Unnatural Causes: Becoming American

     Becoming American was probably the episode of Unnatural Causes that I found most shocking. It had never occurred to me that newly arrived immigrants were not only in good health, they are generally healthier than most of the American population. It was also shocking to learn that those new immigrants’ health deteriorates over a generation.

    The documentary explained the concept of the Latino Paradox, which is this phenomenon in which new immigrants are healthier than even American wealthy society. New Latino immigrants have lower rates of psychiatric illness, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other illnesses than whites who have more money and live in locations with more resources. The reason for this is believed to be that Latinos have closer structures of family networks that help with transportation, childcare, and emotional support. However, those family networks become strained as immigrants become more Americanized, due to factors such as longer work hours and commutes. It was sad to hear that the negatives of Americanization can be seen after just five years.

    Hearing this information in the documentary prompted me to reflect on my own observations and experience with immigrant parents and family. I could see family networks reflected in my own childhood. A lot of my aunts and uncles all settled on the same block when they immigrated to the US and as a child, I remember they would get together every weekend to cook food. There was no special occasion; we just seemed to constantly have family gatherings. I remember feeling left out because I did not live on the same block and therefore never seemed to develop the same close relationships as did my cousins who saw each other frequently. As time went on, the dynamic seemed to shift. I do not know if was Americanization but it seemed there were more problems, related to money and lack of access to schooling. I have seen the rise of mental illnesses in my family, which is interesting since a lot of Mexican immigrants do not seem to believe in mental illness. I have also seen the effects of Americanization with friends who are also first generation Mexican-American. I was selected for a program that helped me attend a private high school along with a few fellow first generation classmates. In the Latino Student Association club in high school, we often discussed the negative impacts we experienced due to culture shock after first attending a white wealthy school. However, it was nice that we had that space to discuss our feelings.

    I think clubs like these could be an example of the process of acculturation mentioned at the end of the episode of Becoming American. The video mentions selecting good parts of both cultures to create a mix that will benefit new immigrants and subsequent generations. An affinity club is an American concept but it can be used to bring back Latino social networks. In this way, acculturation and becoming American can be done in ways that help immigrants.

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