prepared to serve in Moldova, a
small country on the Black Sea.
Singing in the choir was another activity that a number of young church members aspired to
participate in. It was indeed prestigious for the Russian young immigrants to join the youth church
choir, one of four in their community. The main criterion for enrollment was to be officially baptized
or repent (from the interview with the youth) and have a good standing within the community.
Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, singers of the choirs gathered for two-hour rehearsals. Music
for them was a means to express veneration for God (from the interview with Vika). Raya, a 17-
year-old female Baptist described her weekly rehearsals, On Tuesdays, you are done with school and
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cannot wait to get to church because there we work very hard and for a very long time to get our voices
to sound correctly. We laugh and we talk. We are together. The long hours of rehearsals came to
fruition when these churches had large-scale concerts held two times on Sundays: one in the morning
and one in the evening. The female singers were usually dressed in long skirts or dresses with scarves
covering their hair. The male singers were required to wear suits and ties. On religious holidays, the
church building seemed to transform into a conservatory musical hall where properly dressed singers,
approximately twenty five, were seated on the stage: The women wore long black dresses, and the men
were in suits. The choirs consisted of accomplished signers taught by professional musicians. The
pastor described the qualification of the Church choir leader:
Highly professional musicians teach in our church. For example, we have a former military
conductor from Russia who works with our singers. He himself was educated at Moscow
Conservatory. He was baptized and thus officially joined our Church. We offered him this
position.
Another skill held in high respect by the community members was playing musical instruments. Nine
study participants from the religious community, four boys and five girls, learned to play the piano,
accordion, guitar, and violin. All of them received special training in music schools in the former
Soviet Union. Although once they moved to this country, the majority of them could not afford to pay
for further music education. The Evangelic youth explained that their Churches inspired young people
to receive music education. Nikolai, a 15 year-old Ukrainian boy, studied violin while Kostya, an 18-
year-old man, took piano classes. Gleb finished a five-year course required for an accordion player, but
did not maintain his interest in mastering skills when he came to this country. His family could not
afford it anymore. Music appeared to be the quintessential element of any young persons life
especially during religious holidays.
Because these religious communities established close ties with similar communities in other
states, they practiced choir and musician exchange programs and festivals. Hence, in the Pentecostal
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Church, the community occasionally hosted a group of male singers whose religious songs in the
Ukrainian language captured everyones attention. The Baptist Church invited a married couple of
conservatory trained musicians from a different state: The young woman played the piano while her
husband displayed his finesse skills on the violin. In addition to music, the Baptist Church regularly
held exhibitions of children paintings. Prohor, a 14 year-old boy besides a gift for playing the piano,
had a unique talent in painting. In his home, the walls were covered with numerous drawings and
paintings he did for his family members. His participation in the Church life was supported by art in
which he depicted various Biblical scenes. When not in church and school, the Evangelic young people
spent their time helping their parents with home chores such as baby sitting, and arranging parties with
their close relatives or friends. Prohor and Aleksey the only young people who included reading as
an activity at spare time when being interviewed were voracious readers. Their mother supervised
their daily reading in English and Russian.
The study findings illuminated the figured world of the Russian Evangelic communities. This
is the world that the young people saw as vital for their lives in this country. Yet, some adolescents
from the community resisted the established traditions as they were noticed to wear different clothes,
listen to popular music, and date unsupervised.
Subgroups within the Evangelic Youth
The majority of the young study participants claimed to be united by the common faith.
However, within the Baptist and Pentecostal Churches, there was a distinct division among young
people. One group consisted of youth who were striving toward becoming full-fledged members. The
majority of these individuals were females. The second cohort was referred to as children of
believers, and the third group appeared vacillating between the two.
The first group was expected to undergo specific training to officially join the community.
Both Evangelic Churches had a major stipulation: An individual could join their Chinches at least at
the age of sixteen for it should be a conscious and mature decision. According to the Church leaders,
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one needed to earn this honor before he or she was accepted as an equal member. For that, young
people took Bible classes. The pastors responsibility consisted of providing each potential Church
member with his personal attention talking to them one time every week for six months. Such private
meetings allowed the pastor to assess the extent of preparedness and the maturity level of the youth as
they contemplated Church membership.
Another group of young people -- the third group viewed themselves as believers and
emotionally attached to the Church community proved to struggle the most with the dilemma
embedded in the questions If I repent, then will I have to give up some of the things I like to do? For
example, Diana, an 18 year-old woman, confided her torment, I know I belong here. Do I really need
to stop listening to pop-music? Do I really need to quit using mascara? These young people had to
make seemingly simple choices. But, considering the age group and immigrant context, these were big
decisions. And their involvement in the Church community growing up was the only life style they
were acquainted with. The findings showed that the females were predictably leaning toward adhering
to the community whereas the males were ready to take a risk of going their way (from the interview
with the Baptist pastor).
As a result, one more group of the Evangelic youth stood out in the community. There were
persistently referred to as children of the believers or simply DV, the acronym derived from the
Russian equivalent expression deti veruyschich. Deciphering the notion of children of the
believers and discerning the difference between them and the rest of the Evangelic youth was not an
easy task. The pastor provided the most articulate explanation, These are the children of the Baptist
or Pentecostals who dont practice religion themselves but come from these families. These youth,
mainly boys were always seen in the community and their life aspirations resembled those of any other
community member. Ordinarily, these young men preferred to be less noticeable in the Church or
around it. They sat in the back during youth group gatherings, wearing almost identical black leather
coats; they congregated outside the Chinches during regular services or waited for the service to end in
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