April 26, 2016
By Joseph Zeballos-Roig
The centrality of family in the lives of millions of Latino immigrants in the United States is a double-edged sword. For immigrants in search of a better life, their family often serves as the catalyst that brings them to American shores. Once they arrive, however, they underestimate the challenges of adapting to a new society, creating a new source of stress and hardship. That’s according to new research by Dr. Joseph Grzywacz, the chair of the Department of Family and Child Sciences at FSU.
Coauthored with professors from Oklahoma State University and the University of Arkansas, the study was recently published in the journal Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Grzywacz’s research sought to further explore a concept he describes as “ambivalence,” a situation where “something may seem right [to do] but there are dire circumstances that go along with it also.”
“For many immigrants, they need to leave their countries of origin to help their families, but in the process of leaving they put their families at risk,” Grzywacz says.
Dr. Grzywacz – who is also the Norejane Hendrickson professor of family and child sciences at FSU – began the study in fall 2014 while a faculty member at Oklahoma State University, continuing it when he joined the faculty at FSU last year. With the help of colleagues, Grzywacz conducted interviews with 16 focus groups in Hispanic communities in California, Florida and Massachusetts.
The 93 participants, all between the ages of 18 and 67, were almost evenly split between males and females. Most are originally from Mexico, but there were also Cubans, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans interviewed. Of the sample, 59% spoke Spanish as their primary language and a large majority – 71% of them – had children.
What researchers found, Grzywacz says, was a disconnect between immigrant expectations and reality.
“By and large the research indicates while families knew there would be challenges, they underestimated the challenges,” Grzywacz says. “Many people around the globe view the United States as the land of opportunity but for example, they underestimate the cost of housing or their ability to secure a job with a regular paycheck. And compared to the cost of living relative to their countries of origin, the actual cost of making ends meet in the U.S. is much more substantial.”
He also noted immigrants were confronted with challenges to their cultural ideals, such as having mothers enter the workforce instead of raising their children at home, considered the norm in Latin America.
“Women who are not accustomed to being in the workforce must enter the workforce. Many immigrants aren’t accustomed to that,” Grzywacz says.
In the interviews, immigrant parents, most of whom said they emigrated to give their children a better life in the U.S., reported they didn’t expect them to assimilate so quickly and some reconsidered the wisdom of coming to the U.S. – seeing that their kids were caught up in local crime.
“They mentioned that while they were busy working, their kids grew up becoming very American, so they lamented the loss of the kids’ cultural ties to their homeland,” Grzywacz says. “In addition, some parents reported their kids went down the wrong path, so they started to question whether coming to the U.S. was good for their kids or bad for them.”
FSU researchers will continue to take a closer look on the effects of hardship on immigrant communities over the next year, particularly those in North Florida.
“In the Department of Family and Child Sciences, we got two or three different projects going on in the immigrant population in North Florida, so I anticipate over the course of next year we’ll have three or four papers coming out on similar kinds of phenomenon,” Grzywacz says.
Source: FSU News