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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Children of Immigrants 

The Manchester bomber is a child of immigrants. Children of immigrants turn into a high-risk group in terms of anxiety, depression, alienation and anger if the parents resist integration or refuse to acknowledge that any emigration is a traumatic rupture that requires compensatory mechanisms. If the parents choose not to compensate, children will have to do it in a much greater degree. 

When such children end up stuck between two cultures, the private and the public, unable fully to move into one or the other and lacking the intellectual sophistication to turn this situation to their benefit, they might act in destructive ways. The nature of the destruction is, of course, mediated by gender and culture. Some people will thwart their own lives, others will visit devastation on their immigrant community, and there will be some who will go to the extremes of the Manchester terrorist. 

None of this is aimed at justifying the act of terror, of course. Everybody has shit to deal with, and it’s everybody’s choice how to do that. 

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18 thoughts on “Children of Immigrants 

  1. el on said:

    I am somewhat confused by what is meant by “children of immigrants.” The bomber was born in Britain. If somebody immigrated to Britain at 13 with parents, would you call him “a child of immigrants” too rather than “an immigrant”? Aren’t those two situations very different from children’s point of view?

    My brother immigrated just before the school age and he has no ” in-between identity” to exploit for job market. That bomber was born in Britain. Only extreme ghettoization would produce in-between identities for such children.

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    • “My brother immigrated just before the school age and he has no ” in-between identity” to exploit for job market.”

      • You know that I don’t like making comments about anybody’s relatives but come on, let’s be serious.

      “That bomber was born in Britain. Only extreme ghettoization would produce in-between identities for such children.”

      • That’s the highest risk group. In the US, the lowest high school graduation rates are among children of Hispanic immigrants who were born here. Half of them never finish school.

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  2. el on said:

    \ In the US, the lowest high school graduation rates are among children of Hispanic immigrants who were born here.

    Do you have an explanation why children born in Spain find graduating easier? It is counterintuitive.

    \ You know that I don’t like making comments about anybody’s relatives but come on, let’s be serious.

    Typically, children who immigrated at such age speak Russian poorly. How would being unable to read in Russian and speaking with numerous mistakes help one succeed as a programmer in Israel?

    My brother actually had the reaction of “stop being such Russians” and “you (meaning me, his sister) have an accent in Hebrew because you speak Russian too much.” Nothing in his CV will show he is a child of immigrants.

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    • These Hispanics are not from Spain, of course. It’s not that counterintuitive. Imagine the most defining event for your identity happening before you could even remember it. It’s a complete loss of control.

      What you describe about your brother is textbook immigrant trauma. Let’s not call it trauma if that’s unpleasant. Let’s call it a pink giraffe. But it’s a classic situation of a person struggling between identities.

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  3. el on said:

    Found new definitions:

    [wiki] Rubén G. Rumbaut has coined the terminology “1.75 generation” and “1.25 generation” immigrants, for children who are closer to birth or full adulthood when they immigrate. Children who arrive in their early childhood (ages 0 to 5) are referred to as 1.75 generation immigrants since their experiences are closer to a true 2nd-generation immigrant who was born in the country they live in: they retain virtually no memory of their country of birth, were too young to go to school to learn to read or write in the parental language in the home country, typically learn the language of the country they immigrate to without an accent and are almost entirely socialized there. Children who arrive in their adolescent years (ages 13–17) are referred to as 1.25 generation immigrants because their experiences are closer to the first generation of immigrants adults than to the native born second generation.

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  4. Quick, very speculative, thought. One problem with locally born children of muslim immigrants in Europe is that the parents actively make the local indigenous population into their Other and largely define themselves (and try to make their children define themselves) by how they are different from the local kuffar.

    This leaves very little positive role models and as the parents and children (rightly) come to identify modern Europeans as non-violent and conflict averse they move into the role of confrontational hotheads who aren’t afraid of violence. This is mostly expressed as higher rates of petty crime and occasionally as prolonged predation (like Rotherham) and occasionally by becoming deranged killers.

    Since Islam is the only ethical framework they are familiar with they use that to justify their evil (and there’s no modern mainstream tradition of interpreting the koran in any but the most literal terms, muslims are more prone to religious manipulation based on literal intepretations…

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    • In terms of Hispanic immigrants (which is a subject I know a lot better), my anecdotal observations confirm what the stats show: parents work hard, are law-abiding, are academically successful, and do great. And then for some mysterious reason, their children go off the rails. And it’s because nobody is recognizing that they need more help than the parents. Precisely because they were born here.

      It’s like children of rape victims who need serious rehabilitation if mother never got it even if they were born long after the rape. Obviously, I’m not drawing a parallel between immigration and rape. But trauma is inherited , even the eagerly chosen and positive trauma.

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  5. el on said:

    \ parents work hard, are law-abiding, are academically successful, and do great. And then for some mysterious reason, their children go off the rails.

    I do not think there is some magic dust or radiation coming from those immigrants and targeting their children. There must be something different in the behavior of those parents than in the behavior of “all American,” non-immigrant families. I wonder if research has been done to identify the unique behavioral elements.

    It makes sense that untreated rape victims tend to view the world differently and transmit it to their children. I suppose, many outwardly successful Hispanic immigrants do something somewhat similar. Also, it’s not like all their children “go off the rails,” so those successful parents may not be as successful as it seems.

