The processes of migration and acculturation experienced by immigrant Hispanic students and their parents have been the topic of interest to a great number of investigators in recent years, specially in the states of California, Florida and New York. In these states during the last two decades there has been a steady influx of Hispanic, Haitian, South Asian, and other ethnoculturally diverse families. It is very probable that the social institutions more affected by these changing demographics are the private and public schools that have received and continue to receive the children of those immigrant families. For these families the school has had to perform an extraordinaly different role, that of serving as “an intersection between the home culture and the mainstream American culture” (Provenzo, 1985, p.iii).

Whether migration is voluntary or involuntary, it constitutes an “uprooting” experience when immigrant persons need to interrupt their personal histories, sever their social ties, and later begin the formation of new relationships in a foreign environment. Hence both processes, migration and acculturation, often creates confusion and disorganization for individual members as well as for the whole family (Ho, 1987).

The review of relevant literature suggested that after migration takes place, the newly arrived persons must face and experience a psychosocial process of adjustment to the new setting. Throughout this process immigrant persons move through several phases while they undergo behavioral and attitudinal changes and modifications at different levels of functioning (Padilla, 1980). Moreover, this acculturative process of learning (Marin, 1992) resulting from the day-to-day mutual contact and communication of immigrant persons with both native and host cultures (Kim, 1988).

In conclusion, the adaptive process of cultural transition involves

  • (a) becoming knowledgeable of the language, norms, and values of the new culture; and
  • (b) readjusting to a new system of values by modifying behaviors and attitudes, and by relinquishing some old customs, beliefs, and behaviors.

In that sense, acculturation can be conceptualized as the path that facilitates the movement from one cultural system to another. For Hispanics, this transition is particularly demanding because of difference of values, religious practices, language, political system, and other social attributes.

To understand the importance and the effects of those changes on the immigrant family, at least two very complex situations requires attention.

  • The social sciences suggest that every family is involved in a continuous interchange with its economic and sociocultural environment to accomplish its universal functions or tasks (Bronfenbrenner, 1986). Consequently, the cultural values and ethnicity of the family not only mediates these interactions with the external world but they also define the family structure and internal organization of its values, ways of communication and behaviors (Ho, 1987).
  • By the same token, either through generalized learning in a particular milieu or as a result of specific instruction and training, parents teach their children -through language, rituals, customs, habits, roles, and ethnocultural modes of behavior- how to live together in their immediate environment (Rodriguez & Vila, 1982).

Consequently, the migration experience may interupt and ruptures the continuity of the family interactions with its environment as well as their socio-cultural parenting experiences.

Sluzki (1979) suggested that the family passes through five stages during the process of migration and adjustment to the new setting. According to Sluzki each of these stages “has distinctive characteristics, triggers different types of family coping mechanisms, and unchains different types of conflicts and symptoms” (p. 380). Siomilarly, each stage presents a unique set of crisis and challenges that the family must negotiate and to which the family system has to adapt. Throughout the transition from one cultural environment to the other, immigrant families give up roles and ways of functioning that do not fit with the new cultural values of their immediate environment and adapt to those demanded by the new society (Eisenstadt, 1955). A number of changes and modifications help the immigrant family

  • to continue being the matrix of its members’ psychological development (Minuchin, 1974), and
  • to accommodate to the different cultural requests and challenges.

It should not be assumed that immigrant Hispanic families migrate in a planned fashion or at optimal moments. An extensive number of Hispanic immigrants saw their nuclear families broken when individual family members began their migratory journey one by one, leaving behind the resources and support of their own family systems. The resulting membership change within every fragmented familt bring the need for each family (both here and there) to restructure its roles, functions and transactions. Moreover, since individual family members migrate at different points of the family life cycle, when the nuclear family is finally reunited, each one of the family members may have different definitions of themselves and of their family’s internal organization. Of course, the effects of these disruptive changes and interruptions vary, depending on the inner resources of each specific family, its strength, and its previous history and ability to adjust to stressful situations without falling into disruption.

F inally, review of literature revealed that one of the most far-reaching effect that acculturation has on the immigrant family is the increased instability and disorganization within family structure.

Immigrant Children Within the Elementary Schools.

In many educational districts of the United States immigrant Hispanic children as well as first generation Hispanic children constitute the majority of the student body. This Hispanic presence has been recognize during the past years, and also it has been predicted that this presence will continue to outnumber other racial and ethnic groups (2000 Census Report).

