Academic journal article Family Relations

The Costs of Getting Ahead: Mexican Family System Changes after Immigration*

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Costs of Getting Ahead: Mexican Family System Changes after Immigration*

Article excerpt


This study explored how immigration influenced Mexican family relationships. Qualitative interviews were conducted with 12 adolescents and 14 parents from 10 undocumented Mexican families. Participants immigrated to North Carolina within the past 7 years. A conceptual model derived from the data using grounded theory methods suggested that, after immigration, parents had less time to spend with children because of demanding new jobs and mothers entering the work force. Decreased time as a family was associated with adolescents' loneliness, isolation, and risk-taking behavior. In response to perceived environmental threats, Mexican parents became authoritarian, precipitating parent-adolescent conflict. Parent-adolescent acculturation gaps were viewed as an asset as adolescents helped parents navigate within the new cultural system. Families coped with postimmigration changes by maintaining high levels of familism and enacting cultural traditions.

Key Words: acculturation, familism, family systems, Latinos, migration.

Mexico, lindo y querido, si muero lejos de ti, por siempre te extranare. Para siempre. [Mexico, beautiful and beloved, if I die far away from you, know that I will always miss you. Always.]Yariela, Mexican female adolescent, age 12, living in United States for 1 year

Researchers from the Pew Hispanic Center estimate that 11 million undocumented individuals currendy live in the United States; a 30% increase from the 8.4 million estimated in 2000. Six million of these undocumented individuals are Mexican. The same researchers estimate that one sixth of this population, or 1.7 million people, are younger than 18 years (Passel, 2005). Although there is clearly a large group of undocumented Mexicans living in the United States, we know little about these families and how they function. It is important to learn more about the unique challenges faced by undocumented families who, compared to legal immigrants or refugees, live in fear of deportation and cannot easily travel back and forth to Mexico.

Most of the research on Latino immigration, acculturation, and adjustment has been conducted with adults, leaving us with scant information on adolescents and even less on family relationships (Garcia Coll & Magnuson, 2001). Little attention has been given to the 1.5 generation, that is, children and adolescents who were born and socialized in a foreign country and subsequently immigrated to the United States (Hirschman, 1994; Portes & Rumbaut, 2001). Notwithstanding the emphasis that acculturation research has placed on comparisons between different generations within immigrant families (e.g., U.S.-born children vs. their immigrant parents), these 1.5 generation children arguably experience the most upheaval of the family system and are most likely to either become bicultural or get caught between cultural systems (García Coll & Magnuson; Hirschman).

This study focused on understanding family system dynamics in undocumented Mexican families and the changes that parents and adolescents experience after immigration. We contribute to the body of knowledge on Latino immigrant families by exploring three fundamental questions that have not received adequate attention in the previous research on undocumented Mexican immigrant families: (a) how do undocumented Mexican families change after immigration, (b) how do these changes affect family members and their interactions, and (c) what factors explain postimmigration family system adjustment in undocumented families?

The immigration experience and stressors that arise therein such as learning a new language, finding jobs, and coping with discrimination can lead to both acculturation stress and familial stress. Depending upon die reasons for relocation, as well as die exiting and entering environments, immigrant families often experience significant upheaval during migration, shifts in socioeconomic status, loss of social networks, and disorienting cultural changes in the new land (Hernandez & McGoldrick, 1999). …

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