One of my earliest memories was when I was four years old. I was busy making a jump rope with my older sister. We were using colorful rubber bands, looping them together into a chain that would become a jump rope. Meanwhile, there was a lot of activity around us. My other family members were talking and walking with great energy, going in and out of rooms and organizing things. There was talk about going somewhere. I asked where they were going. “The States,” someone said. I asked if I could come.
My family and I immigrated from the Philippines to Los Angeles, California in 1989. My dad came the year before to get settled. My mom, my two older siblings, and I followed. We had to leave my two-year old sister behind but my parents planned to come back for her after a few years. (After some legal and financial challenges, she joined us nine years later.) We lived in immigrant neighborhoods with families from all over Latin America and Southeast Asia.
These early years felt like I was on an adventure with my family. Many pictures at the time showed us in our one-bedroom apartment eating McDonald’s on the kitchen counter, in front of a bus stop at night, or in a department store sitting on the displayed furniture. Most activities were a family affair, which included trips to laundromats, visits to the homes of family friends, or our weekly trips to church. As years passed I got the sense of how complicated our lives were. When I was 10 years old, California voters passed Proposition 187, which denied “illegal aliens” healthcare, public education, and other services. I remember feeling surprised that California, which contained my city of immigrants, had people that didn’t want us to be there. Fortunately, it was ruled to be unconstitutional.
Almost 30 years later, I am now nearly the age of my parents when they first immigrated. I can’t imagine how stressful that time must have been. My two older siblings, who were entering their teen years when we immigrated, were my surrogate parents. They were often put in a position of taking care of me as much as they were trying to take care of themselves. I think back to that jumping rope memory and now see it from my family members’ perspectives. My older sister must have been playing with me to distract me. My mom balanced both logistical and emotional struggles—saying goodbye to her large family and her youngest daughter. My dad anxiously waited for us on the other side of the Pacific, doing what he could to make sure we were comfortable with what we had. This was one of many stories of the ways that my family rallied around me and around each other.
I carry my family stories with me in the work that I do today as a designer, educator, and researcher. In my dissertation research, I found myself working with kids from immigrant families. I collaborated with community centers to develop a program called Family Creative Learning (FCL). Kids and their families learned and created together using the Scratch programming language and MaKey MaKey invention kit. Some might interpret FCL as teaching families to code. However, FCL is really about building relationships—relationships between kids and their parents, between families and their neighborhood, and between families and technology. My community collaborators and I wanted to create a space where families—who were rallying around each other in many other activities—could rally around each other in the context of computing.
When I talk about the groups of people that I work with, I struggle with the labels: underserved, disadvantaged, marginalized, less privileged, minorities, non-dominant, low-income. These labels recognize the challenges and differences, but they tend to focus on the deficits or imply less than they are. We should focus instead on how we can address the deficits in our environments and opportunities rather than on the deficits in people. I see kids and families who had similar stories to mine, their own stories of immigration, of struggle, and of success. They have their own family photos of brand new activities. They have diverse backgrounds, interests, practices, and perspectives. When we design experiences, how do we invite, welcome, and respect people for who they are, where they are from, and how they are connected? How do we develop opportunities to allow people to create, to share their voice, and to shape their trajectories?
Adapted from the Preface of Family Creative Learning: Designing Structures to Engage Kids and Parents as Computational Creators (2016)
Ricarose Roque is an assistant professor in Information Science at University of Colorado Boulder and a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. She designs inclusive learning environments that enable young people to become computational creators—people who are able to use computing to create things they care about, develop identities as creators, and imagine the ways they can shape the world. Ricarose draws on qualitative methods such as ethnographic and design-based methods to study the role that social context plays in supporting children’s participation in computing, with particular focus on two settings: the Family Creative Learning program and the Scratch online community. She earned a BS and MEng in Computer Science and MS and PhD in Media Arts and Sciences—all from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To learn more about her research and publications, visit www.ricarose.com.