The informal assessment of those immigrant children shows that they are coming from a variety of racial, ethnic, and educational as well as socio-economic backgrounds. There are three generation family network with diffuse boundaries, families who came from rural areas who have to face the stress of living in rubanized neighborhoods, high risk families due to unemployment and underemployment, single parent families, ethnic blended families, overcrowded apartments hosting more than one family as well as other relatives, undocumented families, and so on.

Rutter (1980) said that a single stressful situation/ experience typically carries no appreciable psychosocial risk for children. However, when children are exposed to multiple stress situations the adverse effects usually multiplies. Review of relevant literature found that culturally different children wxhibit relatively weak self-concept in their answers to direct questions about how they perceive themselves, and also about how they think others perceive them. As a result, usually they set goals for themselves that are less in line with their actual potential. Secondly, culturally different children appear to be more vulnerable to peer pressure that other children and less independent in their perceptions and behaviors.

Tharp (1989) stated these important variables to consider when working with minority children: educational frustration, language development, context instruction, social organization and motivation. In addition, culturally different children experience academic stress usually related to learning a new language -even when a child has learned the conversational aspects of the second language, it may take him/her five years, on the average, to learn the aspects of language related to cognitive functioning.

While researchers agree that children from different family backgrounds can acquire basic school skills, the general consensus among them is that to master these skills children must get some minimal as assistance from their parents (Edwards, 1990). Many Hispanic parents cannot help their children with schoolwork due to their own limited English proficiency and lack of education, but it does not mean that they are not concerned about their children’s school success.

Secondly, Marquez (2000) study on Immigrant Hispanic families found that their interactions with intermediate structures like schools and churches are are very important in their first years after migration. However, the review of literature stated that Hispanic famiy interaction with those social structures dropped as the family the family is less in need of structural support and is more able to profit from direct exposure to the new environment.

Therefore, there is a great need for programs

  • that bridge the communication gap between schools and Hispanic homes,
  • that minimize the psychosocial and cultural effects associated with migration and acculturation.
  • that provide parents not only information but strategies for parenting their children in the new environment,
  • that create a consultive and collaborative alliance between school professionals, teachers, students and their immigrant Hispanic parents.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:

Theoretically, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, views emotional problems and responses as influenced by negative or extreme thought patterns. Therse patterns have frequently become so habitual that they are experienced as automatic and go unnoticed by the individual.

Review of literature found this technique successful with self-defeating behaviors, lack of assertiveness in interpersonal relatioships, as well as poor social skills and self-esteem.

These principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have been selected for this progran because this method is:

  • Goal oriented -the counselors work with teachers, students, and/or parents to met goals for counseling and also to monitor progress periodically to assess whether the goals are being met.
  • Practical and concrete -Counseling goals will focus on solving current, specific and concrete problems experienced by students in the classroom.
  • Active -Counselors, teachers, students and their parents play an active role in counseling.The counselors in consultation with parents and teachers will (a) direct students attention to the discovery of their behavioral and learning problems, (b) serve as teachers and coach of the expected behaviors; and (c) engage students in their own change by assigning homework and by encouraging them to practice the strategies learned in the session.
  • Collaborative -counselors, teachers, school administration, students and their parents work together to understand and to develop strategies to address the students’ learning and behavioral difficulties.
  • Short-term: -the counseling interventions with students and/or their parents will not last more than 12 sessions whenever it is possible.

The Program:

This comprehensive response encompasses a period of one academic year.

The overall goal of this response is to assist immigrant Hispanic families with their immigrant and first generation Hispanic children who are experiencing learning andd behavioral difficulties. This assistance will consist in providing

  • to immigrant Hispanic parents psychological support, opportunities for emotional ventilation as well as parenting techniques, and
  • to their immigrant and first generation children opportunities for training in new patters of learning and behavior within the school setting.

This overall goal will be fulfilled through these objectives:

  • the provision of opportunities for Hispanic parents to discuss, clarify, vent and alleviate the psycho-soci0-cultural stresses associated with immigration and acculturation in order to improve their socio-emotional adjustment and the quality of life at home (Clark, 1983).
  • (if needed) the provision to Hispanic families of counseling services using a short term and task oriented approach.
  • the provision of culturally sensitive consultation with teachers and school personnel working with immigrant and fiest generation Hispanic children aimed to discuss different patterns of cognitive functioning as well as different system for organizing learning and thought.
  • the provision of culturally sensitive parent enrichment programs on child rearing practices, patterns of communication, conflict resolution, negotiation and decision making skills, cultural value differences, and child cognitive development.
  • the provision of individual and group counseling to immigrant and first generation Hispanic students to help them deal with their learning and/or behavioral difficulties as well as to improve their self esteem and assertive behaviors.

