[Working with Immigrants]Assessment (Part I)


immigration 1Thank you for interested in this series. If you want to know why I am interested in sharing my thoughts about working with immigrants, please check the introduction section.

Dr. Glick reviewed the research done between 200-2010 and found that an individual’s decision to immigrate and the chances to be successful in the immigration country was not an individual but a family decision (Galick, 2010). This confirmed to my personal experiences when I worked with either individual or couples when one or both partners were the immigrant generations or the first generation of the immigrant families. I will start by discussing my personal evaluation process and go on to the details of each cultural minority.

Questions to keep in mind
Here are some questions I often asked my clients in the first few sessions when I knew they are either immigrant or the first generation of the immigrants.

Individual factor:
Where are you originally from?
When did you come here?
How old were you when you first got here?
What’s your birth order in the family?
How old are you and what are the issues you are facing right now?

Family factors:
How did you/your family come to the US?
Do you have family members around here? If not, where are your family of origin now and how did you end up at where you are now?
How often do you have the communication/interaction with your family of origin?
If married, how did you meet your partner? Are you the same cultural background or different?

Community factors:
How often do you have the interaction with people from your culture, talking in your native language, and participating activities that are often done in your culture of origin?

Research done between 2000-2010 have dominantly used an integrative model by focusing on the individual factors, family environment, and community context to understand the immigrant families. For me, no matter working with individual or couples, I also have found focusing on three aspects and its interaction necessary (Galick, 2010). Why are these questions important?

Why asking these questions?
The first block of the questions address the individual factors. They address the impact of the influences of the home country’s culture and its interaction with a person’s developmental status. Here are three scenarios when a person moved to a new country, as an adult, as a child, born in the new country. The older you were when you moved to the new country, the higher the impact of the culture from your home country.

The first significant impact of the age when a person moves to the US is the acculturation. The older you are, the more likely you retain your home culture. On the contrary, the younger you are, the more likely the American culture is the culture you grow up.

This leads to the second significant impact of the age when a person moves to the US is language. The younger you are, the more likely you can speak English better. However, as to the native language, it varies. If the family emphasizes speaking their native language at home, it is more likely the children will retain their native language. Therefore, the older you are when you come to the US, the more likely that you are fluent in your native language in writing and in speaking.

This leads to the third significant factor to the birth order of the clients. If a client is the older child in the family who immigrated to the US as a child, this child is more likely to become the “language broker” for the parents. As a result, they might also become the caretakers to model the “norms” or the “culturally appropriate behaviors” for their parents and/or younger siblings (Morales & Hanson, 2005; Orellana, Dorner, & Pulido, 2003; Weisskirch, 2005). The other implication to this scenario would be this child would act as a bridge between the parents who presents the home culture and the younger siblings who are exposed more to the US culture. On the same token, this might be a very different process for an older sibling who comes to the US later in the childhood and speaks less fluent English than the younger siblings.

In combining all of the information and considering the client’s developmental process, we can form some hypotheses as to how the family of origin, the home culture, and the process of acculturation/assimilation connecting to the presenting issues.

I would love to hear your experiences as an immigrant, the first generation of the immigrant family, and/or as a therapist. Do you have the similar experiences like mine?

I also would encourage you, if you are an immigrant or the first generation of the immigrant family, ask yourself these questions and see how it relates to your current life situation.

In the next article, I will continue with the family and community factors.

Glick J. E. (2010). Connecting complex processes: A decade research on immigrant
families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 498-515.
Morales, A., & Hanson, W. E. (2005). Language brokering: An integrative review of the
literature. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 27, 471 – 503.
Orellana, M. F., Dorner, L., & Pulido, L. (2003). Accessing assets: Immigrant youth’s work
as family translators or ‘‘para-phrasers.’’ Social Problems, 50, 505 – 524.
Weisskirch, R. S. (2005). The relationship of language brokering to ethnic identity for
Latino early adolescents. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 27, 286 – 299.




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