During the last 20 years, anti-immigrant sentiment has steadily grown, especially during the 2016 presidential elections. Since then, research has indicated that policy and politics have a direct and indirect impact on the health and wellbeing of immigrant communities. However, there is limited research on how parent-child discussions regarding sociopolitical issues in the US take place. There is even less known about how engaging in sociopolitical conversations can be a protective factor benefitting immigrant youth and families. We draw on Barajas-Gonzalez’s and colleagues’ Ecological Expansion of the Adverse Childhood Experiences framework (2021) which includes threats and deprivation associated with U.S. immigration policies and enforcement practices as detrimental to immigrants’ health. This framework allows us to better understand how youth are making sense of restrictive immigration policies and their intersection with cultural and sociopolitical messaging that immigrant-origin youth receive from their parents.
Participants were recruited with support from local community leaders, and engaged in one-hour virtual interviews throughout 2020 and 2021. We conducted ten interviews with undocumented Latinx immigrant parents, and 10 interviews with their adolescents aged 13-19. Thematic analysis of interview data was conducted by coding and analyzing the English version of the files.
Three main themes emerged from parent interviews: 1) sociopolitical socialization and youth agency; 2) documentation status socialization; and 3) emotional and mental health well-being. In turn, four themes emerged from youth interviews: 1) sociopolitical awareness and action; 2) seeking a sense of safety and security; 3) learning about risks, injustices and privileges; and 4) mental health. Our findings highlight how Latinx immigrants use storytelling to share messages about race, culture, and immigration, and provide counter-narratives to the toxic sociopolitical environment. Parents discussed the risks associated with their documentation status, including deportation, and family contingency plans. Finally, parents reported the youth’s mental health being negatively affected by discussions about racism and immigration-related persecution and shared their efforts to support the youth’s well-being. Additionally, our findings show youth developing awareness of and expressing a desire to learn more about sociopolitical matters. Youth also engaged in isolating behaviors and assumed greater responsibility to protect themselves and serve their families. These feelings of isolation in their inability to discuss topics related to their family’s documentation status with others were compounded by losses, fears, anxiety, and isolation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conclusion & Implication
Our findings provide a greater understanding of communication practices within Latinx immigrant families with mixed documentation status, by drawing on both parent and youth reports. These findings can inform practitioners and researchers alike of the amplified systemic barriers felt by immigrant families during the Covid-19 pandemic that further threatened the health and wellbeing of immigrant communities. With this research, clinicians can better curate interventions for immigrant families and youth in a way that is culturally responsive to their needs. Yet, further research is necessary to better understand the inherent strength and resilience alive within immigrant communities that empower them to join collective efforts fighting for the rights and dignity of all immigrant families.