Immigrant Women: Perseverance & Agency

This past weekend, as I was talking to a Punjabi Sikh woman who came to the United States about 13-14 years ago, I heard how agency and perseverance define the experiences of immigrant women in the United States. She told me about the great new apartment she just got for her family and how the laundry is free. A new apartment building with free laundry, that is absolutely awesome! Her smile, confidence, and enthusiasm were strongly lined with struggle and hard work; although she never directly said it. Her hard work and perseverance resounded clearly and loudly as it lay nestled in her comment about how her children had seen a lot of struggle in their lives. This statement meant that they had witnessed her struggle to provide the basic necessities in life, which means not always having access to the privileges other children gain more easily. I sensed her confidence in her and her familys work ethic, but also her own guilt of not being able to provide more.

This month, New America Media (NAM) released the results of a historic poll on woman immigrants to America. Often the experiences of women immigrants are not fore grounded in immigration research. They and their children are general viewed as the dependents of the sojourner husband/father. Their struggle, as the one mentioned above, are rarely brought to the center of the immigrant narrative.

Sandy Close, NAMs Executive Director, said:

the poll establishes that in the latter part of the 20th century women immigrated to America in ever-growing numbers, and are now on the move as much as men, but often face vastly different circumstances and challenges.

Although the participants in the poll were primarily of Latino, Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese background, we anecdotally know the trend is similar in our community. Unfortunately, the Punjabi Sikh community is often not reached out to participate in these polls.

Another finding that I felt could resonate with immigrant Punjabi Sikh women was that the biggest challenge immigrant women felt they faced was not necessarily economic difficulties, but helping my children achieve success and being able to hold my family together. Thus, underscoring the importance of family in understanding the motivations and aspirations of this new wave of women immigrants and their increase in decision-making power.

As we begin to think about community-based solutions to our growing immigrant communitys problems, we need to understand how the dynamics of immigration and integration are more nuanced than traditional immigration narratives. Shouldnt immigrant women be framed as having more agency considering their perseverance and determination to overcome obstacles, rather than constantly being labeled as dependents and victims?

Thoughts?


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