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Chapter Eight Envisioning an Agenda for a Social Psychology of Immigration IN THE OPENING chapter, I recalled Oscar Handlin’s classic work The Uprooted—an account of the immigrant experience that focused on the immigrants. Although his perspective was a welcome shift from discussions that looked only at the impact of immigrants on the societies they entered, the picture he painted was bleak. Handlin focused his analysis on first-generation immigrants, typically those who came from villages in Europe and moved to the cities of the eastern United States. “Always, the start was in the village,” he began (1951, 8), tracing a course from the agricultural fields of their homeland to the cold and unsupportive climate of American cities. In this new world, Handlin contended, “the attributes the immigrants held in high esteem were not those that brought success in America” (80), where pressures toward competition and achievement outweighed the value of community. “In this world the notion of improvement is delusive,” he continued: “the free structure of American life permitted them with few restraints to go their own way, but under the shadow of a consciousness that they would never belong” (285). Only in a brief look toward the second generation in the closing chapter of the book did Handlin find what reflects a ray of hope, as he gave the following words to a son of an immigrant: “We will justify their pitiable struggle for dignity and meaning by extending it in our lives toward an end they had not the opportunity to envision” (273). Until recently, psychological analyses of immigration began with a gloomy set of assumptions as well. The central topic was acculturative stress, described as “one of the most obvious and frequently reported consequences of acculturation” (Berry 1990, 224) and characterized by some combination of social disintegration and personal distress. Clinical 203 204 To Be an Immigrant frameworks were most often brought to bear, and the mental health of the individual immigrant served as the key outcome of interest. Negative outcomes are surely one part of the story. Yet as I hope has become apparent throughout the preceding chapters, a full account of the psychology of immigration reveals much more complexity, more variability and more agency on the part of the immigrants themselves. The situations that immigrants confront vary widely, from each other and from the context that Handlin described. Countries themselves, and the United States in particular, are far more diverse, the result of decades of steadily increasing immigrant flows. Ethnic enclaves, family networks, and greater familiarity with the country prior to movement give the immigrant more access to resources. Possibilities for collective action are more apparent, in some instances, than they were in earlier analyses. Further, the dynamics of individual identity negotiation show the multiple ways in which immigrants can combine old and new, nationality and ethnicity, in distinctive forms that can contribute to cultural competence and psychological growth. Development and innovation move to the foreground in this approach, and acculturative stress is just one of many possible outcomes. From this broader perspective, the work of social psychologists can both relate and contribute to the work in other fields of immigration research, offering a way to connect social structure to individual functioning and helping chart the ongoing and evolving patterns of immigrant life. The critical mediating role played by social psychological processes allows us to fill in gaps, providing accounts of how it is to be an immigrant. THE FRAMEWORK OF ANALYSIS: A REPRISE The social psychological model that I first introduced in chapter 1 (see figure 1.1) and used again in chapter 7 for the specific case of Afro-Caribbean immigration offers a working framework for moving forward. Each of the three levels in this model is essential, I believe, to derive a full understanding of the immigrant experience—not simply as a static account of occurrence but as a dynamic and ongoing process that takes many forms and has many ramifications. The macro level of analysis is most familiar to those who study immigration , including as its exemplars both policy analyses and demographic summaries . Although this information is clearly essential to understanding the patterns of immigration, it is not enough. As Suzanne Model has observed, “census analysis cannot uncover human motives” (2001, 79). Nor can such analyses alone tell us how a society views and evaluates the movement of people and the shaping of policy. Other more sociocultural elements are needed, at this macro level of analyses...


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