As major demographic shifts continue to take place in the United States and around the world, it is important to build protective factors that support the successful acculturation and adaptation of immigrant youth. There are increasing concerns regarding maladapted immigrant youth, including; underemployment, gang activity and their radicalization, if immigrant youth turn against the larger society.
Our solution is to develop partnerships; starting with schools, the context in which the adaptation and acculturation processes occurs first. Our staff comprised by trauma informed, mental health professionals, engages youth, care-givers and teachers in a program that builds protective factors to facilitate positive acculturation and adaptation:
- 1- ) Supports the development of a positive bi-cultural identity, and fosters the ability to cope with discrimination. Through a more in-depth exploration of their ethnicity, values and beliefs, immigrant youth can replace imposed negative ethnic identities, and ascertain an identity that increases feelings of industry and competence. Studies indicate that a strong and positive ethnic identity discourages children from engaging in risky behaviors and buffers the effects of discrimination (Umana-Taylor, 2006), Bi-cultural individuals are likely to be the most well adjusted because they are competent in navigating both the dominant and heritage cultures, they have social support networks from both cultures, and the process of negotiating two cultures may translate to greater integrative complexity, intellectual flexibility, and creativity (Benet-Martínez, Lee, & Leu, 2006; Tadmor, Tetlock, & Peng, 2009). How: Youth participate in a four-part framework (emotions; implicit bias; tribes; and power) for understanding and overcoming racism and marginalization, (Based in the "Deep Diversity "pathway offered by Shakil Choudhury) This group work removes the illusion that the experience is somehow inherently their problem alone and that they are the only source of their own difficulties, rather than problems in the society at large. Emphasis is placed in developing: 1) Self-awareness of blind spots and unconscious bias. 2) Mindfulness- developing the ability to witness and interrupt unhelpful habits of thinking and replace them with new habits. 3) Self-regulation – developing the inner power and skillfulness to master our own emotional responses, to return from a state of being reactive to one of emotional resilience, 4) Empathy – tapping into the capacity to build bridges of understanding and kindness. 5) Self-education – actively seeking out stories, data and facts, rather than relying on assumptions from the dominant culture. 6) Conflict skills – developing skills, comfort and ease with conflict – an inevitable by-product of working across difference, to lean rather than contract or withdraw.
- 2.) Supports the development of social and emotional core competences that facilitate psychological adjustment and socio-cultural competence. Youth participate in a culturally adapted 8-12 week program based on the Learning to BREATHE (L2B) curriculum developed by Patricia Broderick. L2B is an evidence based program recognized by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) as meeting research criteria for effective SEL programs.(www.learning2breathe.org). Emphasis is placed in developing a) Self-Awareness - accurately assessing values and strengths; b) Self-Management - regulating one’s emotions to handle stress, persevere and express emotions appropriately; c) Social Awareness - empathizing with others, dealing with similarities and differences, and utilizing available resources; c) Relationship Skills - establishing relationships based on cooperation, resisting social pressure, managing interpersonal conflict and learning how to seek help; d) Responsible Decision Making – basing decisions on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, appropriate social norms and respect for others. How: During each meeting, participants engage in at least three of the following activities a) education, b) group discussion. c) attention training (Noticing thoughts, emotions, sensations, impulses, choices), d) movement exercises, e) relaxation exercises, f) role-play, g) dialogue, h) art and expression projects, i)games. Each meeting, new skills are introduced and prior-learned skills are reinforced through practice.
- 3.) Promotes familial cohesion facilitating conversations that help them manage conflicts related to the reunification process, parenting training also helps address acculturation gaps. Through this process they come together to navigate their challenges. According to LAMHA (Latino Adolescent Migration, Health and Adaptation Project) data, only 30 % of caregivers migrate with their children, most youth have experienced separation from a caregiver for extended periods, Additionally, a major issue is the acculturation gap that emerges between children and their parents. Children are acculturated quickly through school, and involves changes in language, behavior, attitudes and values. but their parents may never acquire sufficient comfort with the new language and culture to become socially integrated into their new country. In addition, immigrant children may have few opportunities to participate in and learn about their heritage culture. As a result, immigrant parents and children increasingly live in different cultural worlds. Such “acculturation gaps” have been linked to family conflict and adjustment. How: In a group a format we facilitate conversations among parents about how to manage the power imbalance that results from children’s more rapid acculturation combined with the day-to-day realities of economic and social marginalization. They also explore ways to adjust their discipline practices to be consistent with the emphasis within Latino culture on respect and deference to authority but at the same time emphasizing positive parenting strategies that both enhance compliance and promote healthy child development within developmental contexts in the United States. These meetings help build social support networks to compensate for loss of extended family support when parents come to the United States. On the other hand, youth are also engaged in conversations about how to navigate the cultural values of their parents, their Latino heritage, and the demands of U.S. youth culture simultaneously. Youth explore ways of communicating with their parents that are still respectful in spite of their higher rates of acculturation.
- 4.-) Engages peers, family members, neighbors, and others in the community who are impacted by immigration. How: They are invited to participate in information-sharing/ dialogue sessions, in which we facilitate conversations about the immigrant experience, and the challenges that teachers, mental health providers, parents and children are experiencing. This increases understanding and empathy and diminishes the hostility triggered by fear of the unknown. It helps them access the collective intelligence to work in resolving conflicts and promoting integration, and to develop sustainable strategies that benefit the whole community.
One core aspect,present in all our efforts for ensuring that immigrant youth, their families and communities thrive, has to do with the principle that underlies our work: We understand and have empathy for the human impulse to resist the disruptive and uneasy changes that immigration precipitates, (by attacking, scapegoating, trying to convert, withdrawing, etc.), our work has to do with, plating seeds to help us embrace and manage disruptive change, connecting with its potential for development and transformation. Although disruptive in the short-term, immigration in the long-term, historically has always been a positive catalyst for change; sparking, entrepreneurship, innovation, social justice, cultural enrichment, and more.