Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Among 'psycho-emotional' effects of immigration on kids: Communication breakdown

Photo by TruShu/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The immigrant advocacy blog Project Economic Refugee has featured a much-tweeted Q&A with Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, the author of a new book titled Listen to the Children: Conversations with Immigrant Families.

The interview covers the "psycho-emotional impacts of immigration" on the children in immigrant families, touching on issues that range from family separation after immigration raids to spirituality. One issue that's not so widely discussed stood out, however, and that's family communication.

Frazier discusses the odd role reversal that takes place when children become interpreters for adult family members, and the incomplete communication between parents and children that begins to occur as children learn English, while the native language of the parents is still spoken at home. The piece features this excerpt from the book:

Children may still speak the ethnic language at home, but their skills in the first language typically begin to lag behind their skills in English. Often children begin to communicate by mixing the two languages, which means parents and children are no longer communicating the fullness of their thoughts and emotions.

Children don’t have the vocabulary in their parents’ first language to do so, while the parents won’t understand the words and nuances of the children’s English.

It's a subject that touches a nerve for many who grew up in immigrant households, me included.

Conde-Frazier, whose parents came to the United States from Puerto Rico, is dean of Esperanza College at Eastern University, a Christian university in Pennsylvania.