Resiliency in Immigrant Families

It feels like I have dragged my body in my journey thus far. My mother compares herself to her mother and great grandmother. She says “ Tu abuelita tiene 79 años y todavía se levanta a las 5 de la mañana, prepara el desayuno, se va a comprar su dulces para vender, va al campo, a la iglesia. No para en todo el día. Quisiera yo tener su energía.” The truth is I see my mother the way she sees her mother with resilience. Which makes me wonder if I have that resilience in me too? However, I cannot feel it or appreciate it for what it is. According to Fraser, Richman, & Galinsky (1999) “The term ‘resilience’ is reserved for unpredicted or markedly successful adaptations to negative life events, trauma, stress, and other forms of risk.”

My mother came to East Los Angeles when she was 20 years old. In Mexico, she grew up poor so when she was older she was curious to explore a new country with better economic opportunities. In the U.S., she’s had different job positions. She started with taking care of children and is now a manager at a fast food restaurant. She manages the day-to-day activities and 14 workers. Her gender, race, and immigration status have been used against her in situations at work but she has kept going despite the racism, sexism, and xenophobia against her. As Valdez, Lewis Valentine, & Padilla (2013) write, “Immigrant families described enduring an anti-immigration environment in their country of destination because of economic opportunities and the possibility of upward social mobility for their loved one.” My mother goes into work every single day six days a week, 46 hours a week. Despite it all, my mother keeps going to support her family. Her resilience and hope that her children will have better lives than she did is what keeps her under these conditions.

My mother has taught me to wake up every day unafraid of the new circumstances. I have developed healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms for trauma and violence in my life. I take care of myself by listening to music and singing along. I continued my academic career at UCSC despite setbacks. I have the privilege of doing work that is fulfilling to me. I take care of myself by tapping into joy when I am able to help students who have recently immigrated to South Central LA. When I connect with them while I help them read a book in English or simply have a chat, I feel alive and worth something. It gives me purpose on days when I question my existence. But I believe I have the power to do much better than the minimum.

Resilience looks different for the new generations. I grew up in a home where I was told not to cry and if I was ever caught writing in a journal I was questioned “¿Qué estás escribiendo? No te vayas a matar.” There was no dialogue, just a threat. I was in my second year in college when I first went to a therapist. What gave me courage was a friend who shared that she had been to therapy before. I felt the stigma the day I walked into my therapist’s office. I stopped after a few sessions. Years later when I was miles away from home I began going again weekly. With each session the stigma lessened until one day I shared it with my mother. I allowed myself to feel the pain I had silenced for 21 years. Now I share with my niece, “It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel sad. There should not be any stigma about our own feelings because as we share we heal.