The Cultural Adjustment and Mental Health of Japanese Immigrant Youth

Article excerpt

There are about eight hundred thousand Japanese Americans, making them the sixth largest Asian American group (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000), and 47% of Japanese Americans belong to the first and second generations. Although Japanese immigrant youth are steadily increasing in the United States, a limited number of studies have examined their experiences in adjusting to a new culture (Rosenthal & Feldman, 1990; Padilla, Wagatsuma, & Lindholm, 1985). Accordingly, the present research investigates Japanese immigrant adolescents' experiences in the adaptation process (i.e., their cultural adjustment) in the United States.


Acculturation refers to changes in identification, social skills, attitudes, values, and behavioral norms that groups and individuals undergo when they come in contact with another culture (Rosenthal & Feldman, 1990). Acculturation has been conceptualized as a resocialization process (Taft, 1985, 1986), with the assumption that increased contact with the host culture will lead to a shift away from the values, attitudes, and behaviors of the culture of origin. While some immigrants adjust willingly and easily to the new culture, other immigrants have strong attachments to their culture of origin and find such a transition difficult (Cheung, 1989). Several studies (e.g., Sodowsky, Lai, & Plake, 1991; Padilla et al., 1985) have found that first-generation Asian Americans experience significantly more acculturative stress than second or later generations.

Research on new immigrants and refugees has largely focused on adults, and the immigrant youth has been neglected (e.g., Roysircar-Sodowsky & Maestas, 2000; Sodowsky & Carey, 1987; Sodowsky et al., 1991). Due to the fact that adolescence is a critical period of development (Herring, 1997), examining the adjustment process of adolescents is especially relevant.

Berry and colleagues (Berry, Kim, Power, Young, & Bujaki, 1989; Berry & Sam, 1997) have identified four coping strategies that individuals use in the acculturation process: assimilation (interaction with individuals from the host culture and devaluation of one's own culture), integration (maintenance of one's culture as well as interaction with individuals from the host culture), marginalization (rejection of one's culture of origin as well as avoidance of individuals from the host culture), and separation (maintenance of one's culture of origin and minimal interaction with other groups, especially individuals from the host culture). While it is possible that the acculturation process will proceed without any problems, it may also be stressful and result in adaptation difficulties (Berry, 1997).

The strategies described above are just some of the factors that have been found to be significantly associated with the mental health of immigrants and refugees in the United States (Krishnan & Berry, 1992; Sam, 1994; Sam & Berry, 1995), with integration identified as the most adaptive and marginalization as the least adaptive (Berry, 1997; Berry & Sam, 1997; Sam & Berry, 1995). Further, La-Fromboise, Coleman, and Gerton (1993) have proposed that individuals may develop the ability to negotiate two cultures comfortably without sacrificing their identification with either culture. It is also important to understand that race and ethnicity play an important role in the identity and acculturation processes (Alvarez, Kohatsu, Liu, & Yeh, 1996).

Ethnic Identity

Ethnic identity is another factor that contributes to the complex process of acculturation for immigrants. It has been described as an enduring, fundamental aspect of self that includes a sense of connection to an ethnic group, and the attitudes and feelings associated with membership in that group (Bernal & Knight, 1993; Keefe, 1992; Phinney, 1990). Ethnic identity has also been conceptualized as multidimensional and dynamic (Phinney, 1996; Jeffres, 1983; Sue & Sue, 1990; Yeh & Hwang, 2000), involving attitudes, values, and behaviors, and evolving with changes in social contexts, family interactions, and geographic location (Yeh & Huang, 1996). …


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