Asian Americans account for one of the largest, most diverse and fast growing ethnic minority populations in the United States according to the U.S. Bureau of Census. This rapid growth has necessitated research on these people. The population of Bangladeshi and Asian Indian immigrants, to be specific is estimated to be about three million.
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The relationship between intergenerational conflict and mental illness among Bangladeshi and Asian Indian Immigrants living in the U.S. can only be feasible after understanding a number of concepts. These are; intergenerational conflict, mental health as well as immigration. This is simply because the three concepts are intertwined as far is this topic is concerned. It therefore goes without saying that it is only a vivid understanding of the above concepts that will facilitate the establishment of a relationship between them.
Intergenerational conflict is always difficult to analyze because generations themselves belie simple definition as argued by Swett. She goes on to argue that scholars still debate on what constitutes a generation. Sociologists focus on phases of the life cycle as constituting generations. As individuals age, they move from one generation to another as defined by new responsibilities. Regele and Schulz on their part assert that a generation is often market by a period of time from the birth of parents to the birth of their offspring. According to these two, this definition works well within individual families but it does not consider individual families.
Other scholars like Kang and University agrees that Intergenerational Family Conflict (IFC) as the conflicts between parents and children that typically arise during adolescence over issues of autonomy and independence, as argued by other scholars i.e. Laursen and Collins. From these definitions, it becomes crystal clear that indeed the conflict in this case is one involving parents (first generation) and their children (second generation/U.S born children). These, to be specific are the Bangladesh and Asian Indians who are immigrants living in the United States.
Mental health, as stated earlier on; is yet another concept that has to be well understood in trying to address the subject matter of this paper. Sells, defines it as the well being of the adjustment and adaptation in human environment, in addition to the absence of suffering during the performance of psychological functions, i.e. the absence of mental illness.
Last but not least, the term immigration is used to describe the movement of people from their own country to permanently settle in another according to Senker. In this case, the people who moved from Bangladeshi and India; and settled in the United States are the so called Bangladeshi and Asian Indian immigrants respectively. These two form part of the East Indian immigrants who are essentially nationals of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
Having understood that, we now shift attention to existence of generational conflicts and how it relates to the mental health issues suffered/encountered by the Asian migrants. The subject matter encompasses the various ways in which the conflict is brought out between the two parties and the resultant effects on the lives of the immigrants.
First generation immigrants were born and raised in Asia as opposed to their children who are born and as well educated in America. From this, it becomes clear that two diverse cultures come into play; parents stand on one side with their own and their children on the other with another one that is totally different. This phenomenon translates that conflict between the first and second generation immigrants is inevitable. The second generation children are assimilated to the mainstream American culture and may be taught some Asian ideals as they grow up. Their parents have retained their original Asian culture and this does not agree with their children’s.
The principal reason for this is that parents already have prior formed negative impressions about the American culture. This subjective information they obtain from television news, reports or from relatives and friends already in the United States (Bhattacharya 1998). Their basis for this is normally pre-immigration information and they are not willing to let go of these impressions especially with regard to parent-child relationships. A contradiction of the two cultures when it comes to raising children, particularly adolescents and young adults often contributes to stress to the parents and the children as well. Parents’ unpreparedness for changes associated with parenting in the United States leads to stress and often conflict. The difference between what the children want for themselves and that which the parents want for them as well as the differential rates of adjustment are great causative agents for stress.
Asian culture expects that the children should unquestionably respect and honor their parents at whatever stage of development in terms of years. They are as well expected to behave in a way that would reflect well on not only the family, but the extended family as well. Familial obligations are based on the ‘we’ value as opposed to the ‘I’ and hence one is expected to be knit around the former rather than the later. This is somewhat contradicted when in school the children are taught on assertiveness and voicing of one’s opinion. The result of this is a clash between the two belief systems that greatly infuriates the parents who perceive their children as rebels. Kim as a reaction to this; argues that American school setting norms are not acceptable at home as they’d cause conflict that is likely to culminate in depressive symptoms.
It is worth noting at this point that a majority of immigrant parents have some concerns in as far as parenting in the US is concerned. Their greatest fear is to lose their children to the US culture and this strike at the heart of their native family value system. They also lose their parental authority over their children that come with authority to discipline their children as compared to their native culture; as well as the right to select their children’s mates. The parents lament of the “permissiveness” of the American culture since it condones child rights but challenge values of parental authority. All these are painful post-immigration facts of life for the parents and depressing.
