Post Migrational Stress
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Immigration is a life-change, generally made in order to improve the immigrants overall well-being. And yet, there is a paradox: In the short term, at least, immigration may have profound stress-precipitating consequences (Palinkas 1982). (Bensira)
In 1980, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 14 million foreign-born persons living in the United States, of whom 1.7 million, or 11.9 percent, were living in New York City. New York had more immigrants than any other city in the nation. If all undocumented aliens had been counted, the numbers for New York, as for many cities, would have been higher.
In 1984, the most recent year for which published statistics were available in early 1987, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) admitted 543,903 aliens as legal permanent residents of the United States, of whom 92,079, or 16.9 percent, said they intended to live in the New York metropolitan area. The city has received an increasing number of legal immigrants each year since 1965, with an average of about 75,000 a year. It has received a probably rising number of undocumented aliens as well.
Immigration necessitates “acculturation,” that is, cultural exchange resulting from continuous, first-hand contact between two distinct groups (see Redfield et al. 1936). Berry contends that acculturation is not only a group-level but also an individual-level phenomenon, which he calls “psychological acculturation.” At this level, acculturation refers to changes of overt behavior and covert traits in an individual whose group is collectively experiencing cultural change.
Immigrants must undergo changes in a wide range of areas: physical changes, such as a new place to live, different (and frequently problematic) housing; biological changes, such as different sources of nutrition, unfamiliar diseases; political changes, such as a different type of government and political procedures; economic changes, such as different types of employment, which require different know-how and skills; cultural changes, such as a different language, types of education, approach to religion; and social changes, including those involving intergroup and interpersonal relations, as well as different types of dominance. Finally, Berry maintains, numerous psychological changes may appear at the individual level. These include changes in behavior, in values, abilities, and motives, but perhaps also identities and attitudes toward self, ones own group, and other groups.
In a study of immigrants from Ethiopia to Israel, Hanegbi and Menuchin Itzigsohn consider the effects of the enormous amount of cultural change that immigrants may have to undergo: Breakdown in the familiar social space of immigrants can explain symptoms of deep suspicion and lack of belief in the intentions of others as a mechanism of self-defense, it may also lead to identity confusion, which can only be resolved by a long continuous stretch of time, a clear definition of space, and understanding of process. The outer circumstances of immigration with the accompanying loss of perspective and expectation leave the immigrant open to confusion. There are internal and external pressures to adjust quickly, to show the outer signs of “accepting” and “being accepted.” This requires two simultaneous and different sets of social codes, two different frames of reference in which to situate social relations and establish ones identity, a situation which too often leads to confusion and anxiety; the result–a quick external adjustment and a deep inner maladjustment. ( Hanegbi and Menuchin-Itzigsohn 1988: 147-148)
There are many studies suggesting a relationship between immigration and stress. Murphy, who conducted a longitudinal follow-up study among Vietnamese (J. M. Murphy 1977), found a substantially higher level of stress among those who had been evacuated from their home villages than among those who had not been uprooted. However, he did not discuss the impact of war on emotional homeostasis. Spiegel (1971) studied second-generation American Greeks and concluded that the level of psychological stress of these immigrants was associated with the extent to which American values were adopted. A possible explanation is that the worth of the immigrants native cultural orientation, which has long served as a behavioral guide, is now challenged, and perhaps even devalued, by competing American values. Kuo ( 1976) did research on Chinese immigrants to the United States and showed that the “cultural shock” and social isolation associated with immigration correlated positively with psychological disturbance, as measured by the Midtown Psychiatric Impairment Scale, the Depression Scale, and the Unhappiness Scale. Espino ( 1991) analyzed migration from Central America to the United States and concluded that “migration is a stressful process challenging the resources of those who chose to undergo it” ( Espino 1991:106). Valdes and Baxter ( 1976) carried out a study of stress among Cuban exiles in the United States using Holmes and Rahe ( 1967) Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS). The respondents rated “migration” as the fourth most stressful event, similar to the death of a close relative and divorce. Williams (1991) notes that anxiety and depressive disorders have been shown to have a higher prevalence among immigrants during stages of final resettlement than in the general population. A similar trend was observed also among immigrant children. Littlewood and Lipsedge ( 1981) found that immigrants from the West Indies were most likely to be admitted to hospitalization two to five years after immigration, and immigrants from West Africa even later.
Growing up in an immigrant family has always been difficult. Individuals are torn by conflicting social and cultural demands, while facing the challenge of entry into an unfamiliar and frequently hostile world. Yet the difficulties are not always the same. The process of “growing up American” ranges from smooth acceptance to traumatic confrontation, depending on the characteristics that immigrants and their children bring along and the social context that receives them. Something quite disturbing is happening to the assimilation of the second generation of new immigrants.
By 1980, second-generation immigrants made up 10 percent of the children counted by the U.S. Census. Another survey in the late 1980s found that 3 to 5 million American students speak a language other than English at home.
While there has been a great deal of research and theorizing on post-1965 immigration, it offers only tentative guidance on the prospects and paths of adaptation of the second generation, whose outlook may be very different from that of the first. For example, it is generally accepted among immigration experts that entry-level jobs are performed