Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16421 Claiming Immigrant Cultural Citizenship: The Case of Mrs. Moon

Friday, January 13, 2012: 8:00 AM
Constitution E (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Hye-Kyung S. Kang, Ph D, Assistant Professor, Smith College, Northampton, MA
In this paper, I suggest that postcolonial theories, especially the conceptual frame of immigrant cultural citizenship, may help social workers to: a) critique hegemonic discourses that produce marginalizing constructions of immigrants, and b) imagine creative, flexible and empowering interventions. Adapting both Ong's (1996) and Rosaldo's (1997) conceptualizations of immigrant cultural citizenship, I define immigrant cultural citizenship as “the process of negotiation and contestation through which the immigrant subject is produced within the constraints of the nation-state and civil society, and the practices through which immigrants create and claim their social, political, and cultural space in the society” (Kang 2010a, 26). In order to illustrate the application of this framework in social work intervention, I present a case study of an Asian immigrant elderly woman with depression.

The case study illustrates the case of Mrs. Moon (a pseudonym), a 72-year-old Korean woman who was referred to Agency A, a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-service agency in a major city in the northwestern United States, for mental health treatment. In this case, Mrs. Moon's depression was understood in the context of her loss of personhood and meaning as a deserving member of a society when she learned that as a non-citizen (though a documented immigrant), her social welfare benefits would be taken away after the implementation of the 1996 Welfare Reform. This case illustrates how multiple levels of creative intervention, using immigrant cultural citizenship as a conceptual frame, were applied to facilitate her negotiation of meaning and identity. Case management linked her with available resources, such as the English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) and Naturalization Preparation classes; medication therapy helped to stabilize her symptoms, which allowed her to leave her apartment and go to those classes; narrative psychotherapy helped her re-discover her story by finding new meanings and identities in a time of loss; naturalization preparation and ESL classes provided her with an opportunity to connect with the community of her peers and helped her see how her personal narrative was reflected in her community's collective story; and her participation in a collective action (an Asian Pacific American Lobby Day, which Agency A helped organize) provided her with an opportunity to tell her story in a way that transformed her individual story of loss into a collective story of citizenship and rights.

An important result of this multi-level approach was the way in which Mrs. Moon was able to re-define herself as part of a community and as a legitimate and deserving “citizen” of U.S society. The case of Mrs. Moon also demonstrates how social workers may assist immigrant clients to resist and negotiate their subjectivity by creating intervention strategies that incorporate postcolonial ideas such as resisting hegemonic constructions and negotiating meanings and identities. The paper concludes with implications and recommendations for applying a postcolonial framework for social work practice with immigrants.

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