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Immigration Stress and Acculturation

Many immigrants worry about losing their cultural identity, heritage, language, culture, and the younger generation's desire to continue their traditions. Some immigrants decide to forgo their heritage language and culture and focus on acquiring the destination culture. Fitting in and seeming “normal" becomes the focus, especially in adolescence. People, especially children, dislike being perceived as different. Other immigrants stress the importance of the second-generation learning heritage language and culture despite the obstacles and challenges. They look for cultural events and Saturday schools that promote heritage, culture, and language. Meeting people from similar backgrounds fosters a sense of belonging and normalizes biculturalism and bilingualism.

The stress of immigration and acculturation refers to the challenges and difficulties individuals may experience when moving to a new country and adapting to a different culture. Immigration involves leaving one's home country to settle in another, often for various reasons such as seeking better economic opportunities, escaping political unrest, or reuniting with family members. Moving to a new country involves adjusting to different cultural norms, social expectations, and ways of life. This adjustment can be challenging, as individuals may experience a sense of disorientation, homesickness, or a feeling of not belonging.

Acculturation, however, refers to adapting to and integrating into a new culture. It involves learning and adopting the norms, values, language, customs, and behaviors of the destination society while maintaining aspects of one's cultural identity. Acculturation refers to the culture change when immigrants settle in a destination culture, and it is multi-dimensional. There are cross-sections between the heritage culture and destination culture values, practices, and identifications. In short, it describes the process of adjusting to a new culture.

The acculturation stress involves language difficulties and a delicate balance between the heritage and destination culture and values. Learning a new language can be a significant source of stress, as communication difficulties may arise in various areas of life, such as education, employment, and daily interactions. Language proficiency is vital in accessing resources, finding employment, and integrating into the new society. Children may also adopt negative or oppositional cultural identities.

The acculturation gap between parents and children has been identified as another stressor. With lower levels of parental acculturation, children often translate between the heritage language and English for their English-limited parents, which is called language brokering and may have negative consequences. Some immigrant children perceive this as a burden. Depending on the frequency, it can lead to adverse mental health outcomes and varying degrees of parentification.

Immigrant children are typically rapidly socialized as they go to school. They are taught values, norms, and behaviors and pick up quickly on cultural nuances, whereas parents often need to gain this opportunity. Parents often continue to socialize with children at home in the ways of the culture of origin and may need help to maintain the appropriate balance between cultures for themselves and their children, which leads to acculturation gaps.

Parental depression, economic hardships, conflicts between and with parents, a sense of alienation from parents, peers with problem behaviors, and conflicts with peers have been identified as additional stressors. It has been postulated that parental socialization, the peers the children spend time with, the schools they attend, and the neighborhoods they live in directly and indirectly impact immigrant children and their development.

Research shows that, on average, immigrants make much progress from the first to the second generation, both culturally and socioeconomically. Hybrid or dual identity reflecting biculturalism; preserving their home country's language, values, and customs; and learning the language and culture of the host country tends to facilitate positive mental health outcomes. Promoting bilingualism in schools and other institutions and bridging the acculturation gap can help immigrant children and their families.

It's important to note that while immigration and acculturation can be challenging and stressful, individuals demonstrate resilience and find ways to cope and adapt. Research illustrates how connectedness with one’s family and culture of origin can provide protection against health threats. Support system, community resources, and policies that promote inclusivity and equal opportunities can help alleviate some of the stress associated with immigration and acculturation to enable individuals to navigate the transition and contribute to their new communities successfully.


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