LatinaLista — It’s long been known, over the last ten years, that women and girl immigrants were arriving in the United States in increasing numbers. It’s also been known among mental health officials who service the Spanish-speaking population that these immigrant women face the same obstacles as the male immigrants — plus more.
With little command of the English language, no strong family support network and unfamiliarity with US systems and processes, these women struggle on a daily basis to achieve their perception of the American Dream.
A new poll by New America Media, entitled Immigrant Women: Stewards of the 21st Century, reveals that with all the adversities they face, these women credit moving to America in making positive changes to their lives.
The poll found that as many women settled in America, they also radically altered their roles in their private lives. Almost one-third report having assumed head-of-household responsibilities or sharing equally with their husbands the decision-making on everything from household finances to family planning. Moreover, the poll found that the overwhelming majority—Latin American (81%), Chinese (71%), Vietnamese (68%), African (66%) and Arabic (53%)—said they had become more assertive at home and in public after moving to America.
It’s a good thing that they have learned to stand up for themselves because as the poll further shows, no one else is going to be able to take their place in confronting the challenges that threaten the safety and health of them and their families.
Of the over 1,000 immigrant women surveyed for the poll, researchers discovered the expected and unexpected among the thousands of answers.
- 82% of Latin American women found discrimination against immigrants to be a major problem for their family, compared to 17% for women from African or Arab countries, and only 13% for those from China. Still, 90% of the Latin American women said they want to become US citizens.
- 40% of immigrant women from Latin America and significant percentages from other regions do not have health insurance. A clear majority of women immigrants without health insurance are unaware of public health programs that could help their children receive medical assistance.
- A majority of immigrant women from China, Korea, the Philippines, India, Africa and Arab countries describe their last job in their home country as “professional.” The study reveals that a substantial percentage of them have not found comparable employment in the United States. Their current jobs in America include working as a hotel maid, restaurant waitress, factory technician, house cleaner and textile worker. These results, and others, indicate that women may well be putting devotion to the well-being of their families ahead of personal job status and pride in choosing to immigrate.
- When asked to name the biggest challenge they faced as women immigrants in the United States, the majority did not cite economic difficulties. Rather, “helping my children achieve success” and “being able to hold my family together” were the top answers—underscoring the importance of family in understanding the motivations and aspirations of this new wave of women immigrants.
Another interesting finding is that women are the main drivers in their families to seek citizenship. Women from Latin America were especially intent on becoming US citizens.
When asked “What is the main reason that you plan to become a citizen of the United States?,” the majority of Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic, Asian Indian and Korean said it was “To be able to live in US for the rest of my life.”
Twenty-four percent of Filipinos said it was “To be able to vote in American elections” and 27 percent of Latin American immigrants said it was “To make sure I’m never separated from my children.”
It is a sad commentary on the American immigration system for it to be known as an instrument that operates, without discretion, in separating children from their parents.