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The fourfold exile of the teenage children of immigration

The fourfold exile of the teenage children of immigration

May 25, 2024

The children of immigration are a heterogeneous universe. The term refers, on the one hand, to children and young people who have accompanied their parents in the migration process, either by traveling together, or by meeting with them after a few months or years through family reunification.

They can also be considered as sons and daughters of immigration, those young people who were born when their parents were already residing in the foreign country; the so-called second generation immigrants, as if the immigrant status could be transmitted, dragged or inherited. This article aims to gather some reflections about the children of immigrants who are or have reached a stage of the life cycle commonly considered critical such as adolescence, and the "exiles" that occur in them.


Transits of the teenage children of immigration

The adolescent suffers, among many aspects, from maturity. It presupposes a lack that must be resolved, prescribing therefore a period of training, development, to solve the constituent lack. From an anthropological perspective, adolescence can be approached as a period of transit, of passage; it is a stage that in pre-industrial societies has been fully ritualized. It is proposed here that the adolescent children of migration are forced to go through all kinds of vicissitudes; not only those related to a migratory process, parallel and with particularities with respect to their parents, but a fourfold migration around 4 elements: body, territory, certainties and rights. Four metaphorical and literal migratory processes that intersect, feed and reinforce each other; trips in which young children are driven involuntarily, and in principle with no possibility of return, allowing these latter particularities to consider such transits, rather than as a simple migration, as an exile.


With respect to migration and exile, it is common to talk about the duels that it brings. The word duel works in the four exiles in its two connotations, that of pain, around the rupture and acceptance of the multiple losses that adolescents are compelled to assume; and in the connotation of conflict, challenge and struggle, with respect to the obstacles and challenges to overcome.

Exile I: Body

The first exile is referred to the transformations that adolescence itself brings. Adolescence is not a sought option: mutations simply happen. The adolescent is expelled, in a forced way, and with no possibility of return, of his infantile world, of his prepubertal body, of his magical thinking . On the one hand, they increase their quotas of freedom, but they diminish (and it is necessary to renounce) aspects to which they were firmly linked, and which provided privileges, prerogatives and comforts.


It is necessary to adapt to a new body, to the new demands of their parents, their peers, of society, which through the media floods them with messages about what is expected of them. The meaning of what has been being and is becoming a crisis comes into play.

Questions arise about who one is, how they would like to be, how they should be, how they are perceived. Hormones urge. The priorities and aspirations change, they become more complex. Games have more and more serious implications. The paradise of the children's world no longer provides multiple satisfactions and new responsibilities are acquired. In the face of emptiness and uncertainty, we feel a great need to belong, that is, to be equal and at the same time to be unique, to differentiate ourselves. The look and opinion of others is despised and at the same time their approval and recognition take on a vital importance.

It is a time of exploration of the different areas to which one begins to have access is, therefore, also a period of confusion, of falls, of discoveries, of illusions and disappointments. To face a cluster of insecurities, contradictions and ambiguities.

Parents are no longer wise or omnipotent to him or her, but annoying, retrograde and coercive adults who are loved or hated, denigrated and admired according to the moment. Idols are now singers, actors, athletes, the group of friends. One of the challenges of adolescents is to recognize their parents and themselves in their humanity, in their imperfection, in their contradictions. The greatest desire of the adolescent is to leave him alone, but at the same time he longs for and longs for parental care and protection. These contradictions sometimes make him feel like the best in the world and sometimes as the most miserable.

Adolescence represents the updating of the myth of the rebellion of children against parents, that challenge essential for the establishment of a new social order, or at least new conditions of social order. It is an act in the adventure for the encounter with itself.The expulsion from the child paradise is the path of knowledge, of choice, of transformation. It is a painful and enriching exile necessary for the development of autonomy and an awareness of oneself and of the wider, more complex and profound world.

The wound of exile from adolescence is not completely healed. The relative adaptation that has been achieved will no longer be appropriate to new demands of the context. Thus, after some period of relative stability, in which the foundations of a flexible identity are built, circumstances will arise that will conveniently awaken our nonconformity, our rebellion and the desire to do things, to be or to live in a different way.

Exile II: Territory

The adolescent children of immigrants add to the crisis of identity, dissatisfaction and conflict that usually occurs in adolescence, the conditions that generate tension and uncertainty that surround the migratory process.

Migration tends to be a voluntary decision in adults based on desires and motivations that work as a support to get a constructive idea of ​​the situations that can be found in the host environment, thus facilitating their adaptation process. Children and adolescents, on the other hand, can be considered as involuntary migrants, since they are frequently removed from their lived space, their daily life, their links, their territory, those aspects that provide security, without being able to participate actively. in the decision and above all without being able to measure the ruptures and abandonments that implies. They are, in some way, dragged into the decision of adults, who often rationalize their well-being (that of children) as an engine for family migration. For many children and adolescents, migration, rather than an opportunity, can be perceived as a threat of losing many elements to which they are strongly linked.

