Chapter 8: Resilience in Immigrant and Refugee Families

Jennifer Doty (Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota)


Ghetto Statistics
By Chay Douangphouxay

We were 4th and Dupont
North side projects
Second-class refugee

We were 1st of the month
Welfare checks
Food stamps

We were just kids
Community centers
Study groups
Basketball hoops

They were broken school systems
Crooked cops
Drug dealers
Grave diggers

I was supposed to be
Gang member
Dead before fifteen

I proved them through
Church groups
Get out of the hood
College degree

The immigrant paradox has been highlighted in recent years as researchers have increasingly noted the resilience of immigrants in the face of challenges and adversity (Hernandez, Denton, Macartney, & Blanchard, 2012). Resilience refers to the process or outcomes of positive development in the context of adverse circumstances (Luthar & Cicchetti, 2000; Masten, Burt, & Coatsworth, 2006). Within families, Walsh (2006) views resilience as the capacity to rebound and grow from challenging experiences, building strength and resources. According to this perspective, essential elements to the process of resiliency are making meaning of adversity and supportive relationships. The challenges immigrants and refugees face are many, including loneliness and isolation in a new country (Campbell, 2008; Narchal, 2012), economic challenges (Fuligni, 2012; Parra-Cardona, Cordova, Holtrop, Villaruel, & Wieling, 2006), and poor educational opportunities (Crosnoe, 2012). Refugees often face further challenges of coping with multiple exposures to traumatic events that led them to flee their home countries along with displacement and resettlement stressors (Shannon, Wieling, Simmelink, & Becher, 2014;Weine et al., 2004). However, a resilience framework invites a consideration of the strengths and protective factors that allow immigrant families to overcome adversity.

The immigrant paradox is defined as the tendency for first and second generation immigrants to do better in many areas than United States-born individuals (Hernandez et al., 2012). This trend has been observed in physical health, psychological health, and education. Fuligni (2012) outlines two considerations that increase immigrants’ abilities to thrive in the transition to a new culture and home, and then describes a third consideration that can pose barriers. First, immigrant families tend to be highly motivated and value work and education. Second, children of immigrants are protected by family connection and obligation. Finally, in spite of high educational aspirations, immigrant families have varied access to the resources and opportunities needed to achieve success. This review examines research on the strengths and the resilience of immigrant families in the United States in each of these three areas.