Gurak and Kritz (1984) found two competing conceptual frameworks in the study of the relationship between family and acculturation. One proposes that the migrant person with close family ties in the receiving community will be less likely to seek out support networks, information, and activities with non-immigrants in the host community because the closeness and mutual dependence within the family serve to insulate the migrant from the extra-familial world. The other one affirms that the presence of relatives facilitates the migrant’s initial adjustment process in the host community, in that such familial support fosters the migrant’s reaching out to the extrafamilial world.
Although immigrant Hispanic families must be involved in a process of internal modification to answer the demands of the host society, they too have to insure a sense of continuity with their own home culture and tradition. Thus the family has to regain its social articulation and sense of pertinence and recognition in the mainstream culture of the host society without losing the historical connection with their own ethnic roots. Consequently, immigrant Hispanic families are within two different cultural environments, while they are working out a path from one culture to the other.
As happens with individual immigrant persons, the transition of progressive change of immigrant Hispanic families from one cultural set to the other is possible only through the cumulative interaction between the families and both cultures. Similarly, during the transition from one culture to the other, these immigrant families need to do selective adaptations over and over again, and they also need to undergo processes of differentiation in order to make healthy decisions and choices for their accommodation to the new socioeconomic and cultural context.
The normal changes and stresses (as well as the reactions and disruptions in family patterns that arise as a consequence) bring about a systematic need for these families to restructure, reintegrate, and realign so as to meet the needs of its members before, during, and after the event of migration from one culture to the other. Moreover, where the stresses are extreme and the support systems of the family are insufficient, severe crisis frequently results. In addition, the lack of resolution of these transitional issues and the unresolved transitional conflicts may lead to dysfunction in the family system.
The need for restructuring is particularly important because it is within the family and/or with its support that the individual family members will develop the inner balance necessary to relate to the new culture (that demands adjustment and change) without losing their cultural identity and traditional roots.
Immigrant Hispanic families also experience a shift from an extended family in their homeland that provided a social network and emotional support to a nuclear family. Some immigrant women acquire better status through the opportunities for employment and education and consequently, tend to acculturate faster than men. This specific situation also fosters the opportunity to develop greater independence and husbands become upset by their wives’ ready acceptance of their new gender roles and by the challenge to their patriarchal authority (Espin, 1987).
In addition to the conflicts arising between husband and wife, there are also intergenerational conflicts. In the process of acculturation and the learning of English, Hispanic children in the United States acquire values and attitudes that could be different from those of their parents. The differences between the family’s child-rearing practices and their children’s newly acquired set of values lead to chronic unresolved conflicts within the family. When these intergenerational differences arise, the parents experience alienation from their highly acculturated children, and the children, in turn, experience alienation from their poorly acculturated parents.
In an effort to cope with these differences, the parents attempt to restrict the process of acculturation in their children. However, such attempts could either (a) further alienate the youngsters from family interactions and the values of the parents’ culture, precipitating a rejection of the parental lifestyle and a fuller adherence to the behavior characteristics of the host culture; or (b) some become marginalized–belonging to neither group–and eventually may become outcasts.
The differential rates of acculturation across generations of family members not only have impact on the nuclear but also on the extended family members as well. For immigrant Hispanic grandparents the exposure to stressors such as loss of country, in some cases loss of status, as well as failure to adjust to the new environment due to the lack of knowledge of the language and United States ways, result in anxiety, depression, withdrawal, despair, meaninglessness, anomie, and loss of a sense of purpose in life (Szapocznik & D. Santisteban, 1977).
As Baptiste (1987) has stated, immigrant families were unaware that migration and acculturation would be an stressful experience that could result in family conflicts. Furthermore, since the conflicts often occurred after a lapse of time (for some families as much as five years) following their arrival in the United States, most families tended not to ascribe any importance to the move itself as having contributed to their problems. (p. 237)
It is only when individual family members start to experience the lack of skills necessary to cope adequately with adaptation to the new culture that symptoms of maladaptive behaviors and family disorganization appear, and they begin to recognize the stressful nature of the migratory experience as well as the cumulative impact on them as members of immigrant families (Sluzki, 1979). However, Sluzki also stated that a countless number of people manage to break away from their basic support networks, sever ties with places and people, and transplant their base, their nest, their life projects, their dreams, and their ghosts.
In conclusion, migration can produce family disorganization (Gurak & Kritz, 1984) and the likelihood of persistent handicaps in its members due to language barriers, lack of knowledge of rules and regulations, limited financial means, and lack of adequate reference groups. In addition, the continual interaction that immigrant families have with both environments and the short- and long-term consequences of such interactions pose a challenge for research of the nature of these dialectic and transactional influences.
(*) This article is part of the Chapter II of the Study of the Acculturative Process of Immigrant Hispanic Families (2000). Doctoral Dissertation.