As regular readers to this blog know already (and as I write in the top section of every Asian-Nation post I write), I feel very strongly “public sociology” — to make sociological theory, research, and data as accessible to as wide of an audience as possible, and as applicable to real-world issues and situations as possible. I recently received an email that gave me just that opportunity.

Specifically, one reader wrote to me:

I am a full time elementary school teacher and I will have a new student in a few days from China. He and his family do not speak English–they are opening a restaurant in our small community. In our community, he will be the only Asian child. What can I do to help him not feel so alone and alienated? I know language will be a problem, but what could I as his teacher do to help? I was scanning the internet trying to find resources and found your site. Thank you for your time.

I replied back:

I commend you on trying to find ways to make this new student feel welcomed. Although my expertise is not in education, these are some suggestions that come to mind:

Young Chinese student © Justin Guariglia/Corbis

(1) Some time ago, there was a commercial (I forgot what the actual product or service was), but it showed a young Chinese boy about to enter a predominantly White school for his first day. Before entering, he was speaking in Chinese with his mom outside and told her, “My English is not good. What if the other students hate me?” His mother calmly replied, “You’ll be fine.” As he entered his classroom escorted by the principal, the teacher introduced the new student to the class. Then the entire class welcomed him by saying in unison, “Ni hao [student’s name]” — translated, it means “Hello [student’s name].” It was very sweet and it would be great if your class would do the same.

(2) You may already have plans to do so already, but I’ve heard from many educators that it helps new students if one or two other students are assigned to be their “guide” or someone who will spend time him the new student, show him around the school, eat lunch with him, introduce him to other students, and basically act like an ambassador for him to make him feel more comfortable.

(3) You may know Google Translate already , but if not, it’s a great tool to assist in translating between different languages. In the meantime, you’ll probably be surprised how quickly the student will learn English. Just stay patient and positive while he does.

(4) Perhaps some time in the future, your class can make a field trip to his parent’s restaurant to learn about Chinese food, running a small business, etc. This would be a great way to welcome the family to the community and to show the other students that he is welcomed in their class.

(5) Finally and perhaps most importantly, I hope you and the rest of the teachers and administrators can do whatever possible to stay on top of any incidents of racial teasing. Nothing will alienate the new student more than if other students start making fun of him because he’s Chinese — because he’s different than everybody else around him. With that in mind, it is absolutely critical to let the other students (in your class and elsewhere) that it is not acceptable to make fun of him because he’s Chinese and that any such incidents will be punished. This how we start to break the cycle of racial prejudice — one student at a time.

The teacher wrote me back and thanked me for the ideas and seemed very excited about them.

This question of how a school, administrators, teachers, and students can best welcome new student who is both an immigrant and a racial minority to their class got me thinking that, rather then just giving her my ideas, I should “crowdsource” this question and ask all of you for your suggestions on how to best welcome this new student.

If you have been in this situation, either as the new student, one of the existing students, or the educator, what were some ways to make this new student feel welcomed and comfortable? Or even if you were never in this situation, what are some strategies to try? If you are a researcher who is familiar with this issue, what are some “best practices” that have been shown to be effective? I would love to hear from others with your ideas and suggestions.

As globalization and demographic changes keep taking place and as U.S. society and more communities around the country like this become more diverse and multicultural, this kind of situation is likely to become more common. In other words, this is sociology taking place in the real world.

This article originally published at Asian-Nation.org and is copyrighted © 2013 

Regular readers to this blog may have noticed that I have not posted often as of late. As you might have guessed, it’s because I’m on vacation — visiting my parents and friends in southern California. As part of my trip, we also did the Disneyland thing the other day by going there with some friends and their families.

Overall, it was a fun experience, especially for my daughter, who never objects to a trip to the Tragic, err Magic Kingdom. However, there were a couple of “incidents” that — unexpectedly — stood out as interesting metaphors for the sociology of being “American,” a theme about which I’ve often blogged on this site.

Specifically, my wife, daughter, and I were part of a large group that included two of my best friends (Jim and Tony) from high school and their families, Jim’s ex-girlfriend from high school (Kim), and Jim’s sister (Michelle) and her family. For the record, they are all White while of course, my wife, daughter, and I are Asian American.

The “incidents” in question were when we were about to board a particular ride or attraction and the Disneyland attendant would determine who was in which party and therefore, how many people to let into each car for the ride in question.

A couple of times my family and I were at the tail end of the group and as such, when we reached the ride attendant, s/he would close the gate before we could enter, thinking that were were not part of the group that s/he just let in, when in fact, we were. We would immediately let him/her know that we were part of the group s/he just let in and the attendant would say, “Oh ok, sorry about that” and let us in.

For us, we did not think that much about it because quite frankly, we’re used to being thought of as “outsiders” or not part of the “normal” or “mainstream.” But each time these incidents happened, my friend Tony noticed and by the second time, he remarked that he found those incidents to be a little jarring for him to see how we were automatically thought of as “outsiders” in everyday situations like being at Disneyland.

One of the reasons why Tony and I have been friends for so long is because long ago, he understood my identity as an Asian American, a person of color, and some of the challenges that I face on the individual and institutional levels of American society as a result of these identities. So it’s not as though he is completely clueless about such issues.

But when he admitted that he found those incidents to be rather disconcerting, I realized that for many White Americans, they may have an intellectual understanding of racism, or at the least, implicit racial assumptions that function to exclude people of color, but until they actually see it happen right in front of them, they really cannot appreciate just how such incidents can accumulate in the psyche of people of color and for the perpetrators of such racial exclusion.

Ultimately, these incidents — the actual “closing of the gates” as we were about to enter and my friend Tony’s reaction to them — serve as an interesting and useful metaphor for the status of people of color, particularly Asian Americans, in American society in the eyes of many Whites.

That is, we are frequently and automatically seen as outsiders and not “real” or “authentic” members of the mainstream and second, that our White allies sometimes don’t fully understand or appreciate our position in American society until they see it happen right in front of their eyes.

As you can see, sociology can happen in many places — even Disneyland.