Relocation to a new culture has significant impacts on the cultural identity of immigrant and temporary resident children (Akiyama, 2016). School-aged Asian children also report discrimination (Kiang et al., 2016), which has been exacerbated after the Covid-19 pandemic (Haft & Zhou, 2021). There is a definite need to examine how professionals can better support their adjustment to U.S. local schools and social inclusion. This study examines Japanese children’s cultural adjustment guided by the concept of cultural identity, or individuals’ sense of belonging to certain culture (Schwartz et al., 2006). Confusion in cultural identity (e.g., a lack of sense of belonging) can lead to psychological distress (Wei et al., 2010). Yet children’s access to their culture of origin can reduce psychological distress (Akiyama, 2016), help them handle stigmatization (Dimitrova et al., 2015), and motivate them to learn English (Zhang et al., 2018). The examination of the experience of Japanese children in small U.S. cities in which Japanese cultural resources are scarce (Paik et al., 2017) provides insights into supporting immigrant and temporary resident children.
This study examines semi-structured, one-hour individual interviews with 14 Japanese parents who moved to a southern U.S. state. All interviews were conducted and analyzed in Japanese. Parents described their children’s cultural adjustment and sense of belonging to their local schools, and any support available for them. Using analytic induction techniques (Schwandt, 2007), emic codes capturing children’s experiences were induced through repeated readings of transcribed interviews. Two researchers coded all interviews individually. Any disagreements were resolved through discussion. Negative case analyses were also conducted to revise codes (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The credibility of analyses was critiqued by a Japanese educator for the purpose of triangulation (Schwandt, 2007).
Parents described an absence of a place where their children felt a sense of belonging at their local schools, which led to social isolation. Parents, for instance, discussed that teachers overlooked their children’s struggles at local school due to cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan and language barriers. They perceived that their children were treated as “visitors.” Further, parents indicated that children’s hesitation to participate in school activities was interpreted by teachers through the lens of stereotypical labels of Asians as a model minority, such as quiet and studious. Parents, however, described that meeting with other Japanese children, even once a week if they are available, can strengthen their children’s sense of belonging, and help them gain energy to overcome challenges at their local schools and make new friends.
The Japanese case highlights the importance of a stable cultural identity, or a sense of belonging, for children’s cultural adjustment. Children are particularly vulnerable as they need to rely on adults to access cultural resources, such as friends from the same culture who support their cultural adjustment and resist/overcome racial discrimination. The presence of adults, including school social workers who understand them without any cultural biases and help them access necessary resources, is significant for children’s cultural adjustment and social inclusion in their host culture.