Newcomers have to overcome marginalization and ethnocentrism to successfully integrate.
Every immigrant no doubt hopes to live a long life of emotional and psychological health. Generally a newcomer has to completely grieve, feel loss and transition before they can fully adapt to their new worlds, but sometimes they get “stuck” somewhere along the way.
Many are often trapped between feeling loss and transitioning and sadly they may never even get to fully integrate. There are two roadblocks that can keep people from moving forward and to create a new identity for themselves and their children. These are marginalization and ethnocentrism, both of which are very prevalent for newcomers.
Although marginalization and ethnocentrism are becoming better researched and understood, immigrants tend to endure them for years or even lifetimes without realizing how detrimental these two roadblocks really are.
Marginalization and Ethnocentrism
Marginalization happens when you don’t identify with either the ‘new culture’ or your ‘previous culture’. This experience is usually combined with feelings of stress and dealing with psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. Marginalization is a pivotal stage that is often overlooked but is very critical to overcome so that a newcomer is able to accept, adjust to, and reorganize.
Ethnocentrism, on the other hand, happens when you reject everything from the new society and culture and overvalue everything from your previous culture.
For years, my parents struggled with this ethnocentric way of coping. Their Indian values, beliefs, and expectations were often challenged by the Canadian ways. While growing up, I often felt trapped between respecting my roots and needing to embrace my Canadian identity. So I understand these struggles, not only at a professional level but also at a personal level.
Either of these reactions to integration influence how quickly and seamlessly a newcomer is able to resettle. They can, in fact, become very serious problems especially at their extremes. These two coping styles are perhaps the most common factors in preventing you as the newcomer to resettle.
I’ve worked with many families over the years who are stuck in these processes and who continue to struggle with a longing to return to their previous countries and unwillingness to embrace their new homes. Often post-decisional regret and stress result in depression and anxiety, which are difficult but not impossible to reverse.
A Dangerous Mix
Now combine these negative feelings with all the other challenges a newcomer faces, and a dangerous concoction of maladjustment can occur. For example, if immigrant families don’t establish adequate housing, social networks, means of work and ways to communicate with others, these factors may force immigrants to be unable to access important resources such as mental health care. Also social factors such as language barriers can further get in the way of newcomers receiving better jobs with their already higher qualifications. This then pushes the socio-economic situation into a downward spiral.
Challenges do come with being unable to move forward because of ethnocentrism or marginalization, but I feel hopeful that our communities can understand and support these issues. Canadians are only beginning to realize just how difficult it can be for newcomers to balance their roots with a new identity. Although supports and resources are only beginning to address resettlement issues, it’s really up to immigrants themselves to find that balance between cultures, so that they can focus on successful integration.