threads of our fabric

Reflections on navigating between two cultures and understanding the self-awareness process

Welcome to America – Themes in the life of an African Immigrant August 11, 2011

The American Psychological Association recently held its 119th Annual Convention in Washington D.C. As an African immigrant woman, I am also very excited because one of APA’s new directives this year includes an Immigration Taskforce charged to examine the intersect of psychology and immigration on a number of levels ranging from individual mental wellness to policy implications. I was privileged to attend one of the APA Convention sessions: “Humanizing the Dehumanized: Psychological Implications of the Immigration Experience”. Yes, I was thrilled to be in the midst of others who were passionate about this subject. Dr. Suarez-Orozco (Immigration Taskforce team  lead) opened up the plenary session with a quote that reminded me of the paradox of our times when it comes to the contention around immigration in America:

“Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest – lost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” (Statue of Liberty – USA)

What are your thoughts about this statement? How does this compare to your initial or present experience in America?… Sounds quite like an open invitation with a promise of freedom and refuge doesn’t it?…

To most, however, the warmth of such an invitation is rarely a reality. The immigrant experience in the United States is filled with isolation, language barriers/communication issues, loneliness, culture shock, limited access to resources, and loss of identity. The experience is often ripe with psychological distress and sociocultural barriers which can last for years. 

Relocating to and navigating a new environment/new world is never easy. My personal story is uniquely mine but it has universal themes that reflect the common immigrant’s experience. Immigrants are one of the fastest growing populations in America. In 1990, 8 million children had 1 immigrant parent compared to 16.6 million in 2006. Further, 1 in 4 school-aged children are predominantly second generation, english as a primary language learners, and have foreign-born parent(s). With this shift in the demographic fabric of America, there are increasing myths, stigma, and misperceptions about immigrants. My goal is to write from a personal perspective as I discuss various topics related to the immigrant girl and woman’s experience. I invite you to also comment or share your experiences. My posts will pull from interviews and surveys that I have conducted over the past year as well as personal anecdotes.

I have identified some themes that I will touch upon in a number of upcoming posts (just for starters):

  1. Impact on Family
  2. Education/Academia
  3. Employment
  4. Mental Wellness/Resilience
  5. Culture/Ethnic Identity Categorization

Do you have any other suggestions of topics that I should tackle? Please comment and I will be sure to discuss them. Thanks!

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