Author: umutonik

Pillars of Society: Schools and Neighborhoods and their Impact on Immigrants’ Development

Immigrant children are first introduced to American culture through their schools and neighborhoods1. A major important psychological theory in developmental psychological posits that development is influenced by different environmental systems2. One of these systems is the microsystem, which includes schools and neighborhoods. Not only are immigrant children introduced to American culture through their experiences at school and in their neighbors, this also has implications for their development. Furthermore, as immigrant children navigate a new culture at school and in their neighborhood they might experience acculturative stress3. Acculturative stress is the psychological impact of adapting to a new culture. Usually stress arises when navigating a culture that is different from their original one3. However, even though schools and neighborhoods can be sources of acculturative stress, they can also provide resources that lessen the burden of adapting to a new culture.

Before addressing how schools and neighborhoods mitigate the consequences of adapting to a new culture, we need to understand the ways they  contribute to acculturative stress. In schools immigrant students are tasked with learning the beliefs, values, and language of the host society while still trying to retain their own culture’s customs3. This is might cause stress when trying to bridge these distinct cultures. Failure to adapt to the educational systems of the host society might be associated with poor school performance, for example, immigrant children are more likely to struggle in school and have poorer scores on standardized tests4. A recent report found that English-language learners from immigrant families tend to have lower test scores in math and reading when compared to non-immigrant students4.

Furthermore, studies show that immigrants usually live in poor neighborhoods that do not have access to resources that might help them successfully integrate into the receiving society5. For example, a report in 2010 found that 19.9% of immigrants compared to 13.5% of native born Americans lived in poverty6. Additionally, these immigrants were likely not have proper health insurance. Thus, when dealing with psychological distress immigrant children might not be able to access mental health services due to poverty.

However, promoting school engagement among immigrant students might help them cope with acculturative stress4. For example, educators should attempt to get to know immigrant students and their families as a way to foster a welcoming environment7. Sometimes this might prove challenging if children have been separated from their parents as a result of stepwise migration (one family member migrating first then to be joined later with other family members) 8. Educators can create an engaging environment by inviting immigrant students’ culture into the classroom7. A great way would be having students share popular stories or folktales with the class. Having a space to engage their own culture at school immigrant students might have an easier time adapting to the new culture while still maintaining their own.

Additionally, neighborhoods with high immigrant populations should aim at creating youth services that  help immigrant children engage in the receiving culture6. A good example is the YWCA in Carlisle, one of the youth programs they run is an after school homework club9. The program aims at providing an environment where students can complete their homework in an interactive manner and also get mentorship from tutors. The program is open to all students in the 1st to 5th grade. Thus, immigrant children might interact with other children in a less formal environment while also getting help with their school work. Youth services such as the YWCA after school homework club help immigrant children integrate into the receiving society and interact with other members of their community.

It is important to understand how schools and neighborhoods might create environments that make it difficult for immigrants to adapt to the receiving society’s culture. But we should also go further and investigate how these same microsystems can adapt strategies that are protective against acculturative stress. In doing so we might be able to create environments that are  supportive to immigrants.

  • Read “The Integration of Immigrants into American Society” at NAP.edu. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nap.edu/read/21746/chapter/2#
  • Bronfenbrenner, U. (2000). Ecological systems theory. In A. E. Kazdin & A. E. Kazdin (Ed) (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Psychology, Vol. 3. (pp. 129–133). Washington, DC, US; New York, NY, US: American Psychological Association.
  • Motti-Stefanidi, F., & Masten, A. S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18(2), 126–135.
  • Mitchell, C. (2017, October 25). Kids Count: Immigrants and Their Children Face Challenges on Path to Opportunity. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning-the-language/2017/10/immigrant_students_often_struggle.html
  • Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology,50(6), 1771-1787. doi:10.1037/a0036424
  • Immigrants in the United States: A Profile of America’s Foreign-Born Population. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://cis.org/Immigrants-United-States-Profile-Americas-ForeignBorn-Population
  • (2017, January 11). Creating a Welcoming Classroom Environment. Retrieved from http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/creating-welcoming-classroom-environment
  • Suárez-Orozco, C., Bang, H. J., & Kim, H. Y. (2011). I felt like my heart was staying behind: Psychological implications of family separations & reunifications for immigrant youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 26(2), 222–257. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558410376830
  • After School Homework Clubs. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ywcacarlisle.org/index.php/programs/specific-program/afterschool-homework-clubs

