This literature review will be organized into a short introduction of African immigration history, which will be followed by three sections. The first section, black African immigrants in the United States, will explore what it means to be a black African immigrant currently residing in the United States, and the challenges associated with it. The second section will focus on the relationship between acculturation and stress, shedding more light on the impact of discrimination. The third section will look at coping methods that immigrants employ to ease the burdens of acculturative stress. These specific areas are chosen to provide a foundation to more visibly present the experiences of black African immigrants and give voices to those who have been ignored. This foundation also provides a structure from which to organize the findings of this study as well as to bridge the gap on what is unknown about a specific population. Finally, the literature review will end with a section on the gap in literature, and a summary.
The presence of Africans on the soil of what is now the United States dates back to the 1500s with the first Africans coming from Mexico and the Caribbean to the Spanish territories of Florida, Texas, and other parts of the South, and as early as 1526, Africans rebelled and run away (AAME, 2010). Between the 1450-1750 century, Africans arrived to North America as mostly indentured servants. For many years, Africans were similar in legal position to poor English indentures who traded several years of labor in exchange for passage to the United States. The transformation from indentured servants to slaves took place very gradually. Historically, the English only enslaved non-Christians, and not particularly Africans. A status of a slave was not also a life time sentence: a slave could become free by converting to Christianity. However, in 1705, the Virginia General Assembly declared that any non-Christian servant imported to the country is counted as slave and a real estate (PBS, 2010).
As poor English settlers and Native Americans died from hard conditions associated with cultivating land, the demand for more laborers increased, and plantation owners looked towards Africa to satisfy this need. Gradually, the plantation owners’ perspective became to resemble that of plantation owners of the Caribbean islands. Because they were not Christians, Africans could be forced to work for the rest of their lives and be punished with impunity. Moreover the color of their skin set them apart from others, making it easy to identify runaways. There was also a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Africans, and since little information flowed back across the Atlantic, mistreatments and abuse in America failed to alter the flow of enslaved Africans to America. Furthermore, once indentured servants became freed, they began to pose a threat to the property owner elites, demanding for ease on land restrictions. This disorder that the indentured servant system had created made racial slavery much more attractive (PBS, 2010).
Indenture servitude then gave away to the transatlantic slavery era. Thus the number of Africans in the colony grew. For instance in Virginia in 1625, there were only twenty three, in 1650 the number grew to three hundred and by 1700, more than a thousand Africans were being brought into the colony every year. These numbers would increase dramatically in the following years. Of the ten to twelve million Africans who survived the middle passage and were sold into slavery, 450, 000 Africans landed on North America, accounting to a small fraction (PBS, 2010).
After slavery became outlawed, the immigration of Africans into the United States was insignificant until the late 1960s, though there were sporadic incidence of voluntary immigration dating back to 1860s. Between 1961 and 1970, 29,000 Africans (including North Africans) were admitted to the U.S. The number increased to almost 81,000 from 1971 to 1980. Traditionally, Africans had a tendency to migrate primary to their former colonial powers. But beginning in the late 1970s, these countries (European) seized immigration because of economic slowdowns. Immigration to the U.S. then became an option. At the same time, increasing number of students and professionals who usually returned home were deciding to remain in America owing to difficult political and economical situations on the continent (Banton, 1953). Furthermore, population growth, mounting debt, lethargic growth, and high unemployment were acting as push factors.
In the 1990s, emigration was also fueled by the Structural Adjustment Program (imposed by the International Monterey Fund and World Bank) which resulted in cuts in education, health services, the discharge of public servants, private sector bankruptcies, and a decline in standard living (Takougang, 1995). This condition for receiving loans promoted a reduced role for government and a strong reliance upon free markets. It led to the dismantling of social services, political instability, and violation of mandate for the International Monterey Fund to correct maladjustments (Takougang). Additionally, in 1994, more than a dozen of French speaking countries devalued their currencies by fifty percent which resulted in the restructuring of public sectors, numerous layoffs, more bankruptcies, and few prospects for college graduates (Takougang). These combined factors led many Africans to seek out new and better opportunities in the United States. However, African immigrants were not only pushed out of their countries, they were also pulled to the U.S. by a number of favorable immigration policies.
