What Is the Immigrant Paradox?
For over a century. America has been described as a melting pot in which immigrants from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds slowly simmered together melding into an all americans do but is that really the way it works or even how it should work is total assimilation. The only way to be an american and is it healthy for individuals to abandon their cultural heritage in whole or in part an order to adopt the customs of their new home. We spoke with sess schwartz a professor of public health sciences at the university of miami. Who that it's time to shelve the melting pot metaphor schwartz studies acculturation which is the process by which a person's cultural sense of self changes. As when you move to a new country or are raised an immigrant home and the effects of acculturation on physical and mental health it turns out that assimilation is only one type of acculturation and that fully simulated americans have some of the worst health outcomes. Immigrant families are actually most likely to thrive in america if they embrace aspects of both their native culture and their doctor land public health. Researchers like schwartz. Call it the immigrant paradox. He said there's a whole literature that suggests that foreign born americans are doing better than us. Born individuals on many different health indicators heart health weight and obesity diet depression anxiety substance. Use you name it. So what are the alternatives to assimilation. There's an old joke. That's well known in europe. What do you call a person who speaks two languages bilingual. What do you call person. Who only speaks one. Language american schwartz said in the united states unlike a lot of countries in the world. We actively discourage people from having multiple cultural identities we just want people to be american even the fact that we equate acculturation and simulation says a lot about our culture and how we think people should behave however it is important to note that acculturation is a two way. Street is cuban and tori behavior based on immigrants race or ethnicity by the receiving country can make it much harder for immigrants to achieve healthy by cultural integration traditionally. There's been an assumption that the acculturation process in the united states ran in a straight line at one end of the spectrum stood the recently arrived immigrant still carrying around the language traditions and customs of the so called old country but as the immigrant moved along the line over time did slowly discard their foreignness. As they gradually acquired language and customs of america but starting in the nineteen eighties researchers began to question the straight line assimilation assumption. Psychologist john berry came up with a pioneering model that showed four different responses or strategies including assimilation. The emigrants used to navigate life in their new home. So i got a simulation but that being that you're willing to discard your culture of origin and fully identify with the new culture. The sort of opposite is separation. Wherein you hold onto your original culture at all cost and don't want to adopt the new culture then there's marginalization in which you don't identify with either your heritage culture or the new one. It's a rare situation and finally there's integration sometimes called them you want to maintain a strong connection with your heritage culture while interacting with enquiring traits from the new culture according to schwarz there's strong evidence that the assimilation strategy is bad for your health. The worst psychological effects of assimilation are felt by second generation americans children of immigrants who were either born in america or raised here from a young age second generation. Kids are sometimes so eager to fit in that. They turn their backs on their parents. Customs and traditions entirely schwartz explained. They basically reject their families culture and that tends to produce pretty negative results higher rates of anxiety and depression substance abuse and worst family relationships. The best psychological and health outcomes on the other hand are achieved by individuals who embrace by cultural ism. A balanced integration of their heritage and received cultures short says that people who are able to comfortably blended their native and acquired cultures. Have quote much better outcomes. In terms of higher self-esteem lower depression lowering zaidi and better family relationships immigrants who learned to successfully habit to cultural worlds are the same people who drive the immigrant paradox in americans born outside the us achieve at significantly better physical and mental health outcomes compared to their native born or assimilated neighbors. But why is this diet is one simple explanation says schwartz because immigrant families are more likely to prepare home cooked meals than the typical american family which tends to eat out a lot and consume more processed foods but there are also significant psychological factors at play the most important has to do with the values of american culture versus just about everybody else. Schwartz said the. Us consistently ranks as the most individualistic country in the world. Were more self. Reliant and less reliant on other people in basically any other country on the planet so most people who come here from other places are more collectivist than we are. Let's break that down. What does collectivism look like. As a cultural value it stresses the importance of family above all else. It places an emphasis on the greater good and doing what's best for the community. Not just yourself and it's a less competitive way to look at the world. Schwartz says that cultural values the promote close knit families and selfless service can protect against a lot of the mental health issues. That plague many americans. He said there's a reason why we have so much anxiety. Because we're so highly individualistic and competitive. We have to compete against other people for everything. And if you can't keep up there's less of a support system ready and waiting to help you in this country when we talk about helping other people. Some people want to shout socialism. I think that's one of the issues that we have.