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Opening Doors: Community Centers Connecting Working-Class Immigrant Families and Schools

reviewed by Michelle Glowacki-Dudka - September 21, 2018

coverTitle: Opening Doors: Community Centers Connecting Working-Class Immigrant Families and Schools
Author(s): Nga-Wing Anjela Wong
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 143314686X, Pages: 162, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

“Children of immigrants are the fastest growing population in the United States” (Wong, 2018, p. 3).

While books on education and serving diverse students are plentiful, Nga-Wing Anjela Wong provides us a window into the in-between world of community-based education centers that serve local residents as their preschool, after-school care, youth center, and community center. Within the pages of this book, we vividly see how a community-based center can support immigrant children and families as they “navigate between the two ‘worlds’: their home/community culture and their school/dominant society” (p. 3).

Set in Chinatown in a large city on the east coast, Harborview Chinatown Community Center (HCCC) and its youth program, Community Youth Center (CYC), are the focus of this book. The eight chapters work together to paint a portrait of the Center and its contributions to the community and schools from the participants’ perspectives. The book sets the stage regarding community-based organizations and how they are the center of many family, community, and school partnerships. Chapter Two presents the context of Chinatown and its relationship to the city. The needs of the community continue to be overlooked under pressure from growth, gentrification, and the systematic marginalization of the immigrant community. Chapter Three provides space for the parents to describe their relationship to the Center, whereas in Chapter Four, the youth share their experiences with the Center, family, and school. Chapter Five addresses how the Center can serve as a place to access information, gain opportunities, and support advocacy. Chapter Six describes the value of the youth community and the role the Center plays in providing a safe place for youth to mature and learn about their own cultural identity. In Chapter Seven, the youth return after eight years and reflect on their prior experiences with the Center. The book concludes with implications and recommendations for policy makers, educational advocates, school personnel, researchers, and scholars.

Based on research conducted in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2015, this ethnography uses the words of parents, students, and staff members from the Center to highlight the value of this type of organization. Wong understands the HCCC and CYC through three critical concepts: Phelan et al.’s multiple worlds model (Phelan et al., 1998); Valenzuela’s authentic caring (1999); and Ladson-Billings’s culturally relevant understanding (1995a, 1995b). Throughout the text she returns to these concepts and provides living examples of each in the voices of her participants. She regards them as “collaborators” with whom she can “work collectively” in order to “honor and benefit the community” (p. 10). The book “amplifies the visibility of Asian Americans, who are not ‘model minorities,’ but instead face complex barriers” (p. 10), building on previous research with immigrant families and their experience living and working in the U.S. (Delgado-Gaitan, 2004; Kibria, 1993; Ong, 2003; Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco, 2001; among others).

Like other immigrant communities, these barriers often include issues of family separation, such as when one or both parents immigrate and leave the child with other family members. When reunited later, the children may not know how to communicate with or trust the parent. Additionally, low-wage labor is often the only option for immigrants who do not speak English, but living paycheck to paycheck forces parents to work long hours that do not correspond with the hours that children are home. As most schools do not have bilingual programs or multi-lingual teachers, language and cultural barriers can also prevent parents from communicating with or advocating for their children at school.

Wong takes these issues on directly and courageously calls on schools to recognize these barriers and work to improve them, although she did not include public school officials in her study. She acknowledges the Center as a place for the immigrant children and families to be safe and honored: “CYC and HCCC serve as a triangulated bridge as the youth and their immigrant parents try to navigate the dominant culture and intergenerational gap” (p. 82).

The staff at CYC recognizes the importance of building and maintaining trust and respect; “time spent ‘hanging out’ with youth and participating in shared experiences is what creates… positive youth-adult interactions and sense of community” (p. 108). They have formalized this process through a variety of programs, such as a guitar club that grew into the CYC youth band, a cooking club, and other youth trips and opportunities. They also established a high school mentoring program, where high school juniors and seniors are paired with a mentor who had been part of the CYC in the past.

Wong emphasizes throughout the book that the HCCC and CYC “embrace the families’ cultural wealth, maintaining trust with the youth, families, and community, and having a positive caring presence” (p. 82). This ethnography provides a deep dive into this particular community-based organization as an example for others. While the school system is not able to serve the unique individual communities of all its students, local programs that are familiar with a community’s particular history and culture can serve as a second home and rich learning space for community members.

Wong recognizes that community-based organizations cannot do it all; rather, a holistic and collaborative approach should be implemented in which partnerships are created and maintained in our communities with the mutual goal of improved service to our students through more effective communication and understanding the unique needs of students of color from immigrant families. Readers will find this book to be a refreshing insight into the real work of community organizations that serve immigrant youth and their families despite a dominant culture that continues to ignore and oppress rather than embrace its diverse population.



Delgado-Gaitan, C. (2004). Involving Latino families in schools: Raising student achievement through home-school partnerships. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Kibria, N. (1993). Family tightrope: The changing lives of Vietnamese Americans. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995a). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory Into Practice, 34(3), 159–165.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995b, Fall). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465–491.

Ong, A. (2003). Buddha is hiding: Refugees, citizenship, the new America. Berkely, CA: University of California Press.

Phelan, P., Davidson, A. L., & Yu, H. C. (1998). Adolescents’ worlds: Negotiating family, peer, and school cultures. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Suarez-Orozco, C., & Suarez-Orozco, M. M. (2001). Children of immigration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive schooling: U.S.-Mexican youth and the politics of caring. Albany, NY: State of New York Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 21, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22510, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 6:11:11 PM

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About the Author
  • Michelle Glowacki-Dudka
    Ball State University
    E-mail Author
    MICHELLE GLOWACKI-DUDKA has been working in the field of adult education since 1995. She completed her master's at Northern Illinois University in 1997 and her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1999. She is currently a professor of adult higher and community education at Ball State University.
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