I hope you enjoyed this series so far. I am enjoying writing it and sharing my experiences. I would love to hear from you.
Just to refresh your memories, here are the questions I routinely ask my clients who are immigrants or the first generations of the immigrants.
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?
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?
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?
I have shared my thoughts about the individual factors, here are the reasons to ask these questions for the family and community factors.
According to Dr. Ungar (2015),
“Definitions of family resilience as a systemic process share a detailed assessment of the follow- ing: (1) the family’s level of risk exposure (there must be adversity if good coping strategies are to be labeled as resilience); (2) the quality of the family’s microsystemic processes such as their communication patterns and collective attribution style; (3) the quality of the family’s mesosystemic (e.g., with other systems like schools and workplaces), exosystemic (e.g., social policies and broader institutions like the courts), and macrosystemic (e.g., systems of cultural values and beliefs) interactions; and (4) the capacity of the physical and social ecology surrounding the family to respond to a family’s needs in ways that are culturally relevant to their experience of well-being.” (p.20)
I shared the same thoughts/experiences as Dr. Unger. The family and the community both have a significant impact not only on an individual’s acculturation processes but also either a protective or a risk factor in a person’s developmental process.
The country of origin and the methods of immigrant have a huge impact on the acculturation issues. We see it on the news every day about the undocumented immigrant issues. If the families move here without VISA, the hardship of the family and developmental experience certainly have the impact and possible ties to the presenting problems that clients bring into therapy. In addition, it is very likely the young children are playing as the communicators for the family on behave of their parents. Even more, there is a possibility that the parents might suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and the children takes on the vicarious trauma.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are many families or individuals immigrant to the US due to their own specialized profession. I have had a lot of clients who were graduate students coming to the US to study and stayed here after graduation. The acculturation issues are much different in these cases. These individuals and/or families are more likely to try to “blend” into the middle-class Non-HIspanice/White American culture to be accepted into their community and workplace. However, this may not be the case depending on the next question, the extended family and community.
I have found that, the more extended family members you have here, the more likely you retain the original culture. Also, if you tends to stay with your own immigrant community, you are more likely to keep your culture and less likely to take in the US culture. There are many professions, such as IT, Computer, Engineering, having a lot of immigrants working in that profession. For example, when I was a graduate student many years ago, majority of the Taiwanese students study Computer Information Science, Electrical Engineering, and MBA. They often joked that they can do the group project in Taiwanese. I remembered one of the Taiwanese students who was my neighbor told me that he hardly had to speak English but only listening to English when he went to the class. As the result, they are more likely to retain their original culture and less likely to take in the US culture.
These people certainly provided support and protective factors to assist each other. However, they also hinder the process of learning the new English. Are they protective factors or risk factors?
Here is another example. I have worked with some Chinese families with children. The parents got together during the holidays and socialized with each other. At the same time, because children are at the different ages, when the parents have to directly interact or handle the issues with the teachers/school system, language become an issue for them, especially when they can’t find other parents who have children attended the same school before. At times, even when they can get the information from the previous students, due to the policy change, it often led to more issues.
How and why are these questions relevant?
As an immigrant myself, I have heard of different opinions about acculturation and assimilation to the “middle class white American culture.” I have no “right” answer as to what’s the best. A protective factor can be a risk factor in different context.
Therefore, these questions, individual, family, and community factors, give me a context of the clients and the family this client grew up. It also gives me an idea of different possible issues that might lead them to their current presenting issues. For example, if a child who grows up being the family communicator for the parents, it is very likely this adult feels the needs to always take care of others but not him/herself. This might be the reason this client coming to counseling due to interpersonal issues. Another commonly seen example is the enmeshment with the family of origin due to the childhood experiences. For example, a couple might experience conflict with the extended family or in-laws because one of the partners has been the caregiver to the family of origin since he/she was little. Therefore, this partner has the difficulties to draw the boundary between the family of origin and family of creation.
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 following section, I am going to share a few my experiences working with clients from different cultural background.
Ungar, M. (2015). Varied patterns of family resilience in challenging contexts. Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy, 42 (1), 49-31.