Issue Brief: Acculturative Stress in Muslim Middle-Eastern Americans and European Americans Key Words: acculturation; acculturative stress; anxiety and depressive disorders; European American assimilation Description: This issue brief will explore the current challenges that Muslim Middle-Eastern Americans face related to acculturation and assimilation, and the related psychological stress they experience due to discrimination.
Key Points: • Middle Eastern Americans from Arab and North African countries do not assimilate and acculturate in American society in the same way as European Americans.
• Muslim Arab Americans experience more stress than non-muslim Arab Americans and European Americans, due to discrimination and negative perception of the Arab community within the United States.
• As Muslim Arab-Americans continue to face ongoing discrimination in many aspects of American life, it is important for them to recognize factors of stress that can influence their psychological and physical health.
Immigrants heading to Ellis Island, the first stop for more than
20 million immigrants between 1892 and 1947. The Statue of
Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation
Issue Brief: America has long been described as a melting pot of immigrant traditions and cultures; beginning with European migration to the east coast in 1620. Waves of European migration continued during the 19th and 20th centuries – largely between the years of 1820-1920; first from northern and western Europe, and then from southern and eastern Europe. European immigrants were expected to fully assimilate into American culture, and for the most part, they did – even though many populations from several different European countries experienced prejudice and violence as they became members of American society.
Of course, waves of non-European immigrants immigrated to America during its history, and many also fully assimilated. From 1880-1945, Arabs from Greater Syria who were predominantly Christian settled in the United States and by the 1950’s, were largely assimilated into U.S. culture. A smaller scale first-wave Muslim migration began in 1840, and continued until after World War II.
Dominique Jones 3
Acculturation is defined as “The set of processes by which individuals and groups interact when they identify themselves as culturally distinct”. (Berry, 8) Several mental health studies have generally found a positive correlation between the process of acculturation and its impact on the mental health of immigrants. Factors that promote mental health in immigrants that increase their degree of acculturation include increased access to community resources, better job opportunities, decreased cultural conflict, and the promotion of effective communication between immigrants and the host culture (Berry, 15)
Early Arab-American immigrants in New York City’s “Little Syria”. Courtesy of
Save Washington Street
Dominique Jones, 4
Recent studies suggest that Arab immigrants, particularly Muslim Americans, find acculturation to be more difficult than many other immigrant groups. (Faragallah, 182). In particular, Muslim Arab-Americans post 9-11 have been found to experience greater levels of acculturative stress.
Acculturative stress of mental health among immigrant results from the anxiety of adapting to cultural differences (i.e., language and customs), and can increase distress (Berry, 13) . A number of studies have suggested that acculturative stress may have serious implications for mental health and increased risk of psychological problems caused by the acculturation process. (Faraghalla)
Three dimensions of acculturative stress have shown to be relevant to ethic minority or immigrant groups; environmental, attitudinal, and family factors (Mena et al, 210). The environmental factors include subtle or overt acts of racism, attitudinal factors include difficulties stemming from being distant from families, friends, or heritage culture, and family factors relate to conflicts with the families’ values or expectations.
Dominique Jones, 5
One of the largest immigrant populations to risk high acculturative stress relating to environmental factors is the Arab-American Muslim population (Farahgallah), who have been victims of high levels of hate crimes and discrimination since 9-11. U.S. Muslim population today is estimated at 2.6 million.
A three-year research study in metropolitan Chicago, one of the most concentrated areas of Muslim settlement in the U.S., found that twenty-five percent of the Muslim population holds pessimistic views about their current and future prospects in society (Cainker, 176), and view their predicaments as “the outcome of efforts by interested parties to promote certain American foreign policies”. These parties “used Anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia to promote their geo-political interests”. (ibid, 188)
As it relates to health, a separate 2003 study of the greater Detroit Arab population found that “perceived post September 11 abuse and bad experience were associated with higher levels of psychological stress, lower levels of happiness, and worse health status.” (see Table 2, page 6) Researchers translated findings to a 12 month probability of 48.5% of the Arab population of having an anxiety or affective disorder, which is higher than the 32.4% probability for the U.S. population as a whole”. (Padela and Heisler).
The continued discrimination that Arab Americans experience and its long-term impact on acculturative stress leading to heath risk factors needs to be further researched, so that this growing segment of society receives adequate psychological care and counseling.
Dominique Jones, 6
Padela and Heisler, American Journal of Public Health, February, 2010, Volume 100, page 287
Berry, John W.; “Immigration, Acculturation and Adaption”; Applied Psychology, an International Review, volume 46, 1997; pages 5-68
Padela, Aasim I., and Heisler, Michele; “The Association of Perceived Abuse and Discrimination After September 11, 2001, With Psychological Distress, Level of Happiness, and Health Status Among Arab Americans”, Am J Public Health. 2010 February; 100(2): 284–291
Faragallah, M. H., Schumm, W. R., & Webb, F. J. ;Acculturation of Arab-American immigrants: An exploratory study. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3 (AUTUMN 1997), pp. 182-203
Cainker, Louise, “American Muslims at the Dawn of the 20th Century: Hope and Pessimism in the Drive for Civic and Political Inclusion; (Chapter 8, pages 176- 193), in “Muslims in the West After 9/11: Religion, Politics and Law”, edited by Jocelyn Cesari; Routledge, 270 Madison Ave., New York, 10016, 2010.
Mena, Francisco J., Padilla, Amado M., and Maldonado, Margarita; “Acculturative Stress and Specific Coping Strategies Among Immigrant and Later Generation College Students”, Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 1987, Volume 9, pages 207-225
Council on American-Islamic Relations http://www.cair.com