Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

The Rehabilitation of Hispanics Experiencing Acculturative Stress: Implications for Practice

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

The Rehabilitation of Hispanics Experiencing Acculturative Stress: Implications for Practice

Article excerpt

The Rehabilitation of Hispanics(1) Experiencing Acculturative Stress: Implications for Practice

An ever-increasing number of Hispanics, particularly Mexicans, are immigrating to the United States. Rehabilitation agencies are being called upon to assist these newcomers in adjusting to life in this country. Demographic statistics give an indication of the magnitude of these needs. Davis (1990), in her compassionate and insightful collection of oral histories of Mexican immigration to the U.S., provided insight into these immigration patterns. She stated:

What began as a trickle over a century ago with a few people trekking north has, through the decades, ebbed and flowed as a shifting tide over our southern border, swelling to a great tsunami at times of stress such as the economic crisis Mexico now faces. From a quiet beginning has grown the greatest migration of people in the history of humanity.

Many of these newcomers will have disabilities and require rehabilitation services in order to fully participate in the social and economic life of the United States. Recent estimates (Thomas & Murr, 1993) placed the number of legal, illegal, and amnestied aliens who have come to the United States since 1970 at 19.3 million. The majority of these immigrants are from Mexico. The cost of government services utilized by these newcomers during 1992 was estimated to be $50.8 billion, $30.6 billion more than was collected in taxes from this group (Thomas & Murr, 1993). This plight is made worse by the fact that recent immigrants have fewer job skills and a lower educational level than those who came to the United States before 1970 (McCarthy & Valdez, 1985; Thomas & Murr, 1993).

As the world evolves toward a global economy, the U.S. will be required to compete in world-wide markets. An increasingly efficient and productive work force will be necessary to maintain a healthy American economy. It is therefore clear that rehabilitation services will be required to respond to the needs of Hispanics with disabilities.

The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) adds a legal mandate to the movement for greater productivity and employment participation by all. This combination of legal, economic, and social forces will place increasing demands upon rehabilitation services to provide for the needs of Hispanics with disabilities. This article will define the concept of acculturative stress and will list and discuss implications for assisting Hispanics who are experiencing acculturative stress.

Acculturative Stress

Stress is created when environmental or internal demands tax one's ability to cope and adapt. Acculturation, the process of adapting to the rules and behavioral characteristics of another group of people, brings many challenges (Smart & Smart, 1993b). Acculturative stress varies depending upon how different the two cultures which must be bridged are.

For Hispanics who come to the U.S., there are a number of significant stressors which are likely to be pervasive, intense, and life-long. Smart and Smart (in press) listed six unique factors which set the immigration experience of Hispanics apart from the immigration experience of northern Europeans. These factors are (a) the tendency of mainstream Americans to quickly and superficially dichotomize and discriminate against people based on their color, (b) the greater emphasis by Hispanics upon social and family ties and the consequent greater loss of social support when immigrating, (c) the stress and risks of illegal immigration, (d) the geographic proximity of the mother country, (e) a legacy of armed conflict in Central American countries, and (f) a historical reliance on physical labor. These unique characteristics work to intensify and prolong acculturative stress and add to the existing stress of a disability.

The experience of coping with loss is central to acculturation of most Hispanics because immigration to the U. …

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