Cover of Language Brokers by Hyeyoung Kwon
Language Brokers
Children of Immigrants Translating Inequality and Belonging for Their Families
Hyeyoung Kwon


August 2024
256 pages.
from $26.00

Hardcover now $52.50 (50% off)
Paperback now $13.00 (50% off)

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503638686
Paperback ISBN: 9781503639461
Ebook ISBN: 9781503639478

Request Review/Desk/Examination Copy


Excerpts and More

In a nation lacking a comprehensive social safety net, people often scramble to find private solutions to structural problems. While existing scholarship primarily focuses on how adults, particularly mothers, navigate systematic gaps in social support, Language Brokers shifts our attention to bilingual children securing crucial resources for their families. Drawing upon interviews with working-class Mexican and Korean American language brokers, as well as healthcare providers, and months of participant observation in a Southern California police station, Hyeyoung Kwon reveals how children of immigrants translate more than simple verbal exchanges.

Living at the intersection of multiple forms of inequality, these youth creatively use their in-between status to resolve structural problems to ensure their families' basic citizenship rights are upheld in interactions with teachers, social workers, landlords, doctors, and police officers. In an era of widespread racialized nativism, Language Brokers provides a critical examination of American culture, laying bare the contradictions between the ideals of equality and the exclusion of immigrants. Kwon underscores that dichotomous and racialized understandings of "deserving" and "undeserving" immigrants—which are embedded in everyday interactions and institutional practices—inform the routine ways in which immigrant youth attempt to cultivate belonging for their families.

About the author

Hyeyoung Kwon is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Indiana University, Bloomington.

"Powerful and illuminating, this book uncovers the overlooked but essential language labor of children in working-class immigrant families living in the contemporary US. Through evocative stories and careful analysis, Kwon shows how bilingual Mexican American and Korean American children creatively navigate daily life in a society with limited resources for non-English speakers and work to ensure that their families don't fall through the holes in our threadbare social safety net. In doing so, Kwon challenges deficit-based assumptions about immigrant youth and their families while also revealing the multiple and compounding challenges that these young people and their families face. This book is a must-read not only for scholars of immigration, childhood, family life, and social policy but also for policymakers and for all the professionals—healthcare providers, educators, police officers, social workers, bank tellers, insurance agents, realtors, and so many others—who may knowingly or unknowingly find themselves communicating with the help of a child."

—Jessica Calarco, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Language Brokers offers an illuminating, complex, and theoretically sophisticated account of Korean and Mexican immigrant youth who translate for their parents within the context of American institutions. In a compelling, beautifully written book, Kwon uses an intersectional lens to expand our understanding of the multiple inequalities that immigrant youth navigate and resist on behalf of their families, providing new insights about race, immigration, citizenship, and deservingness."

—Dina Okamoto, Indiana University