Equity & Diversity

Immigrant Women Are ‘Family Stewards’ in America

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 21, 2009 2 min read
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The top two reasons that immigrant women say they moved to the United States were to join family members already in the country and “to make a better life” for their children, according to a poll of a representative sample of such women by New America Media. The pollsters interviewed 1,002 immigrant women from Latin American, Asian, African, and Arab countries in August and September of 2008. The margin of error is 3 percent.

I’m thinking the findings might be helpful for educators of English-language learners who have a lot of interaction with parents. Many of these women, in helping their families adjust to the United States, are acquiring new skills and attitudes.

New America Media concludes from the poll’s findings that immigrant women are “family stewards” in the United States. They are the main drivers in the family, for instance, in seeking U.S. citizenship. An overwhelming proportion of immigrant women said they decide about the finances of the family, how many children to have, and “very sensitive and personal family issues.” Most immigrant women are married, and of those who are, almost all live with their husbands. Fifty-eight percent of Latin American immigrant women are married, while 85 percent of Korean women are. Seventy-three percent of all immigrant women say they’ve become more assertive at home and in public since coming to the United States.

Thirty percent of the women polled said they are undocumented. The pollsters asked an interesting question that I haven’t seen anyone else ask: “If you were forced to return to your home country by the U.S. government, would you bring your children born in the U.S. with you or would you leave them in this country?”

More than half of all immigrant women in all but one of the groups said they would take their children back to their home country. Fifty-four percent of Chinese women, for instance, said they’d take their children back with them (29 percent said they “don’t know”). Sixty-one percent of Latin American women said they’d take their children back with them (21 percent answered “don’t know”). But only a small proportion of Vietnamese women—17 percent—said they’d take their children back to their native land. Forty-three percent of the Vietnamese women said they would “leave them in the U.S.,” and 40 percent replied “don’t know.”

As the lives of English-language learners change because of attending U.S. schools and interacting with other children in this country, so, too, do the lives of their mothers change.

Immigrant women are “family stewards” in the United States, according to results from a poll by New American Media.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.