The methodology to implement the above goals and objectives will follow this schedule:

First Academi Marking Period:

  • based on teachers request of services to the Student-Staff-Support Team prepare the list of possible immigrant and first generation Hispanic students in need of assistance.
  • consultation with their teachers: it will encompasses (a) observation of the student in different academic and non-academic settings.
  • based on teachers’ responses to the McCarney’s Learning and Behavior Problem Checklist and using the Pre-Referral Intervention Manual of McCqarney, Wunderlich & Bauer, design in collaboration with teacher a plan of learning and behavioral strategies tailored to the specific situation of each student.

From the beginning of the Second to the end of the Third Academic Marking Periods:

  • Counseling sessions with 8 students in each group/ The emphasis of these sessions will be improving self esteem and self worth.). The emphasis of these individual sessions will be (a) to help them understand the possible sources of their children’s academic and/or behavioral difficulties, and (b) to provide them with culturally sensitive strategies to overcome the difficulties.

Fourth Academic Marking Period:

Collaborative evaluations of the results obtained and of the strategies used with each one of the students referred.

The effectiveness of the overall goal and its objectives as well as of its methodology will be measured by the noticeable improvement of the academic and the behavioral performance of each immigrant and first generation student referred between the end of the First and the end of the Third Marking Periods. The definition of noticeable improvement (which will be different for each student) will be done at the b eginning of the referral process through a collaborative consultation between parent, teacher, counselor, and student.


(*) This comprehensive project ahs been designed based on the research, rationale, and instruments developed by Gelasia Marquez, Ph.D. for the Helping Hands Project/Model (copyright Library of Congress TX 3 075 455).


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Clark, R.M. (1983). Family life and school achievement: Why poor black children succeed or fail. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Edwards, P.A. (1990). Strategies and Techniques for Establishing Home-School Partnership with minority parents. In A. Barona & E.E. Garcia. Children at Risk: Poverty, Minority Status and other issues in Educational Equity. Washington DC: NASP.

Eisenstadt, S.N. (1955). The absorption of immigrants. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Ho, M.K. (1987). Family therapy with ethnic minorities. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications Inc.

Kim, Y.Y. (1988). Communication and Cross Cultural Adaptation. Philadelphia, PA: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Marquez, G (2000). Qualitative study of the acculturative process followed by immigrant Hispanic families. Fordham University. NY: Unpublished.

Marquez, G. (1989). Helping Hands: A counseling program for Hispanic families in cultural transition. Brooklyn, NY: Unpublished.

Marin, G. (1992). Issues in the measurement of acculturation among Hispanics. In K.F. Geisinger (Ed.). Psychological Testing of Hispanics. (pp. 235-251). Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

McCarney, S.B., Wunderlich, K.C., & Bauer, A.M. (1993). Pre-Referral Intervention Manual. MO: Hawthourne.

Minuchin, S. (1974). Families and Family Therapy. Cambridge, MA: Harvaard University Press.

Padilla, A.M. (1980). The role of cultural awareness and ethnic loyalty in acculturation. In A.M. Padilla (Ed), Acculturation theory, models and some new findings (pp. 47-84). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Provenzo, E.F. (1985). Preface. In H, Silva, The children of Mariel: Cuban refugee children in South Florida Schools. (p. iii). Washington DC: The Cuban American National Foundation.

Rodriguez, A.M. & Vila, M.E. (1982). The emerging Cuban Women of florida’s Dade County. In R, E, Zambrana (Ed.). Work, family and health; Latina women in transition. Monograph 7. New York: Hispanic Research Center. Fordham University. Monograph Series.

Rutter, M. (1980). Protective factors in children’s response to stress and disadvantage. In M.W. Keny & J.E. Rolf (Eds). Prymary Prevention and Psycho-Pathology. Chapter III: Promoting Social Competence and Coping with Children. Hannover, NH: University Press of New England.

Sluzki, C.E. (1979). Migration and family conflicts. Family Processes, 18. (pp. 955-961).

Tharp, R.G. (1989). Psychocultural variables and constants. Effects of teaching and learning in schools. American Psychologist, 44, (pp 349-359).

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Dr. Gelasia Marquez is an immigrant clinical and bilingual school psychologist. Dr. Marquez has studies, researches, articles, and programs aimed to help immigrant Hispanic children, adolescents and families in their processes of transition after migration

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