[Working with Immigrants] Working with Hispanic Adult Children with Immigrant Parents (Part I)


Working with Hispanic Adult Children with Immigrant Parents

Immigrants tend to move to the places where they have their relatives or families. For example, the city of Lowell has a huge Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laos population. The city of Lawrence also is central of the Hispanic population. My office located next to Lawrence and 10 miles from the city of Lowell. Being an Asian immigrant myself, I found myself getting clients from these two population quite often. However, because I don’t speak Vietnamese, Khmer, and Spanish, most of the clients from these countries are the first generation of the immigrant family who either immigrated here very young or was born here.

Therefore, my disclaimer here is that my working experiences with the Hispanic population are primary the adult children with immigrant parents. Let’s start with the Hispanic population.

The assessment questions were developed in the process of working with these children who speak both perfect English and native language. Other than discussing with my clients about these questions, I also research the history of the country of origin as part of my homework after the first intake session.

Let me start with the Hispanic population.

The History of the Country of Origin
The majority of the Hispanics in the Lawrence area are from Dominican Republic (DR) and Puerto Rico (PR). As an “outsider,” we tended to see the Hispanics as a whole group. For example, many of my friends have this myth: “Hispanics are all from Mexico.” Another commonly heard myth is: “Most of the Hispanics are undocumented workers or are born from the undocumented workers.” However, once you get to know all them, you will soon realize that: they are very different due to their country of origin. For example, I have found the DR and PR are very different in their presence. In my experience, DR people tend to be more anxious, and PR people are much more relaxed compared to the DR people.
I am not sure if I have this suspicion because of my background. I am from Taiwan. I have encountered a lot of people who asked me: “How is Taiwan different from Thailand?” or “ So, Are you Chinese, too?”

I am not offended by these questions, but grateful they asked. After all, who can know everything?

However, because of my personal experiences, I want to dig a little bit deeper to see if my intuition is accurate. Wikipedia proves that my intuition is correct. The Dominican Republic suffered quite a few years of the Civil Wars in the 20th Century, and the most recent one ended in 1965, but the country continued to endure the pro-communist leadership until after 1996.

On the other hand, Puerto Rico has been part of the USA since the Spanish-US war in 1898. Inspire of its economic difficulties, residents in Puerto Rico didn’t experience the war trauma as the Dominican Republican people.

So, now, with this limited detailed history lesson, I can’t help but wonder if it related to the War in the DR for many years while PR has always been under the US governance.

History, History, and History……
I mentioned that there were two reasons I struggled to continue this series of the article and have concluded two reasons. The first one was the therapist’s stereotypes, and this is the second reason: the history of the country of origin.

Why are these history relevant? I guess it goes back to my personal experiences as a therapist who is also an immigrant.

Let’s go back to those two stories from the previous entry.

Story 1:
Female, between 25-35, presenting issues: interpersonal relationship, and mainly, intimate relationship issues.

“My husband/boyfriend thinks that I am too controlling. Is it wrong that I want to know when he comes home and where he goes? He also thinks that I am nitpicking him about little things. I just need him to pick up after himself and to help out cleaning the place. I can’t do everything by myself, right? Why can’t he give me a hand and think I am nagging him? I want him to get a better education and better job so that we can have a better future. However, he thinks that I am criticizing him. I can’t understand him. Doesn’t he want to have a better future with me?”

Story 2:
Male, age between 35-45, presenting issues: communication in the intimate relationships

“I don’t know how to communicate with my wife/girlfriend. We are so different in our values. She said that I don’t talk to her and I have a temper. I don’t know if I have a temper. She thinks that I am too strict with children. Is it wrong to expect the children to behave certain ways?”

Before I dive into the details of using the proposed assessment model to work with these two clients, ask yourself these questions:

First of all, let’s look at the first story with the female clients with temper and control issues, when you think about their country of origin as either PR or DR. Now that you have known that PR Hispanics are all US residents and they can move in out of the US as pleased, does that change your hypotheses about this client?

How about the second story with the male clients?

Let’s compared the male vs. female but they are from the same country, either PR or DR. Has your hypotheses changed?

You might say: Why do I need to have a hypothesis? Nope, you don’t have to have a hypotheses. However, it is my personal experiences that ALL the therapists are human beings and that means we all have our bias. Without clearly thinking through these biases, we form certain hypotheses about the clients and let these unconscious theories guided us through the session without knowing it.

Also, it provides some directions to different clients’ similar presenting issues. For example, the issue of “controlling” might come from very different family dynamics. For the clients/families immigrated from a country with many years of war, the issue of communication might be related to the safety-related anxiety passing down for generations.

Furthermore, by understanding the history of the country of origin, it helps to assess the questions regarding the family factors. For example, for the PR clients, they might not have experiences of “hiding from the police, ” but that might be the case for my DR clients. This difference might lead to very different narratives of the “control” issue.

The last reason is very personal. I find it is useful to understand a little more about where the clients’ country of origin history is connecting to building the relationship. For example, when someone knows the difference between Taiwan and Thailand, it made me want to talk to him/her more! When my clients know that I know the difference between Vietnam and Cambodia, and the differences between the Vietnam War vs. Khmer Rouge, there is an instinct connection.

At the end of the intake session, I check through the list of these questions to see if there is anything I didn’t remember to ask during the first session. Then, I began to form a clearer picture about the clients’ presenting issues and its relation to the culture and family the context. Then, the next step is to check whether clients narratives confirm these hypotheses and how they relate to his/her current presenting issues.

In the next entry, my plan is to share a little bit more about my personal experiences working with Hispanic adult children with immigrant parents.





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