Migration occurs for diverse reasons, and the adjustment of the immigrant family depends on the extent to which its original expectations of the migration compare with its reality. Immigration could also be involuntary, such as the case of political refugees, who ran away of turmoil of their countries to save their lives, and of Hispanic children and women who must follow their fathers and/or husbands (Salgado-de-Snyder, 1987a, 1987b). The literature related to the settlement of refugees usually designated them as a population at risk for emotional distress (Lin, Tazuma, & Masuda, 1979). Similarly, those family members who “ought to” follow the family usually present themselves as “anchored” in the home country and thus experience loyalty conflict between the adopted country and the country of nativity (Baptiste, 1987). Rogler et al. (1987) proposed a framework for understanding the migration experience. It places the migration experience between two impinging sociocultural and economic contexts–the society of origin and the host society–and describes the migration process as composed of three fundamental traditions. They are (a) alterations in the bonding and reconstruction of interpersonal social networks, (b) extraction from one socioeconomic system and insertion into another, and (c) movement from one cultural system to a different one. In addition, Gurak and Rogler (1980) described the gradual process of settlement of immigrants in the United States as the result of increasing local commitments: “As time passes some immigrants find better jobs, make financial commitments, marry non-immigrants, or form families which enmesh them in locally based reciprocal obligations” (p. 4).
Although the very act of migration may constitute a brief transition, recent research suggested that the more pre-migration traumatic events experienced by immigrants, the greater the experience of acculturative stress later. Moreover, several authors working with the experience of Central American immigrants suggested that the post-migration stressors in combination with premigration stressors can result in a sense of loss of personal control and in a feeling of being overwhelmed (Cervantes, Salgado de Snyder, & Padilla, 1989; Padilla, Cervantes, Maldonado, & Garcia, 1988; Plante, Manuel, Menendez, & Marcotte, 1995).
Gurak and Kritz (1984) studied the relationship between migration processes and the family. Using a historical-structural perspective, the authors described the family as a key social group that intervenes between the macro-economic forces that set the stage for migration and the individuals who ultimately move. Thus, although migration decisions can be influenced by the economic needs of the household, they also are influenced by the household structure and functioning, as well as by the socialization standards of the household. Hence, as emotional ties to the family increase, the probability of migration decreases or contributes to the maintenance of closer ties following the migration process.
Similarly, since the family itself is a link between individual members and the larger society, the information about alternative opportunities in other places is transmitted by extended family members. These connections among family members play a significant role not only for deciding the place of settlement but for moving along the path of acculturation.
Finally, although it is said that immigration produces a radical transformation of the meaning one makes about the social world and that also involves modifications of one’s identity (Lorenzo-Hernandez, 1998), there is increasing evidence that (a) ethnic values and identification are retained for many generations after migration (Greeley, 1974); (b) ethnic values play a significant role in family life and personal development throughout the life cycle (Gilgaud & Kutzik, cited by McGoldrick, 1982; Lieberman, cited by McGoldrick, 1982; Teper, cited by McGoldrick, 1982); and (c) traditional attitudes toward family norms and practices are retained until or even beyond the occurrence of central changes within their ethnic community and society (Torres-Matrullo, 1980).
The social science literature provides many complex answers with many divergent viewpoints to the phenomenon of acculturation. Although there is little consensus among researchers, most definitions include the notion that (a) acculturation is an open-ended process, (b) which involves complex processes of attitudinal and behavioral modifications (Padilla, 1980) and/or changes for accommodating to a total cultural context (Szapocznik & Kurtines, 1993), and that (c) acculturation results from cultural learning through mutual interactions when two autonomous cultural groups are in constant contact with each other, leading to change in one or both cultures depending on the power relationship between them (Felix-Ortiz et al., 1994).
For the majority of immigrants the key component in this process of creating a relationship with the new world is learning the language that make possible the direct contact with this new reality. The growth that results from exchanging information and the self-meaning given by direct communication cannot occur without this basic ingredient. On the contrary, individuals will become dependent on intermediates for communication and for getting meanings from their surrounding circumstances. The lack of knowledge of the language of the new place also limits the cognitive maturational effects that come with learning a second language, as well as the expansion of the cultural horizons.
Given the intimate interdependence of culture and language, it may be presupposed that acculturation is impossible without mastery of the new language. As Kim (1988) has stated, the dynamic transformation to increase an immigrant’s fitness and compatibility with the host environment is the result of a communication process. According to her, communication facilitates the immigrant’s learning experience and leads to increased self-awareness and personal growth, and to the disappearance of the confusion and disorientation associated with cultural shock. Consequently, communication patterns reflect the degree to which an individual identifies with a culture as well as the threat presented to the individual’s social identity by the new culture.
Thus, acculturation emerges as an ongoing (Felix-Ortiz et al., 1994) and dynamic psycho-social process which not only involves becoming knowledgeable in the language, norms, and values of the new culture, but also involves changes in a person’s cognitive and emotional structures. These changes occur when the newcomer has to re-learn new meanings for [social] symbols, has to readjust–and sometimes thoroughly change–his/her own system of values and, especially, when the immigrant person has to relinquish some old customs, beliefs, and behaviors. (Burman, Telles, Karno, Hugh, & Escobar, 1987, p. 107)
Casas and Pytluk (1995) did a review of literature and found that the psychological and social changes that may occur in the process of acculturation are dependent on (a) the characteristics of the individual, (b) the intensity of and importance given to the contact between the various cultural groups, and (c) the actual numerical balance between individuals representing the original culture and those who represent the new and more than likely larger majority culture.
Similarly, Clark, Kaufman, and Pierce (1976) found that immigrants and their descendants may demonstrate selective acculturation: They may acculturate more in some aspects than in others. In addition, Cronin (1970) stated that immigrants showed differential acculturation in public versus private behaviors.
(*) This article is based on the Chapter II of the Quaalitative Study of the Acculturative Process followed by Immigrant Hispanic Parents. Marquez (2000). Doctoral Dissertation.