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


Working with Hispanic Adult Children with Immigrant Parents

I was planning to write this section starting with Chinese immigrant. Along the way, the Hispanic population took over. It is not because Hispanics are the # 1 minority population. It is because I can identify my parents and myself in these adult children.

My grandparents were born right after the World War 1 and lived under the Japanese colony their young adult life. My mother was born the year when the World War 2 ended. To live under the Japanese colony as a Taiwanese was difficult. It was also hard for my parents who grew up in the country when the entire world was in the process of recovery postwar.

The Hispanic immigrants often made me think about my parents. They worked very hard, and they are willing to pick up any jobs as long as they can feed their children.

They also reminded me my parents and grandparents because of their language.

Here comes the “History” section of the working with the immigrants.

Under the Japanese Colony, my grandparents knew how to speak Japanese and their native language, Taiwanese. My parents’ native language is Taiwanese. They didn’t learn how to speak Mandarin Chinese until they started elementary school.

When I saw my clients who are fluently speaking English and Spanish, it always reminded my parents in relation to my grandparents. I remembered trying to speak Taiwanese in a weird Mandarin accent, and my grandparents made fun of me. I also remembered my parents trying to translate my broken Taiwanese to my grandparents.

That lead to my understanding as to how the research often pointed out the children become the communicators for the family. In spite this phenomenon, what has been lacking from the research is the understanding of the parents’ background information and the children’s birth order as well as the impact on the children.

When we think about children being the communicator for the parents, it sounded “bad.” From the family structure and American cultural perspective, parents are responsible for the children. By having the children to translate for the parents, the family therapy term called this phenomenon as “parentification.” In essence, we put children in the adult role and adult in children’s role.

As I shared with my own family story, as an adult, I can understand the transition my grandparents and my parents had to go through to adjust into three different languages and societies.

As a therapist, when I lead the clients to understand their family history and/or his/her parents’ history, it often helps them to understand how they come up with the “narratives” of their lives.

However, the family of origin issues is not just the sources contributing to the “narratives” of my clients who are adult children of Hispanic immigrant parents. The other source is their own interaction with the mainstream culture. A lot of times, it’s the interaction of the family vs. mainstream culture contribute to the clients’ narratives.

Many clients often told me this “I don’t know the impact from my family on me until I started coming to counseling.” I often said: “Children don’t know what’s not being offered.”

The reality is that a child only knows what has been offering to him/her until he/she was exposed to something different.

I remember my older cousins shared with me about their stories of learning to speak Mandarin Chinese being “traumatic.” I have some cousins who are 12-15 years older than I am. So, they are more exposed to the Taiwanese language than I do. They said that they were fined or punished if they spoke to other students in Taiwanese in school. So, when it’s my mother’s turn to teach her children to talk, my mother tried her best to talk to us in Mandarin Chinese.

From my mother’s experiences, I learned that parents tried their best to prevent their children from experiencing the same pain they went through. As a result, she unintentionally pushed her children to blend into the mainstream culture to save their pain.

The implication here is that, as a therapist, our job is not just about knowing the so-called “Hispanic culture” but also how the clients made sense of their own culture through their interaction with the mainstream culture as a child. Also, how do they make sense or how do they develop these experiences into certain meanings to guide their lives?

For example, as we go back to the original two clients, it seems that “control” is an important issue in their presenting issues. The so-called “control” now leads to the difficulties in working with their significant others. However, from my experiences with the Hispanic population, the underlying narratives are possibly these:

“Be strong.”
This narrative might come from lack of the resources in the family when compared to the friends in the school. For example: “All my friends went on vacation in the summer time. I am the only one who went back to school with no summer vacation stories.”
This narrative might also relate to the needs to live up to the family expectations or to defeat the expectations from the mainstream culture. For example, “for me to support my family and younger siblings in the future, I need to be strong.” or “for those White kids not laughing at me or looking down on me, I need to be strong.”

“Try harder.”
This is another narrative related to the need to be “in control.” To “survive” or to “make it” to the mainstream culture, this narrative is commonly seen. “I need to try harder to catch up with other children in school.” Or, “ I need to “try harder” so that my family can live up the expectations of the mainstream culture.”
There were several clients mentioned that they needed to “work harder” to make more money because they would like to go on vacation every year. Why? “As a child, my family never went on a vacation. I was the only one in the class didn’t have a vacations story after the summer vacation.”

“Don’t be seen.”
This is also a commonly seen narrative. If children grew up with parents who were undocumented workers, this would be a commonly seen narrative. They were afraid of being seen because there will be consequences. Even if the family were legal residents in the US, some clients developed this narrative because of the teasing and discrimination they experienced as a child made them “just want to hide.”

The above three scripts are commonly seen in my clients. The content of their stories might be different, but the scripts were similar. There were also combinations of the above three scripts. For example, a client might try very hard to not to be seen. “I am trying very hard to make no mistakes so that no one would pick on me.” At times, this can lead to perfectionism and anxiety.

As I was writing this section, a friend posted this video on her Facebook wall and was in time for this article to be out.

I cried as I watched this little girl talking about her reality. The “unexpected reality number 2” clearly described three above three narratives. In the end, when she described the expectations from others didn’t have to become a reality, I can’t help but wonder what were her experiences that shape her narratives and what kind of reality she hopes to build for her future?

What I am trying to say is: these narratives of each adult child create his/her reality, and these narratives are the interaction between the mainstream culture’s expectations and their developmental experiences.

If you are an Adult Hispanic Children of the immigrant family, I would love to hear from our experiences to help me understand you more. What’s your struggle? What’s your narrative? Any narratives that I haven’t noticed? Any narratives I mentioned fit into yours?

In the next section, I will share my experiences to put these narratives into working with individuals and couples in therapy. (I so hope the next one is the last one in the Hispanic Series.)


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