 

Acculturation a double-edged sword; The consequences of Acculturation on Immigrants’ Development

When immigrants make the decision to migrate to the United States it is usually with the hope of achieving a better life for themselves and their families (1). Early psychological theories proposed that as immigrants assimilate to an American lifestyle by acquiring English skills and getting an American Education, they are guaranteed a better life (2). Usually, adapting to a new country involves changes that are related to interacting with different cultures, this process is referred to as acculturation (2). However, surprising research has shown that the longer immigrants stay in the United States the more they are likely to be faced with a plethora of challenges that negatively impact their development (3). Researchers have coined this interesting phenomenon as the immigrant paradox, whereby newcomer immigrants tend to have better health and perform better in school compared to later generation immigrants (3). Thus, acculturation can be viewed as a double-edged sword, since it has both favorable and unfavorable consequences.

Before exploring the unique nature of the consequences of acculturation, it is important to understand the advantage of language acquisition, since mastering English can be an agent for successful acculturation (4). Immigrants tend to view acquiring English skills as essential for their prosperity in the US (4). Some have even gone further to argue that learning English is not only important for survival it also allows immigrants to advance economically. When immigrants speak English fluently there are able to explore career opportunities that are not limited to minimum wage jobs (5). Additionally, being able to fluently speak and understand English has been associated with immigrants being more involved in their children’s education and understanding complicated US systems such as healthcare (5). Lastly, for unauthorized immigrants speaking English can help them be knowledgeable about opportunities that can help resolve their unauthorized status and foster more civic engagement (6). Therefore, acquiring English as a second language helps immigrants acculturate and improve their lives.

However, even though mastery of English affords immigrants opportunities that improve their lives, we still see patterns of poor health and educational outcomes among later generation immigrants as compared to new immigrants (3). Additionally, immigrants also tend to have better health and educational outcomes than white native-born Americans (7). For example, according to a report by the CDC, Hispanics have a higher life expectancy than whites. The report also indicates that during the first years of immigration Hispanics have lower rates of smoking and a better diet. They attribute this to the fact that Hispanics have stronger family ties that foster better health behaviors. In terms of educational outcomes, first generation immigrants tend to outperform their later generation counterparts in school and native-born Americans (8). One reason that has been highlighted for this paradox is parents transferring their motivations, expectations, and values about school to their children (9). However, research is still needed to fully understand this occurrence.

To better understand the impact of acculturation on immigrants we need to acknowledge both the positive and negative outcomes that result from intercultural contact. Adopting this holistic framework allows us to tackle some of the challenges immigrants face when they immigrate to the United States.

References
1. Wing, N. (2018, June 20). Immigrants Describe The Horrors That Made Them Flee Latin America For The U.S. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/latin-america-migrants-gangs-violence_us_5b295213e4b0a4dc99219f06
2. 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
3. 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
4. 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
5. Denver Post. (2016, April 30). Learning English can help immigrants survive. Retrieved from https://www.denverpost.com/2013/03/08/learning-english-can-help-immigrants-survive/
6. 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.
7. Gispert, J. G. (2015, May 29). Hispanic paradox: Why immigrants have a high life expectancy. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-32910129
8. 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
9. Study: First generation immigrant children do better in school than US-born kids. (2012, September 12). Retrieved from http://nbclatino.com/2012/09/11/study-first-generation-immigrant-children-do-better-in-school-than-us-born-kids/

Blog Post 1

Reports indicate that a higher number of documented immigrants are more likely to come from Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Whereas, two decades ago they were more likely to come from Europe and Latin America. Estimates toady report that most undocumented immigrants are however from Latin America and the Caribbean1. African immigration to the US shows the most rapid growth from 2000 to 2013, making African immigrants the fastest growing group of black immigrants in the U.S. Nigeria and Ethiopia topping the list of where most foreign-born Africans come from2. It is important to note with the U.S.’s history of racism towards people of African descent, these African immigrants are at risk of facing the same discrimination African-American deal with. For example, even though black immigrants from Africa are more likely than the average American to possess a college degree, they still experience inequalities in the job market2. Thus, Garcia Coll et al. 1996 points to the social position (race, ethnicity, social class and gender) of the immigrant as an important aspect that is impacted by racism, prejudice, discrimination and oppression3. In the case of African immigrants their race might negatively affect their access to jobs, regardless of their education due to the mechanisms of institutional and systemic racism.