Language barrier plays a huge role in increasing the intergenerational conflicts. When the second generation immigrants are asked, they say that their parents put too much pressure on them to perform well in their academics. They further state that their parents tend to restrict their freedom too much and that thy always conflict with their parents when it comes to planning for their future. The general feeling is that they are often emotionally distanced from their parents, and depressive and stressful thoughts may set in at any point. A careful study conducted by Park (2005) in relation to their understanding of original language as spoken by the parents reveal that competence in it translates to lower intergenerational conflict. It is clear that a problem arises as a result of communication breakdown. The two parties are not able to symbolize in a very clear manner as the children understand English better but that is not the case with the parents.
Language limitations together with unfamiliar religions, values, beliefs or lifestyles of the new culture may result in the risk of isolation of family members. This is especially the case in the first generation. They are often worried and are frequently fear that the Americans may influence their children and grandchildren. The new culture in itself is a threat to them and as a result the family imposes strict traditional values on its members in an attempt to ensure they retain its religion and language. Through this, they attempt to strengthen the family bonds to be able to cope with the impending stress countering it. In the event that a problem arises, the family may not utilize the available resources within the community and is not willing to adapt to the new culture. The family may disengage from a member who fails to respect its values and lifestyle and embrace the new culture. The ultimate consequence of this is vulnerability because the strength of the family is in each of the individual members and that of the individual members is in the family.
The concept of filial duty and bringing honor to the family is yet another mode through which intergenerational conflict is expressed. Second generation immigrants always feel obliged to repay their parents for all they have had to do to guarantee a smooth life for them in the United States. They always feel that they have to live up to the expectations of their parents. Chow asserts that the culture is family centered and not child centered. This means that the children are to make choices that bring honor to the family and not individual.
Immigrant parents often push their children to succeed academically, economically and also occupationally. In that regard, child may have to comply with the parents’ desire to study medicine not because he is good at it but because it is prestigious to the family to have a doctor around. Because they may not be as good in such fields, they are torn between sticking to their own personal dreams that comes with disapproval and bending to the parents wish which translates to sacrificing their lifelong goals. This kind of conflict has no simple resolution. Parents pass on their own values and beliefs on their children as they bring them up. The struggle between self and the needs of the parents is therefore continuous as there is no clear demarcation between on the expectations. Rarely does such occur in traditional Asian societies as the expected course of action is pre-determined by the society.
Prioritized desire by parents for their children’s success educationally and economically has time and again proved to be a requisite for mental health problems for these children. They children are continually reminded by their parents that education is the key to success in the US and are inculcated with the belief that it is important to succeed educationally at all costs. Some children, particularly adolescents are not able to get to the set standards. Such often report feeling “like failures” because of their inability to fulfill parental expectations.
In pursed satisfaction of parental desires to succeed, these children disregard their own developmental needs. This intensifies the characteristic adolescent and young adulthood stresses. They may eventually experience mental health problems. To them their parents’ primary concern is their educational and financial success. This turns a blind eye to their personal, emotional goals in development and happiness.
Role and status changes within the family accounts for yet another cause and as well an expression of this kind of conflict. It should be noted that family members take different time frames to adjust to the new culture. It is known that children have a better capacity to learn a new language and sometimes at the expense of their native ones. They quickly adapt and embrace new cultures with ease unlike their parents who remain culturally anchored in their native culture (Baptiste, 1987). The result from this is that parents are constrained to depend on their children for interpretation in many social situations. This unfortunately leads to a reverse of roles and status of the parents and children. Asian American children also adopt different value systems and together with the communication problems experienced, language barrier is inevitable.
Chung describes how parent-child roles as well as power relations are affected in her research report. She says that “as children acculturate and acquire English fluency more rapidly than their parents, they often function as cultural brokers, being called onto as translators, cultural experts, and even family representatives to the outside world.”
Quick adaptation to the American culture and assuming ‘American’ behaviors, attitudes and values by the children always results in conflict. This is because these acquired habits are usually known to be different from those that the parents would expect for children in their native country. They (parents) often use their native culture as the ‘marking scheme’ and any cultural traits that seem to go against this is deemed to be negative. The end result from this is parent-child clashes that seem to be unending. This intergenerational conflict culminates in stress since what the parents want for their children is not what the children want for themselves.
From the above phenomena, it is evident that the children are as well frustrated with the inability to communicate adequately with their parents. This can be attributed to the fact that they have different value systems arising from the fact that they have diverse backgrounds and experiences. Children will be found to complain time and again that their parents are stubborn and outdated, and parents on their part are uncomfortable seeing their children behave untraditionally. Distress and tension is the resultant outcome of this. Uncertainty and confusion further weaken parental authority thereby worsening the situation. Conflict and tension eventually emerge especially in situations where basic emotionall bond with affluent communication is non-existent between parents and children.
