Immigrant resettlement is a complex topic, requiring the consideration of historical perspectives of intergroup relations, the interactive and non-linear nature of acculturation, the contextual elements of a state’s and nation’s socio-eco-political situations, and a deep introspection of the philosophies guiding our stance. Research continues to lack a clear understanding of resettlement efforts, particularly the processes within families. Creativity and flexibility is needed to reach a level of sophistication in our research and intervention to meet the needs of the increasingly diverse population in the United States. Intersectionality and family theories offer useful lenses for studying and understanding complex immigrant experiences; they can also inform practical strategies and policies to support successful immigrant resettlement.
Nadia moved to the United States to get her BA in Psychology 12 years ago. When she met her partner (Adbul) in college, it was an easy decision to get married and apply for her citizenship. She was raised in Indonesia, while her husband was a second generation immigrant from Saudi Arabia and shared her religious faith as a Muslim. Despite their shared faith, her husband’s family had initially expressed concern, and some even overtly expressing displeasure of his choice to marry her. After they were married, she continued to feel the pressure to meet certain expectations from her new family, which felt incongruent with her own culture and self. The one thing that seemed particularly important to her parents-in-law was that she begin wearing the hijab (traditional Muslim head covering). She had never been opposed to the idea and thus chose to wear it. After starting to wear the hijab, she noticed a positive change in the way people in her and Abdul’s religious community treated her. She felt more accepted and respected. She often reflects on how different her parents had raised her from her husband’s parents; back in Indonesia, her parents were not particularly wealthy, she remembered growing up alongside peers from different ethnicities and religions, and they practiced their religion with less restriction from both outside their religious group and within. Abdul, while raised in the United States seemed to be less open to making connections and forging relationships with others outside of his parent’s religious community. He often asked how he could be more accepting when others were not accepting of him.
Within the academic setting, Nadia felt confident in how well she was able to ‘adapt’ to the learning community. She spoke English well as her second language and presented in a very professional way. She was told by her faculty advisor, after deciding to start wearing a hijab that she would ‘have it easier’ if she did not. She graduated with a masters in Nursing and began to apply for jobs. She was offered many jobs but chose to accept one in a hospital in Oklahoma because it was the only job in the specialization that she wanted to pursue and also was somewhat relieved to be able to build her life with her husband on their own. Abdul was not particularly happy to move away from his family especially when he heard one of his cousins comment about how ‘small’ of a man he was to follow his wife around while she worked on her career, but similarly, he felt that forging a life away from his family may have some value. Additionally, he worked in a large tech company with branches nationwide and could transfer to the office in Tulsa.
Nadia and Abdul moved into their lovely new home in a suburb. She had felt eyes on her as they were unloading the moving truck and decided to walk over to her new neighbors to introduce herself. She convinced Abdul that this would be a good idea. No one answered the first door she knocked even though she was sure she remembered seeing them come home. Her other neighbor was very pleasant however she noticed that she made efforts to avoid eye contact with her and her husband.
Nadia was shocked at one her first experiences while training at her new job when a patient exclaimed loudly to their family after she left their room that it was a shame that the hospital employed a person ‘like that’. Additionally, almost all of her coworkers didn’t ever seem to want to have lunch with her. Abdul also was taken aback when upon presenting for his first workday his immediate supervisor asked him to list out all his qualifications and training when this seemed strange for a job transfer. Nadia began to fear whether relocating was the right choice.
When asked about her resettlement as an immigrant, Nadia would explain it as a complex journey, where her identities as woman, person of color, and foreign-born individual, including her religious affiliation, were integral. How Nadia is perceived, and what expectations are placed on her within the different spheres of her life contributes to how she would continue to construct her own identity and then choose to interact with these external contexts. Her family’s values of openness and flexibility that have allowed her to interact successfully in her academic context may be at odds with her partner’s strong boundaries with others and her experiences in her new milieu. She may not talk about acculturating or it being a progression towards assimilation, and in various relationships and contexts in her life, she may not even have similar goals for integrating. It may make sense to her to think about intersections, both of her identities and how her identities intersect with her partners’ identities and the different contexts she is in. Getting the sense that her neighbor felt some discomfort interacting with her as an immigrant woman of color, with an accent, wearing a hijab, and in a marriage relationship with a Muslim man, (albeit based on possible erroneous assumptions) is Nadia’s unique experience because of the identities that she appears and/or does inhabit. Thus in discussing resettlement as a social, familial, and individual process, Nadia’s resettlement is informed by these complex experiences.
- How have ideas about immigrant resettlement shifted through the years?
- How could the use of a family theory in future research add to our understanding of resettlement?
- Using the ABC-X model, identify the stressors, resources, and definition of the problem associated with Nadia and Abdul’s move to Oklahoma. Do you think they would consider it a crisis?
- What about Nadia’s story would stand out to you if you looked at it from the systems lens? From an assimilation lens? From an intersectionality lens?