Furthermore, African immigrant children are affected by negative attitudes that are likely to have an impact on their development. Poor developmental outcomes might consist of challenges in psychological processes and physical health. Research shows that African-immigrant students face discrimination and bullying from their peers at school due to their accents, race and traditional customs4. These attitudes as research has shown may be passed down from parents to children5. Additionally, these negative attitudes are usually informed by stereotypes of Africa as poor, backwards, war torn, and diseases filled that are perpetuated by the media. Scholars have argued that one way to challenge prejudice against immigrants is to foster relationships between non-immigrants and immigrants6. Research shows that adolescents that have peer relationships with immigrants are likely to have tolerant attitudes towards them6.

It is important that the current research on the development of immigrants use models that are culturally specific. The Bronfenbrenner bioecological model focuses on the importance of proximal process in the process of development7. Proximal processes are the mechanisms that foster development. Attachment between a parent and child might be a proximal process necessary for development. However, when studying attachment among immigrant populations for example African immigrants, attachment between child and parent might look different. Thus, necessary measures that account for this difference need to be developed. The APA presidential task force on immigration suggests that there must be a committed, purposeful ongoing interaction with the culture of the individuals being assessed8. Thus, if accurate measures are to be created based on the bioecological theory then there must be work done to access and interact with these communities.

Lastly, there is an overwhelming amount of research on the impact of challenges ethnic minority immigrants face 8. However, little is known about some of the protective factors that contribute to their resilience. For example, surveys show that Nigerian Americans have the highest levels of education in America. One explanation for this might be immigrant optimism, which is the positive attitudes that immigrants have towards school. More research could be done on this concept of immigrant-optimism and how it can be fostered among different immigrant populations. The Psychology community is hence tasked with broadening research to encompass various topics that will better the livelihood of immigrants in the USA.

References

  1. How the geography of U.S. immigration has changed over time. (2013, May 17). Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/05/17/how-the-geography-of-u-s-immigration-has-changed-over-time/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.737660880166
  2. Anderson, M. (2017, February 14). African immigrant population in U.S. steadily climbs. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/14/african-immigrant-population-in-u-s-steadily-climbs/
  3. Coll, C. G., Lamberty, G., Jenkins, R., McAdoo, H. P., Crnic, K., Wasik, B. H., & Garcia, H. V. (1996). An integrative model for the study of developmental competencies in minority children. Child Development67(5), 1891–1914. https://doi.org/10.2307/1131600
  4. Getnet Bitew (2018) African immigrants’ experiences in American schools: complicating the race discourse, Ethnic and Racial Studies,41:3, 570-572, DOI: 1080/01419870.2017.1360504
  5. Gniewosz, B., & Noack, P. (2015). Parental influences on adolescents’ negative attitudes toward immigrants. Journal of Youth and Adolescence44(9), 1787–1802. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-015-0291-3
  6. Zalk, M. H. W., & Kerr, M. (2014). Developmental trajectories of prejudice and tolerance toward immigrants from early to late adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence43(10), 1658–1671. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0164-1
  7. Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (1998). The ecology of developmental processes. In W. Damon & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Theoretical models of human development(pp. 993-1028). Hoboken, NJ, US: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
  8. Crossroads: The psychology of immigration in the new century. (2013). Journal of Latina/o Psychology1(3), 133–148. https://doi.org/10.1037/lat0000001

Katia’s Bio

 

Hi I am Katia, I am from Kigali, Rwanda. I am a senior Psychology major and Africana Studies minor, my academic interests lie in the intersection of mental health services and the experiences of people of African descent. In the spring semester, I will be doing an independent study that looks at mental health services among black communities.  At the moment I am looking into applying to grad school programs in counselling psychology. On campus I am the president of Anwar belly dance troupe and work for Res life and the library. I am into watching Insecure on HBO and love dancing.