A rapid destruction of the socio-cultural system within a group means that the families (in this case Bangladeshi and Asian Indian immigrant families) will suffer as a result of loss of its roots hence their eminent deterioration. This is brought out when parents lose their cultural methods of organizing the family and subsequent confusion as to how they are to perform their parental function as required. Children on the other hand often dissociate from parents cognitively and emotionally and lose their identity as well as direction in life. Other than losing their identities, such families are known to have lost their cultural goals for functioning as well.
Familial structures are important in their ability to adapt to new cultures. They provide the basis for the ability of a family to adapt to a new culture. Increased level of stress at a time when support systems are weak result in isolated or disengaged families. This is especially the case given that family members i.e. the parents and the children adjust to the new culture at different rates.
In as much as the children take the responsibility of interpreting as an extra responsibility, parents on their part are as well disturbed by their inability to do some these things for themselves. Limitedness in performing some of their parental errands negatively impacts on their self esteem and confidence leading to acute stress and depression. It is also hard to get their children to assist them in some cases. Their being ‘Americanized’ makes it easier for them to interact with people and they may not see why it should be any harder for their parents.
It is also prudent that second generation children who don’t know much of their culture get to visit their parents’ native country. This offers a platform for them to learn about important aspects of their parents’ values and belief systems.
Familial intergenerational conflict (especially between the first and second generation immigrants of Bangladeshi and Asian Indian origins) is a phenomenon that has its roots in the early years as these migrants migrated from their countries to find their settlement in America. It arises from a variety of concerns raised by parents over the development of their children as Asian Americans. Such include the fear of losing their children to the US culture, loss of parental authority over the children, loss of authority over them, loss of the prerogative of selecting their children’s mates among other concerns as herein discussed.
Another great contributor to intergenerational conflicts between the first and second generation immigrants from Bangladeshi and the Asian Indians revolve around marital issues. The parents from these groups are culturally allowed to select their children’s mates. More than authority, it is their responsibility to decide the person they would want their children to date and eventually marry.
Immigrant rents are known to endorse the so called arranged marriages for their children as soon as they attain maturity. This is usually at their adolescent stage or when they get to young adulthood. According to a study by Yao, Indo-American parents whom she interviewed in Texas continued to arrange for their children’s marriages although many of the families had lived in the US for more than a decade, at the time that they were being interviewed.
Extreme cases of such parents who are keen to ensure that their children get to marry spouses of their choice are known to go to the extent of even getting these spouses for their children from their native countries. Wakil, Siddique & Wakil, note that some parents may even “import” a potential spouse from their country of origin for a child. This is most of the time the case when it comes to wives and rarely does it happen with husbands.
Most proponents of these arranged marriages that have spouses from the native countries prefer culturally endogamous marriages. It is however important to note that this happens with the exception of a few who accept exogamous dating and eventual marriages. Of greater importance to understand is the fact that such exogamous marriages are only accepted in situations where endogamous partners are unavailable.
The bone of contention in a proposition for such kind of an arrangement occurs since adolescents and young adults of the second generation are always opposed to arranged marriages. Owing to their assimilation into the American culture, they are more likely to take up the American design when it comes to dating and marriage. They therefore prefer selecting a partner of their own whom they date and eventually marry, even if it would contradict the wishes and desires of their parents. Just like the other Americans, their choice of their mates and eventual marriage partners is based on the criteria of romance and love.
The “Americanized” version of courting, courtship and marriage is not in line with what the parents (the first generation immigrants) would for their children or better still, what they would want their children do for themselves. This is contrary to the parental beliefs and culture and to some extent shame the parents in the eyes of the greater Bangladeshi and Asian Indian community. The embarrassment brings feelings of failure in as far as parenting is concerned and this is a potential stressor. Children on their part may also be stressed as the greater community would not be very willing to readily accept them. They may even find it hard to associate with the family as a result, thereby causing identity issues.
Based on the increased rates of divorce among the younger generations that have chosen to follow similar paths, such parents have always doubted the stability of such marital unions. The thought of their children being in unstable marriages always creates tension in the parents and they eventually end up stressed. This constant worry and uncertainty about the future renders them into a state of anxiety as they are not exactly sure of what to expect from their children’s marriages.
Issues to do with intergenerational conflict arising most of the time from differing opinions as a result of cultural diversity between the involved cultures have been there since the onset of migration. From the discussion above, it is evident that the impacts arising there-of are numerous ranging from depression, stress, identity issues and ultimately disintegration of the family. It is therefore of paramount importance that a formidable way forward be sought to help address these concerns that don’t seem to be going away but instead, they’re here to stay.