Since 1979, The Refugee Act, The Immigration and Nationality Act, and The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, as well as The Diversity Visa Program have provided the principal avenue for immigrants to migrate to the U.S. For example, under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990, an average of 40,000 African immigrants have entered the country legally every year since 1995, and the number increased to more than 60,000 in 2002. As of 2002, 1.7 million people claimed Sub-Saharan ancestry with Africans representing six percent of the immigrant population in the U.S., and five percent of the African American community (Takougang, 1995). The number of African immigrants in the U.S. grew forty folds between 1960 and 2007, from 35, 355 to 1.4 million. Most of this growth has taken place since 1990 (Terrazas, 2009). The reported numbers are somewhat different depending on the study, since counting those without documentation is unreliable.
African men and women continue to migrate to the United States in one status or another either as foreign students, refugees, temporary visitors or immigrants, yet little literature is available on the psychosocial and cultural well being of African immigrants. Consequently, Africans are perceived as ordinary immigrants with no reference to their unique cultural background (Nwadiora, 2007). The level, quality and value shift (change) experienced by African immigrants in the attempt to make their lives meaningful in America can be overwhelming. Due to the dearth of literature available on this group, examining the acculturation experience (stress factors and coping methods) from the voices of the immigrant themselves is monumental.
Black African Immigrants in the U.S.
Adapting to a new way of life can be an experience filled with numerous hardships and challenges. Learning a new language, finding housing, employments as well as acquiring new sets of survival skills represent only a sample of the plight immigrants have to overcome. Reconciliation of cultural differences between the natal country and the host country is one of the main acculturative challenges experienced by acculturating individuals and groups (Lieber et al., 2001). Dissonance between the two cultures can be a source of distress for acculturating individuals as they adjust to life in a host country (Farver et al., 2002; Oh, Koske & Sales, 2001). Intensity of acculturative stress varies depending on the cultural similarities and differences that exist between the natal and the host country. The more disparate the two cultures are, the greater the intensity of acculturative stress that will be endured by immigrants (Kheirkhan, 2003; Nwadiora & McAdoo, 1996; Pham & Harris, 2001).
For black African immigrants, they face the profound cultural value conflicts that affect their adjustment in the U.S. Cultural value conflicts are negative affects (guilt, anxiety, and shame), and cognitive contradictions that result from wrestling with the values and behavioral expectations from an individual’s culture of origin and to the values present in the host culture (Inman, Ladany, Constantine, & Morano, 2001). For instance, many African cultures adapt an African centered perspective to life which includes guiding principles and values pertaining to group survival, communalism, group harmony, collective responsibility, commonality, and cooperation (Myrick, 2002; Nebedum-Ezeh, 1997; Nobles, 1991; Okeke, Draguns, Sheku & Allen, 1999). In contrast, the U.S. value system is centered on individualism and differences. Many Africans therefore struggle to find peace and comfort in the midst of these two contradicting value systems.
A study examining the cultural adjustment experiences of African international college students from Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana found that these immigrants who come from a communal cultural background and who thrive in close interpersonal relationships experienced great difficulties in their interactions with white students who emphasize independence and self-reliance in a relationship (Constantine et al., 2005). Furthermore, the study indicated that these African international college students found it challenging to make friends on their local campuses due to differences in ways of being, and due to interpersonal communication patterns (Constantine et al., 2005; Essandoh, 1995; Mori, 2000; Nebeduum-Ezeh, 1997; Taylor & Nwoso, 2001).
For instance in college dormitory settings, African students may appear to violate American students’ norms concerning personal space because there is a greater individualistic sense of territory and ownership of space in U.S. culture than in collectivistic cultures such as African in which space is shared (Pedersen, 1991). Relocating to an individualistic environment that tends to disparage dependence on others elicits profound sense of isolation, loneliness, loss and homesickness for many black African students who left a communal interdependent life style. In an exploratory investigation of the unique experiences of African women immigrants in the U.S., the women identified the following cultural conflicts: a lack of communality and sharing, lack of respect for adults and older people, and losing the authority to discipline their children are a few to mention (Nwadiora, 2007).
The practice of seeking help in order to address cultural adjustment difficulties and psychological/emotional distress further highlights the disparity of the two cultures (African and Western), and posses more challenge to African immigrants. The act of asking for help, formally or informally carries different meaning in different cultures (Fuertes & Chen, 2000). For some, the processes of seeking help my reveal one’s inadequacy and dependency (Nadler, 1990). For example, Deginesh (2006) writes that in most Ethiopian languages, there are no words to express clinical depression or etc. One is either “normal” or “insane” (Deginesh). Whereas most Americans feel comfortable to seek help in dealing with depression, African immigrants fear being labeled insane. The underutilization of formal mental health services by African International students in the United States has been documented (Essandoh, 1995; Pedersen, 1991). Constantine’s et al. (2005) research examining the cultural adjustment experiences of African International college students only reiterates the notion that many African international students view looking for professional psychological services as less favorable.
