are children of immigrants more likely to be unflappable?
September 29, 2019 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Vice has an article The Hidden Stress of Growing Up a Child of Immigrants with a throwaway reference to "'resilience'—a term that reflects the tendency of children of immigrants to be unflappable or have 'grit'". Can the hive mind recommend additional reading on personality differences due to growing up a child of immigrants?

The linked OECD report seems to be a non sequitur: its definition of resilience is not the calm affect I understood from the Vice article, and it's mostly about how immigrant background reduces resilience. Maybe I am misunderstanding the article or the report, or the article has misunderstood the report?

I'm a child of immigrants married to someone whose family has been in the U.S. much longer, and my wife has on several occasions commented on my ability to remain calm in circumstances that would upset her. Of course, we each considered the other's reaction or lack thereof to be quirks of our individual personalities. (And we disagree on which of us is the normal one. ^_^)

It'd be cool to find that we were just a microcosm of some population-level trend.
posted by meaty shoe puppet to Science & Nature (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'd be more inclined to believe the carefully researched OECD report than a longform Vice article that reads a little like "Third Culture Kids 101."

I'm also giving some heavy side-eye to a stereotype like children of immigrants are unflappable -- reads as Orientalist, in "inscrutable wise Chinaman" way that Edward Said so effectively critiqued.

Rather, I imagine that a calm vs crisis response is shaped by individual temperament + learned reaction to childhood crises. A child growing up in precarity (whether that's from money, moving, or migration) is going to be a very different adult than a child who grows up with the assumption that he or she belongs.
posted by basalganglia at 4:54 PM on September 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

The way vice typifies resilience is obviously not academicly rigorous but I think they capture the idea in a way that doesn't contradict the OECD report. The OECD report needed to capture resilience in a way that could be objectively measured so they used things like "academic proficiency" and created a "well-being" composite based on the data they had to make their case.

I don't think you can generalize the immigrant experience when "immigrants" is such a wide brushtroke - you need to take intersections of ethnicity, privilege, social status, education levels etc. into account. Some immigrants leave behind fairly stable households and countries whereas others are fleeing violence and have traumatic backgrounds. Some move into fairly stable situations in their new homes whereas others have to rely on the safety nets put in place for the poorest people in their new country.

Children of immigrants who are subject to ICE raids presently in the US are going to have a much harder time being resilient than children whose parents have a more secure immigrant status because they are experiencing stress and fear every day. There's lots of research showing that black people in the US have more mental health issues than other groups. My friends who are children of immigrants (we are in Canada) have done really well and I would say are very resilient - but we grew up in Toronto and it was a diverse and fairly welcoming environment with a lot of supports and their parents were middle class in their respective home countries and very well educated, their parents speak multiple languages and they were able to support themselves fairly quickly if not immediately.

There's research showing that children who experience a high number of "adverse" childhood experiences have more mental and physical health issues than children with few or no adverse experiences. You might like the book "The Deepest Well" as it touches on the American context for this research and goes into the biology of how stress impacts the nervous system. To me this adversity is the counterpoint to "resilience" and can help to explain a lot of the divergence in people's stories.
posted by lafemma at 6:13 AM on September 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

As the emigrant child of emigrants whose parents were also emigres, I think I might have something anecdotal to offer. But my first thought is that it depends on how you define resilience. If you mean bloody-minded, then you may have a point.
posted by rustipi at 3:38 PM on September 30, 2019

Thanks for the thoughtful and well-cited answers. I'm going to give up on this one.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 9:11 PM on October 3, 2019

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