Probably the ones who have to deal with more loss situations are children or adolescents who were in charge of a close relative while their parents obtained certain conditions that allowed them to bring them with them. They have to face a double duel, first the separation of one or both parents, and later that of their caregiver, who after, in many cases years of waiting, may have become a parental figure with strong emotional ties to the They have to break off again. In addition, the construction of the bond with the parents, after years of distancing, can also be problematic.

For them, for those who have come with their parents and for the children of immigrants who were born in the host country, it is particularly relevant to be exposed to two environments of socialization, that of their place of origin, represented by their parents, and the place of reception that are manifested in the interactions they establish in their school, with the media and in the "street". These two environments of socialization can have demands, expectations and dissimilar principles. Even the very conception of adolescence and what is expected of them and them at this stage may differ in both contexts. There are usually differences in the patterns of consumption, in the way of relating to adults, in the relationships that are established within families.

The double context of socialization becomes relevant during adolescence, considering that it is a critical period for the construction of identity, becoming of great importance the way in which it is perceived and valued by others, these last aspects being the basis on which self-esteem is built.

With the arrival of adolescence, the cognitive capacity is intensified to recognize the values ​​with respect to the group to which it belongs and with which it is related. In this way the adolescent becomes more aware, and even sometimes hypersensitive to situations of discrimination, pejorative prejudices and xenophobic attitudes that can be exposed in school and on the street. This ability to distinguish with respect to the assessment of social groups is also manifested in the adolescents of the place of reception, and is the time where they tend to express prejudices and xenophobic attitudes that had not manifested themselves in childhood. Many children from the receiving group who used to share times and spaces with immigrant children, stop doing so when they reach adolescence. Discriminatory attitudes toward immigrant adolescents may also increase as they are perceived by people in the receiving group as more threatening as they move closer to the adult body.

The negative feedback that the adolescent receives from his image on the part of the majority group, who place his reference group as inferior in a social hierarchy, can be a great source of frustration and emotional distress. Given the above, adolescents can choose to try to blend in with the majority group, adopting in a forceful way ways of being and behaving of their adolescent peers in the receiving group. Sometimes the attempt to mimic is received by the adolescents of the receiving group with indifference or manifest rejection, being quite devastating for the immigrant teenager.It is evident that not all adolescent children of immigration are exposed to the same prejudices, and the usual thing is that a social hierarchy can be revealed related to the place of origin, physical appearance but above all due to the socioeconomic status attributes.

The attempt to mimic and identify with the receiving group as a reaction to the negative perception of the group itself may be accompanied by the adolescent's feeling of rejection towards their own culture of origin. It is then added to the generational gap between parents and adolescents, which usually affects the conflicts that arise between them, the rejection and shame that can be felt with respect to their parents, as they are representatives of the culture that is negatively valued in the host context.

Given the rejection and indifference of the adolescents of the majority group, the adolescent can then seek refuge and welcome in adolescents of the same culture or who are going through similar circumstances of discrimination. Identities of resistance are then built, in which adolescents are mostly related to other immigrant adolescents, trying to highlight or build ways of being with which they can feel part of a community that supports them, manifested in a certain type of music, Ways to talk, to dress, to walk. The group of peers is a refuge from the perception of a hostile environment.

The double context of socialization can also be experienced by adolescents as diverse demands and demands of two groups to which a feeling of loyalty is kept. It can be seen as an update of the archetypal conflict between the tradition represented by the parents and the new and renovating, represented by the receiving culture.

When the adolescent has a family environment that provides sufficient support and recognition, and a social context of the receiving group that is sufficiently respectful of its particularities. The adolescent manages to maintain the tension of the conflict of loyalties, allowing himself to explore and "play" with the possibilities and benefits of each context of socialization. The adolescent then identifies and promotes in himself those aspects that of one and another context are more attractive and interesting to him according to the vital moment for which he is going through. He then obtains a broader and more complex perspective of himself and of others, perceiving the fact of coexisting between two cultural contexts more as an enrichment than as a limitation. The double contexts of socialization allow adolescents to develop the so-called multicultural competences, this is the positive management of cultural diversity that is currently common to find in work, leisure, etc ... as well as the ability to function adequately in cultural context different to the own one.

Many writers and artists attribute part of their creative capacity, to the estrangement and tension of living between two cultures. The children of the adolescents of immigration have the advantage of being more aware that each person and culture is a kaleidoscope of influences of ambivalent dynamics, of mixtures.

Exile III: Certainties

This third exile is shared by adolescents with the rest of the inhabitants of the contemporary world, but they are more vulnerable to its impact due to the sum of previous exiles. It refers to the involuntary expulsion and without possibility of return of the certainties and rationalities of modernity.