According to the African worldview, mental illness or psychological distress results from individuals unable to live in alignment with their nature, the universe and the natural flow of things (Parham, 2002). Moreover, many African cultures believe that all life forms are interrelated, which means there is no separation between the mind, body, and sprit, and the integration of these three domains is present in all daily activities (Constantine, Myers, Kindaichi, & Moore, 2004). In addition, many African students believe that mental illness, social stress, or other types of imbalances may have a spiritual etiology (Mbiti, 1970, as cited in Constantine, 2005). Therefore, optimal mental health and well being constitutes the restoration of harmony, order, and balance to individuals’ lives so that they may achieve a sense of peace, happiness, goodness, and cultural congruence (Parham, 2002). Furthermore, in most African communities, Africans are used to taking care of problems by being there for each other, and they seek assistance from religious/spiritual leaders and community elders as opposed to doctors or therapists. In the Study Constantine et al., (2005) conducted, the African international students expressed their skepticism in confessing their problems to strangers (counselors). As a result, unless counseling centers are designed to take culturally embedded and culturally sanctioned intervention approaches, African immigrants will fall through the crack.
An important part of acculturative stress is discrimination stress. Race plays an especially important role in relation to adjustment processes for black African immigrants. For Black African immigrants, they face the gruesome effect of discrimination and racism by the dominant culture. Coming from a country where they are the majority and individual classification is based on linguistic, religious and tribal affiliations, race is not a particular issue until they are confronted with the practice of racial classification and the outcomes of racial hierarchy in the US. Fisher and Shaw (1994) define racial socialization as the “process of communicating behaviors and messages to children for the purpose of enhancing their sense of racial/ethnic identity particularly in preparation for racially hostile encounters” (p.396). Therefore, black African immigrants who are the racial majority in their nation of origin may not have the experience of racial socialization, which makes them more vulnerable to negative impacts of discrimination.
Phinney and Onwughalu (1996) also indicate that black African immigrants often initially have and idealized view of the United States and the potential benefits it offers. Therefore facing discriminatory experiences and having it as a barrier to economic mobility and social adjustment can be a shockingly painful discovery. According to Constantine, Ozazaki and Utsey (2004), international students may experience psychological problems, low self-esteem, disappointment, anger, sadness, and physical illness as a result of having unmet expectations regarding life in the United States. Thus, moving to a new culture may result in detrimental effects for international students (Constantine et al.). These results are posited to generalize to non-student immigrants, and also to members of other minority cultures within the United States. Additionally, Negy (2009) tested the Expectancy Violation theory with one hundred and twelve Hispanic immigrants living in the United States by determining whether discrepancies between their pre-migration expectation about life in the United States and their pos- migration (actual) experience in the United States could predict their levels of acculturative stress. The results indicated that discrepancy between pre-migration expectations and post-migration expectations were associated significantly with acculturative stress. It would be safe to predict the same finding for other immigrants, including Africans as well.
In a research conducted to get some insight on how black African adolescent students adjust to their new American school culture, Aikhionabare (2007) reported that ninety one percent of the students experienced negative comments about their African culture, which made their transition harder. Some of the negative comments these students received from classmates include “Do you play with lions,” Do you live in huts,” “Do you walk around naked in the streets,” and “Africans smell bad.” The students also reported being called “savages,” “backwards,” and “ugly” (230). Thus, the black African students (from Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal) indicated feeling degraded, angry and horrible. Most explained that they got into fights, and one participant reported being suspended (Aikhionabare). Troare (2004) explained that these negative comments often created underneath the skin of black African Adolescent immigrant students a mixture of hurt, anger, and disappointments. Therefore for black African immigrant students, the types of unwelcoming comments they received from peers, and how they react to these comments affects how well they adjust socially to the new school environment. The study Nwadiora (2007) conducted among twenty-three African women revealed discrimination to be a disempowering barrier for many of the women. The women reported their frustrations with being perceived as unintelligent and inferior due to their accent. One participant even talked about her educated daughter who lost her employment because of her accent.
