There continues to be a growing wave of immigrants entering the US. However, the face of this current immigrant differs from prior decades in that the immigrant’s country of origin may be vastly different from the new culture4. This change has served to complicate the process of acculturation which is defined as a process of adopting cultural traits and patterns from another culture4. Earlier perspectives of acculturation noted the expectation that immigrants would naturally adopt the values, beliefs, and practices as well as the language of the new culture while letting go of their initial culture. However, current perspectives on acculturation recognizes that this process can occur in a variety of ways4. An individual can adopt the new culture while discarding the old, referred to as assimilation, adopt the new culture while retaining the old, referred to as integration, and may even reject both cultures which is called marginalization. There are individual differences in how people achieve social, psychological, and cultural adaptation of the new culture. Those that pursue the integration type of acculturation experience less stress than those who choose marginalization1.Research has noted that the type of acculturation with the greatest degree of success with reduced stress is integration1.
Furthermore, the process of acculturation is impacted by factors which include: the individual’s ability to adjust, the level of familiarity with the new culture, existence of available resources, and the presence of existing barriers such as lack of citizenship6. Therefore, entering a new country is only the first step in the process of successful acculturation and learning a new language. The greater the difference in the two cultures, the harder it will be to assimilate and master a new language. Individuals may develop the ability to converse in English but a deeper level of understanding to allow them to succeed in school takes several years5. Both acculturation and mastering a new language occurs over time. In both of these processes, it is critical that there be existing resources to promote the learning process in order to reduce potential failure5.
A significant barrier faced by immigrants is their lack of citizenship and legal documentation. This dilemma impacts not only the individual, put the entire family. This is particularly true in children as they develop and seek to pursue higher education and independence. Their ability to successfully complete the goal of separation from family is obstructed by their illegal status6. However, despite barriers, immigrants adjust to a new environment with their children seeking academic advancement and improved educational outcomes. For example, in Latino/a immigrants children, a higher level of acculturation is associated with their ability and desire to pursue a college education7.
As acculturation continues, first and second generation children demonstrate a decline in academic success. This decline has been referred to as the immigrant paradox2. There has been growing research that as children become removed from their parent’s initial incentive to migrate to a new country in search of greater opportunities and more exposure to American peers, they lose their enthusiasm and drive3. Therefore, it is critical that the process of acculturation be better understood related to a more integrated perspective of what factors either support or hinder successful acculturation. In addition, consideration must be given to supporting this process through the generations to provide early intervention and to counter the effects of the immigrant paradox2. Both acculturation and the immigrant paradox must be better understood as these concepts continue to impact a family and a child’s development, not only upon entry to a new country but through their lifespan3.
- Berry, J.W. (2005). Acculturation: Living successfully in two cultures. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29,697-712. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2005.07.013
- Greenman, E. (2013). Educational attitudes, school peer context, and the “immigrant paradox” in education. Social Science Research, 42(3), 698–714. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.12.014
- Marks, A. K., Ejesi, K., & García Coll, C. (2014). Understanding the U.S. immigrant paradox in childhood and adolescence. Child Development Perspectives, 8(2), 59–64. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12071
- Schwartz, S. J., Unger, J. B., Zamboanga, B. L., & Szapocznik, J. (2010). Rethinking the concept of acculturation: Implications for theory and research. American Psychologist, 65(4), 237–251. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019330
- Suárez-Orozco, C., Suárez-Orozco, M. M., & Todorova, I. (2008). Learning a new land: Immigrant students in American society. Cambridge, MA, US: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press. (The Challenge of Language Acquisition)
- Suárez-Orozco, C., Yoshikawa, H., Teranishi, R. T., & Suárez-Orozco, M. M. (2011). Growing up in the shadows: The developmental implications of unauthorized status. Harvard Educational Review, 81(3), 438–472.
- Vela, J. C., Johnson, M.B., Cavazos, L., Ikonomopoulos, J., & Gonzalez S. L. (2014). The effects of barriers, acculturation, and academic goals on Latina/o students’ academic performance. The American Counseling Association, 1-11. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/docs/default-source/vistas/article_37.pdf?sfvrsn=6