Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Spanish-Speaking Immigrant Parents and Their Children: Reflections on the Path to College

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Spanish-Speaking Immigrant Parents and Their Children: Reflections on the Path to College

Article excerpt

Immigrant parents in a new cultural setting may experience both structural and individual barriers, which complicate the process of helping their children plan for college. Focus group interviews were conducted with 15 Spanish-speaking immigrant parents to highlight their perceptions and experiences. Critical humanism frames a counseling response to these concerns.

Keywords: immigrant parents, supports, barriers, education


Newcomers to the United States have a steep learning curve to navigate. Adaptation to U.S. culture is an intensive process that involves understanding language, customs and norms, laws, social systems, values, daily routines, and worldview (Chung, Bemak, Ortiz, & Sandoval-Perez, 2008). In addition, adults in immigrant families are often focused on providing for the basic needs of their families (e.g., food, shelter, safety) in an unfamiliar context (Maslow, 1943). In terms of motivation, many immigrant adults come to the United States to create a better life for their children via education or work (Hagelskamp, Suarez Orozco, & Hughes, 2010). Their typical aspirations are that their children will have opportunities for self-actualization, which are present in the host country (e.g., educational attainment, nonmanual labor, changes in social class or self-concept), even though the parents themselves may not have the same opportunities (Gonzalez, Borders, Hines, Villalba, & Henderson, 2013).

In humanist theoretical traditions, there are two lenses that may be used to consider the situation of immigrant families. Psychologist Carl Rogers (2012) described helping individuals self-actualize to create the "fullest versions of their lives" (Nemiroff, 1992, p. 38), while acknowledging to some degree the complexity of the social and cultural environments they inhabited. In contrast, critical theorist Paolo Freire (1970) emphasized the oppressive nature of social structures as he called for an emancipatory stance toward the disenfranchised groups in society, but perhaps he paid less attention to individual psychology. Nemiroff (1992) blended both approaches into a framework of critical humanism, which addresses both the individual psychology of self-determination and the impact of unequal social structures on striving or self-actualizing. In critical humanism, people are perceived as capable and their individual aspirations are important, but structural barriers may impede their fullest expression of self (Brady-Amoon, 2011; Nemiroff, 1992). When immigrant parents experience such barriers, it becomes challenging for them to meet basic needs or address the self-actualization of their children.

Even though immigrant parents have strengths based in their cultural traditions, they may experience a host of barriers to educational involvement at both the individual and the social/structural level. For example, traditional Latino cultural values might indicate that parents should focus on the home, raising children with good values and character, and that educational professionals should be left in charge of college and career planning (Auerbach, 2007). In this way, individual beliefs might limit the extent to which immigrant parents become involved with their children's educational planning and self-actualization. Immigrant parents may also feel uncertain of their ability to advise their children about educational matters or to interact effectively with school personnel because of a lack of personal experience (Sosa, 1997).

In addition, some barriers are structural. Freire (1970) highlighted social systems, including schools, that reproduced the existing power structures and kept some groups isolated and disenfranchised. Contemporary researchers have examined structural barriers to involvement, such as lack of access to computer-based educational information, English language fluency, available child care or time away from work to attend meetings at school, and limited transportation (Green, Walker, Hoover-Dempsey, & Sandler, 2007; Sosa, 1997). …

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