Furthermore, African immigrants are often surprised by the prejudice they encounter in the hands of African Americans due to their lack of the English language, strong accents, or negative stereotypes towards Africa. For example, Ethiopian immigrants reported being frustrated and offended more by African Americans than whites (Chacko, 2003). Bryce-Laporte (1972) also spoke of the “double invisibility” black African immigrants experience because of their race and origin. Adesioye (2009), Constantine et al. (2005), and Muller (1993) all explore the tension between African immigrants and African Americans. Because of the commonalities Africans and African Americans share, African immigrants come to the U.S. with the expectation and assumption that they will be warmly welcomed with in the African American community.
They are completely unprepared for the prejudice and discriminatory treatment they receive in the hands of African Americans, resulting in great disappointment, anger, and resentment. For example, Jackson and Cothran (2003) conducted a study based on a survey examining the relationship (contact and friendship, cross-cultural communication, thoughts and stereotypes) among Africans, African Americans and African Caribbean, and the results are the following: In terms of interpersonal relationships for Africans and African Americans, 75.8% of the participants gave negative options (they think they are superior to other blacks; perceived notions and myths about one another; poor; not good). In terms of communication between Africans and African Americans, 5.8% of 104 Africans and 10.5% of 247 African Americans chose positive communications (good, open, fine), and 84.7% of 104 Africans and 69.7% of 247 African Americans chose negative communication (ignorance, myths, and misconception; stereotypes; lacking; not good). In the study, African immigrants expressed their disappointment towards African Americans ignorance and apathy towards Africa, as well as perceived African Americans’ negative attitude as rejection and hatred (Jackson & Cothran).
Whether the prejudice and discrimination black African immigrants face comes from the dominant culture or from African Americans, it is partially produced and fueled by the media’s presentation of Africa. Black African immigrants have to witness their origin and culture being distorted and negatively portrayed on a regular basis. Troare (2003, 2004) posits that Western media reporting of Africa goes beyond professional inadequacies and structural bias and directly affects how persons view the continent, which neither is it a single country nor does it have a single language. Yet a sizable portion of the U.S. population considers Africa as a single country or language. Cultural bias has continued to account significantly for the stereotyping of African as a jungle, with people who are diseased, unintelligent, and backwards. This inaccurate collection and dissemination of information about Africa continues to directly affect the adjustment of black African immigrants (Ahluwali, 2001; Kromah, 2002). Moreover, blacks in the United States are treated as a homogenous, monolithic group and a lack of recognition for their ethnical diversity can be an additional source of frustration. It is possible that living in a societal context (United States) that pathologies their (Africans) essence, worldviews, values, personalities, and ways of being could contribute to severe cultural adjustment difficulties and subsequently to undue levels of psychological distress (Constantine et al., 2005). The authors go on to say such distress may affect African immigrants’ interpersonal functioning, and formal mental health intervention may be warranted at that time.
Acculturation, Stress and its Effect on the Well-Beings of African Immigrants
Acculturative stress is positively associated with poor mental/emotional/physical health among immigrants. Disparities between host and natal country, and adjustment difficulties make immigrants vulnerable to various health problems. Hovey (2000) examined the relationship between acculturative stress, depression, and suicidal ideation in a sample of Mexican immigrants. The result indicated that adult Mexican immigrants who experience elevated levels of acculturative stress are at risk for experiencing critical levels of depression and suicidal ideation. Similarly, among six groups of Asian immigrants elders (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian Filipino, and Vietnamese), Muy and Kang (2006) found a direct correlation between acculturative stress and depression. This was mainly due to cultural gaps, but other predictors also included longer residency in the United States, stressful life events, poor proximity to children, and perceived poor health (Muy & Kang). Additionally, due to acculturative stress such as language barrier, illegal immigration status, and financial problems as well as feelings of loneliness, helplessness, powerlessness, and inadequacy, working class Turkish immigrants suffer a great deal of psychological stress (Yasemin, 2008). Among most recently arrived Amerasians, Nwadiora & McAdoo (1996) found that factors primary in the areas of employment, limited formal education, ability of spoken English contributed to acculturative stress.