The world to which contemporary teenagers have landed is an unpredictable world, where role ambiguity, vanished utopias and fluent links predominate. It is described as a liquid world, volatile, difficult to grasp. A society in which it is necessary to coexist constantly with risk and uncertainty; where time and space have been constricted. It is argued that religion, science, politics have ceased to be mediating institutions of meaning, or at least in the way they were for previous generations.

In the contemporary world, the shares of choice for ways of being and doing have increased for adolescents. Such magnitude of options gives feelings of freedom but also generates vertigo and bewilderment. Their identifications are therefore ephemeral, volatile, emotional, contagious, paradoxical. They can coexist in a person traditional ways and progressive attitudes. A desire for novelty and an interest in its roots.

The predominant dynamic of the contemporary world has many aspects that resemble the adolescent character. Like them, the postmodern world is not clear about what it is or where it is going.

For some social scientists such as Michel Maffesoli, the contemporary world is in search of new principles, logics and ways of relating. He considers that modernity and its conception of the world are saturated, even questioning one of its fundamental premises such as the notion of progress. We are then in the search somewhat erratic of new paradigms that allow them to be viable or at least postpone for a while longer the experiment of humanity as part of the ecosystem of this planet.

Migration, which has increased dramatically in recent decades, is defining the contemporary world, being both a consequence and engine of the transformations that have been generated. The adolescent children of migration are therefore an excellent expression of the nascent world, in which they and their descendants will be the protagonists.

Exile IV: Rights

The condition of an immigrant or a certain type of immigrant continues to be a strong vulnerability factor for discrimination and inhibition in the enjoyment of fundamental rights on which human dignity is sustained. To the previous exiles, the adolescent children of migration have to face the fact that they see themselves as being marginalized from the possibility of leading a dignified life, in which they can develop their potentialities in equal conditions with the rest of the adolescents.

Many of the adolescents have to live with the fear that one of their parents will be expelled because they have not been able to regularize their residence after many years and a life built in their place of refuge. Some are forced to return to their country of origin, sometimes being a place they barely know.

They can also be the object of suspicion on the part of police entities, when they are related to gangs or groups that have committed violent acts, restricting their right to transit without having to explain their appearance or way of dressing.

They are also exposed to their parents' job insecurity, their frustration, sometimes having to work many hours more than other parents, to get enough money to be able to sustain themselves. To not be able to participate in the election of the governors, so that they can not influence the policies that concern them.

It is not possible to renounce rights and human dignity without feeling mutilated. The exile of rights is not convenient to mourn, but to channel it to be the engine of activism and vindication against any type of exclusion. The duel conveniently not resolved by rights, is the spark for resistance to unworthy living conditions.

And the parents of the exiles?

Given the difficulties, some parents come to ask if it was not a mistake to have emigrated and expose their daughters and sons to situations that now feel out of their hands. There may be uncertainty as to whether the difficulties they go through are part of adolescence, or the consequence of being between two cultures, or their personality, or the way their relationship with them has deteriorated. Doubts, for example, about whether when his son manifests that he is discriminated against in school, this corresponds to objective facts, to a hypersensitivity, or an excuse to justify his neglect.

Fear and impotence before the ambiguity of gender roles, the experience of sexuality, the high consumption of alcohol and drugs to which their children are exposed. You also doubt about how far you should go in your role as parents, about the limits between being authoritarian and understanding, controlling or overly permissive, about what is the best strategy to obtain what we would like from them, and what is most important to them. it suits. The use of leisure time is perhaps one of the biggest issues of conflict.

You can get to feel guilt for the mistakes that could be made in their education, and anxiety for those who surely will continue to commit.

For parents, the adolescence of their children can also be lived as an exile. They can feel the degrees of autonomy that they are acquiring and the identification of their children with the context of reception as an abandonment. He sees himself as advocates who mourn the childhood of his son, to renounce being his idol, to sometimes endure being the subject in which they channel their frustration. To gradually lose their degree of dependence, which on the one hand may have been experienced as a relief, but also with frustration to stop being so immensely important to someone.

It is necessary to learn to renegotiate a new type of relationship with a person who is no longer a child but is not completely an adult, who asks for responsibilities, who needs limits, but also confidence to take risks.

It also implies to assume that, however much they may wish, it is impossible to control all the variables that prevent their children from being exposed to situations that will make them suffer. Assume also, that they did not come the world to fulfill the expectations and dreams of the parents. Be open to be surprised by their uniqueness, and try not to burden them with fears, prejudices and own labels.

A teenager usually implies a resituation of all family dynamics, roles that are transformed, attitudes and behaviors that stop making sense. Adolescents, for example, require less attention, less energy than when they were children. Excess energy that parents need to re-locate in their own lives, in their own projects. The best thing that can happen to a teenager is to have a father or a mother who feels relatively comfortable with himself. A father and a mother who occupy part of their motivations and interests in their own well-being and who assume and manage their own exiles.


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