Juntos (Together) Blog Building Partnerships with Latino Families

The impact of acculturation and acculturative stress on Latino students and families

The impact of acculturation and acculturative stress on Latino students and families

October 09, 2019

What is acculturation?

When someone from one cultural background moves into a new environment, change inevitably occurs. The process of adapting to the new dominant culture is called acculturation.

Acculturation impacts not only first-generation immigrants and refugees, but also their children and grandchildren. About half of Latino children in the United States have at least one parent who was born abroad. Therefore, acculturation is an important part of the lives of many Latino children and families.

As Latino students experience acculturation, their school and peers may urge them to embrace the dominant culture while their families often want them to remain connected to their home culture.

However, students do not have to choose between these two identities. They may develop a bicultural identity by maintaining their home culture while also identifying with the new culture.

Bicultural immigrant children and youth do better psychologically and socially than their peers who reject both cultures or identify with only one culture.

What is acculturative stress?

Stressors can occur as part of the acculturation process. Acculturative stress can be associated with pressures to learn a new language, assimilate to the new culture, and leave behind one’s cultural traditions. Additionally, children and their families may perceive they are being stereotyped because of their ethnicity or immigration status.

Acculturative stress can make Latino students and families feel less connected to each other and to the school environment.

Latino immigrant families who experience acculturative stress after arrival in the United States feel less connected to each other later. Additionally, Latino students who experience more discriminative stress (a type of acculturative stress) achieve less academic success because they feel less connected to school.  

Acculturation in TAPP para Familias Latinas

In TAPP para Familias Latinas, we sometimes find that immigrant parents experience cultural barriers and less connection with their children’s schools. Coming together to participate in the TAPP process is one way to connect home and school cultures.

TAPP’s focus on strengths rather than deficits helps educators adopt perspectives and take actions that affirm Latino students and families. Interpreting TAPP meetings into parents’ preferred language sends the message that their background is valued within the school setting.

How can you apply acculturation to your work?

Reflect on whether the students and families in your school experience acculturative stress and how this may affect them. Consider implementing evidence-based interventions, such as TAPP, that enhance relationships and are individualized to the needs of Latino families and students.

Remember that students who successfully navigate cultures and embrace a bicultural identity tend to do best. Make sure your actions, curricular choices, and messages affirm students’ and parents’ identities.