An important factor of acculturative stress is the negative psychological outcome associated with racial/ethnic discrimination. There is a strong relationship between discriminatory events and stress levels. Discrimination is perceived as a stressor because it entails mistreatments, exclusions, and denial of opportunities such as education, employment, housing, and etc. (Feagin & Eckberg, 1980). The process of leaving a native land and having to transition into a new way of life in the host country is an already stressful event. Combining this experience with the negative impacts of discrimination is like poking an unhealed wound. Faur (2007) writes that although acculturative stress touches on the construct of stress associated with discrimination, it does not arrive at the complex picture of discrimination stress. In describing the harmful psychological impacts of discrimination on people, Allport (1954) said, “One’s reputation, whether false or true, cannot be hammered, hammered, hammered into one’s head without doing something to one’s character” (p. 142). Therefore, it becomes essential to evaluate discrimination stress as its own construct.
The stress caused by racism has been documented to affect the psychological well being of minorities (Harrell, 2000; Clark, Anderson, Clark, & Williams, 1999). For instance, Szalacha et al. (2003) described Puerto Rican children and adolescents’ negative psychological effects associated with perceived racial/ethnic discrimination. The authors found that perceived discrimination and worrying about discrimination were negatively associated with self-esteem and positively associated with depression and stress. The authors also reported that adolescents were aware of negative stereotypes regarding Puerto Ricans, and half of them were able to describe discriminatory instances. According to Szalacha et al., these results demonstrated that both perceived discrimination and anxiety regarding discrimination were psychological risk factors.
Extensive evidence validates correlation between discriminatory events and stress levels among African Americans. In a longitudinal study that followed African American youth from ages seventeen to twenty four, Sellers, Caldwell, Scheele-Cone, and Zimmerman (2003) found that greater experiences with racial discrimination resulted in an elevated stress and psychological distress. Dawson (2009) found a high rate of discriminatory related stress among Dominican women who are racially perceived as African Americans due to their dark complexion while they are Latinos and speak Spanish. Flores (2007) conducted a study investigating factors that impact the relationship between race related stress and quality of life of 162 first generation Latino immigrant elders. Result indicated that race plays a major role in the race related stress endured by Latino Elders, specifically black and Trigueno (phenotypically black) Latinos reported higher race related stress than white Latinos. Data analyses also suggested that overall quality of life of black Latinos is affected by race related stress (Flores). Furthermore, Arab Americans are at risk of developing psychological problems as a result of increased acts of discrimination related to negative attitudes towards this group following September 11, 2001 (Amer, 2005).
Allport (1954) described two effects of discrimination: internalized discrimination is when one engages in self blame resulting in self hate, aggression towards one’s own culture, and withdrawal while externalized discrimination includes fighting back or an increased group pride. Oppedal, Roysamb, & Hererdahl (2005) used a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) (a brief behavioral screening) to gain insight into psychological problems that tenth grade immigrants (with eleven different ethnic identities) youth experience. They found adolescents who experienced discrimination and ethnic identity crisis scored high on all of the SDQ subscales such as emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity/inattention, peer relationship problems, and prosocial behavior. Higher score equates with more difficulties. Moreover, adolescent girls experienced more internalized disorders (self-hate) while the boys exhibited more externalized disorders (school misconduct-fights). Additionally, Phinney and Chavira (1993) had Hispanic/Latino adolescents view tapes presenting negative views of their group in attempt to examine the effect of ethnic threat on adolescent’s ethnic self-concept and own group ratings. The results demonstrated that the threat condition had a negative effect on participants’ rating of their ethnic group (internalization). They devalued its importance in comparison to the dominant culture. The authors state that over time this negative belief toward one’s own ethnic group is expected to lead to a negative psychological outcome (Phinney & Chavira). When everyday prejudice experiences are compounded, immigrants are overwhelmed with feelings of pain, anger, sadness, and hopelessness, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and etc.