    \ What you describe about your brother is textbook immigrant trauma. Let’s not call it trauma if that’s unpleasant.

    I am OK using that word; I know it’s academic. I wonder if there is good lit I may read about it.

    Sometimes it makes me somewhat angry. I am 90%-99% Israeli myself, but am not ashamed of knowing Russian and experiencing different society a little. “A little” since I only went to school and read books at home, neither worked nor even attended eighth grade. I am a little sorry my written Russian is utterly horrible and feel somewhat sad to lose even more knowledge with time. I only use the language with my mother.

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    • “Sometimes it makes me somewhat angry. I am 90%-99% Israeli myself, but am not ashamed of knowing Russian and experiencing different society a little.”

      • Good for you. The more comfortable you are with all aspects of your identity, the better. This bodes well for your future children.

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      • well, so maybe the bigger trauma is not immigration per se (assuming that it was kind of soft scenario, when people come and find work and social circle that is not below their previous standing), but exactly this being ashamed of some aspect of one’s identity? Or growing up among family who is consciously or subconsciously ashamed?

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        • and I guess it should also matter if immigrants have a strong sense of national identity to begin with, prior to immigration. If they believe there are reasons to resist integration. If they do not give a crap, it should be less of an internal conflict. As one datapoint, I cannot say I do not give a crap, but I approach all sides of my identity with curiosity and interest of an anthropologist, not as something to have a conflict of civilizations over. But then I had it easy by immigrating within the same civilization…

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        • Since we can’t access anybody’s subconscious, then the only conclusion that can legitimately be made is what I put in the post.

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          • Well, you touched one of my favorite topics. 🙂 (Of course, you can argue that this being my favorite topic is my compensatory mechanism. Probably. )

            I do not have the issue with immigration being “a trauma”, I am having an issue with what is usually implied, at least in the Western civilization, when people speak of “trauma”. There is this implicit consumerist idea that in a better world of better parents and better social interactions the “trauma” would not happen. (I am not talking about wars or rape or incest here.) Regular life is inevitably producing all kinds of stress, and in this sense regular life is constantly producing some “trauma”. And I suspect that our belief that trauma should not happen, that in the better world it is somehow avoidable, is one of the main contributors to us being traumatized.

            This does not mean that if some regular life events traumatized one in ways that one has difficulties dealing with it, then one is somehow bad, or inferior, or just has to resolve the issues related to trauma all on her own. No. Nobody expects people to cure themselves of physical illnesses all on their own, or to fix a car without a mechanic, or to unstuck a toilet without a plumber… the same way it is perfectly normal to seek psychological help. Or to engage in some compensatory behavior, for that matter. I totally agree with you, there is nothing wrong (and perhaps a lot of right) about compensatory behavior per se. It becomes wrong only as far as the consequences of supposedly compensatory behavior are causing more trauma than the original trauma.

            As for immigration… Moving in the same country or even the same city is a trauma. One has to pack his stuff, evoke all kind of memories, move, unpack; the parks, shops, work, school, etc are not where they used to be. There are different people around, so familiar social interactions are disrupted (note the proper use of the word disrupted 🙂 )… How different events traumatize us depends to a large extent on what meaning we choose to attach to the events. It is common to attach some overblown importance to a concept of a country (or nation-state) in the western civilization, so immigration traumatizes people more than a move within the same country. But this is not some law of physics, it is something that is more traumatic because we are predisposed by our beliefs to expect it to be more traumatic. And then the researchers publish the books on traumatic effects of immigration, and people get a confirmation of what they believed to begin with. So the cycle continues. But this is just a self supporting cycle that does not have to be there.

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            • “I do not have the issue with immigration being “a trauma”, I am having an issue with what is usually implied, at least in the Western civilization, when people speak of “trauma”. ”

              • How do you feel about the term “disruption”? We can use it instead. :-))

              “This does not mean that if some regular life events traumatized one in ways that one has difficulties dealing with it, then one is somehow bad, or inferior, or just has to resolve the issues related to trauma all on her own.”

              • Do you really think that I, of all people, need to be reminded of this?

              “But this is not some law of physics, it is something that is more traumatic because we are predisposed by our beliefs to expect it to be more traumatic. And then the researchers publish the books on traumatic effects of immigration, and people get a confirmation of what they believed to begin with.”

              • I think it’s the other way round. Nothing prepares people for the trauma. They think it’s supposed to be all good because they chose it themselves. It’s like, I wanted this, I fought for this, and now I’m discovering it’s quite harsh. What’s wrong with me? People tend to think that having chosen something of one’s own free will negates the possibility of it being hard and not altogether pleasant.

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  6. el on said:

    \ Also, it’s not like all their children “go off the rails,” so those successful parents may not be as successful as it seems.

    I meant that truly happy and successful immigrants have children who are also happy and successful.

    If children experience problems, then parents do to, even if they don’t show it to the casual eye.

    (I do not believe all children of immigrants have problems, let alone serious ones.)

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    • “I meant that truly happy and successful immigrants have children who are also happy and successful.”

      • I have lived my life in vain. 🙂 Super duper ultra happy and successful parents can and often do have very unhappy miserable children.

      “(I do not believe all children of immigrants have problems, let alone serious ones.)”

      • Not all but those whose parents are in deep denial, absolutely do.

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  7. What sort of compensatory mechanisms would people use to deal with emigration trauma? Also, would you happen to have any reading recommendations on the subject of children of immigrants?

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