Besides impairing the emotional well-being of immigrants, discrimination-related stress can also affect mental and physical health. The study Finch, Kolody, and Vega (2000) conducted among adult (ages eighteen to fifty nine) Mexican origin respondents revealed that discrimination was directly related to depression. A research comparing experiences of discrimination and its influence on psychological distress among seven group of immigrants (Russians, Ingrian/Finnish returnees, Estonians, Somalis, Arabs, Vietnamese and Turks) showed that immigrants who faced more discrimination (Somalis and Arabs) suffered more from psychological distress such as increased anxiety, depression, apathy and feelings of alienation (Liebkind & Jasinskaja-Lahti, 2000). Furthermore a study based on a thirteen-year, four wave national panel data from the national survey of black Americans found that personal experience with racism instigates adverse and salubrious, immediate and cumulative effects on the physical and mental well-being of African Americans (Jackson, et al., 1999). Racial discrimination was related to chronic health problems, disability, psychological distress, and lower levels of psychological well being (Williams & Chung, 1997). In 1999, Clark, Anderson, and Clark, et al. proposed a model in which racism is a chronic stressor that contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease such as diabetes. Acculturation stress combined with the negative outcomes of discrimination makes Black African immigrants susceptible to various health risks
Low Acculturation Mediates Stress
The experience of discriminatory events and cultural conflicts translate into stress and eventually to health problems depending on the person’s appraisal of the event as well as the coping resources the individual possess. One important phenomenon to examine among immigrants is the role of acculturation and its contribution to managing stress level and to the betterment of health. There is numerous empirical evidence that supports low acculturation (adherence to cultural values and behaviors of one’s home culture) functions as a coping mechanism by promoting resilience and leading to a better biopsycosocial outcome for various immigrants (Dawson, 2009; Han, et al., 2006; Heilemann, et al., 2002). Low acculturation is often marked by nativity, number of years in the host country, retention of language, retention of cultural values and behaviors such as religion, holidays, food, and residing among co-ethnic communities.
Low acculturation operates as a culturally based protective factor in alleviating the stress level felt among immigrants (Berry et al., 1989; Breslau et al., 2007; Burnam et al., 1987). It buffers the negative impact of acculturative stresses including discriminatory experiences by providing comfort, a sense of belonging, and supportive networks. For instance, Han, et al. (2006) identified social support as an effective resource in alleviating stress and achieving better mental health while high acculturation and lower social support were associated with depression among elderly Korean immigrants. Buddington (2002) noted that Jamaican immigrant college students with low acculturation (late arrival, return home frequently and strong communication with family and relatives) experienced less stress and depression, and thus obtained high grade point average at Howard University compared to Jamaican students with high acculturation. Social support serves various purposes ranging from being a source of financial and emotional support to providing valuable information. It further facilitates a strong sense of ethnic identity which in turn enhances self confidence, pride, and resilience. On the vitality of language retention, among ninety six Hispanic adults, mostly recent immigrants responding in Spanish, intercultural competence contributed to variance in acculturative distress beyond that already accounted for by general coping, acculturation, and sociodemographic variables. Intercultural competence best predicted acculturative distress (Torres & Rollock, 2004). Findings suggest that Hispanics with a low sense of intercultural and intracultural proficiency may experience increased stress (Torres & Rollock).
Padilla (1995) argues that although Latino/as in the United States feel pressured to adapt and assimilate to mainstream behaviors, their experience of discrimination may result in many Latino/as seeking comfort in their home culture. Therefore it is plausible to say that discriminatory experience among Latino/as actually strengthens their cultural ties and therefore helps to protect them from discriminatory experiences (Padilla). As mentioned before, one of the impacts of discrimination as Allport (1954) writes is it leads to a stronger cultural retention, ethnic group identity, and pride. The strength of identification with an ethnic group which entails a sense of pride, involvement in ethnic practices, and cultural commitment to one’s racial/ethnic group betters mental and emotional health. In a comparative study examining discrimination, ethnic identity, and mental health among African Americans, Caribbean Americans, and European Americans, Kimura (2008) discovered that racial and ethnic group identity helps minority group members combat the detrimental effects of perceived discrimination on mental health compared to European Americans.
It is then evident that discrimination can enhance racial or ethnic cohesion which in turn acts as a protective factor to cope with discrimination itself. To further test the validity of this statement, Dawson (2007) conducted a study among more recent Latino immigrants: Dominicans. The sample included 246 black Dominican adult women between the ages of thirty to forty nine, and who lived in a predominantly Dominican neighborhood in New York City. Most of them have lived in the states for eleven to twenty years. By engaging in activities such as occupying ethnic enclaves, retaining Spanish as their primary language, and cultivating and sustaining cultural ties, Dominican women were able to alter the impact discrimination experiences have on their stress levels. Unexpectedly, the research also revealed that both low acculturation and high acculturation levels were significantly related to stress which is consistent with previous analyses. Several researchers have posited that persons low in acculturation (arriving recently) experience stress due to a lack of support and loss of cultural connections (Rogler et al., 1991). Similarly, those individuals high in acculturation exhibit higher stress levels due to loss of cultural protective factors (Vega et al., 1998).
Therefore, having people who come from similar ethnic backgrounds and who share similar adversities can make African immigrants feel less lonely and provides them with a safe heaven. Read and Emerson (2005) indicated in their findings that black African immigrants have a better health advantage than African Americans due to low acculturation. However those health benefits deteriorated over time due to longer residence in the United States combined with high acculturation and prolonged exposure to racism. Immigrants of any race/ethnicity in the United States are often healthier than non immigrants. Generally, foreign-born Americans have lower rates of mental disorders than those born in the United States, and increasing time in the U.S. is associated with increasing rates of mental health problems among immigrants (Alegria et al., 2002; Escobar et al., 2000; Grant et al., 2004; Williams & Collins, 2001). Increased length of exposure to the U.S. environment causes immigrants to adapt to native-born behaviors such as diet and exercise that have important health implications (Mcdonald, 2004, Stephen et al., 1994). This combined with loss of cultural ties, values, and practices might lead to the imbalance of immigrants’ overall well-being.
For instance, a study examining the relationship between acculturation levels and prevalence of diabetes among 708 Mexican-Origin Hispanics, 547 non-Mexican-Origin Hispanics, and 737 Chinese participants in a multi-ethnic study of Atherosclerosis revealed the following findings: after adjusting for sociodemographics, the prevalence of diabetes was significantly higher among the most acculturated versus the least acculturated non-Mexican origin Hispanics. The higher the acculturation score is, the higher the prevalence of diabetes (Namratha et al., 2008). Furthermore, Davila, Mcfall, Cheng (2009) studied correlations between acculturation and depressive symptoms among pregnant and postpartum Latinas, and found that higher acculturation, pregnancy, and single status were positively associated with elevated depressive symptoms.
Latinos who were U.S. born, single, and who preferred English and who were pregnant were more likely to express elevated levels of depressive symptoms than Mexico born Latinas (Davila et al., 2009). In addition to the negative effect longer stay in the U.S. has on health, Ewert (2009) discovered that more stay in the U.S. increased school misbehavior, disturbing educational success. Ewert tested the effects of immigrant generation and indicators of acculturation on three measures of disciplinary problems during the senior year of high school: attending class unprepared, getting in trouble for breaking school rules, and being put on suspension. First and one-point-five generation immigrants attend class more prepared and get their senior year of high school. Therefore, as the aforementioned evidences demonstrate, having low acculturation bears fruitful outcomes for many immigrants.
Gaps in the Literature
The acculturation process of immigrants has attracted considerable research attention. However, the majority of these studies have focused on the various factors associated with the acculturation process of immigrants in general. Therefore the major noticeable gap in the literature review is relying on findings from studies of other immigrant groups in order to understand African immigrants. An extensive literature review failed to yield adequate research finding on the acculturation experience of African immigrants. Much of the research on African immigrants has focused primary on a specific refugee population such as Somali and Sudanese in relationship to their mental health, and the few studies that have been inclusive of other African immigrants have employed a quantitative method. Much of the research has also focused on one specific issue, whether it is racism or some aspect of cultural/adjustment conflict, and has failed to give an in depth look of resiliency. To date, the researchers have not examined the role of low acculturation as a protective factor, specifically among African immigrants.
What is lacking in the literature research is a comprehensive exploratory study that gives voices to various immigrants (including different age, gender and status) from various parts of the continent covering a number of issues affecting immigrants’ life in a qualitative matter. In this study, some of these gaps are addressed through a holistic qualitative design that explored all the aforementioned shortcomings. The present study focuses on the acculturation experiences of African immigrants by exploring stress factors, as well as by further exploring factors associated with low acculturation. In addition, this study also examined various African immigrant groups from East, West, and South. The qualitative approach gives the research a subjective nature that is often lacked in a quantitative study. This is likely to provide a more nuanced understanding of African immigrants and their acculturative experiences.
In this chapter, relevant literature to this project was reviewed. Some of the topics discussed in this chapter included a brief introduction, a historical background on the presence of Africans in the United States, as well as an exploration of what it is like to be a black African immigrant in the U.S., relationship between acculturation, stress and its impact on overall health, and how low acculturation mitigates stress. In the next chapter, the methods used to conduct the study are described.