The quadruple exile of adolescents with an immigrant background

The children of immigration form a heterogeneous universe. The term designates, on the one hand, the children and young people who accompanied their parents in the migration process, either by making the trip together, or by meeting them after a few months or years by regrouping.

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

Transits of immigrant adolescent children

The adolescent suffers, among many aspects, from maturity. A defect is presupposed to him that must be resolved, thus prescribing a period of training, of development, which makes it possible to resolve the constitutive lack. From an anthropological point of view, adolescence can be understood as a period of transit, of passage; it is a stage which, in pre-industrial societies, has been totally ritualized. It is raised here that the adolescent children of migration are forced to go through all kinds of vicissitudes; not only those relating to a migratory process, parallel and with particularities compared to that of their parents, but a quadruple migration around 4 elements: body, territory, certainties and rights. Four metaphorical and literal migratory processes which intertwine, nourish and reinforce each other; trips in which children and young people are taken involuntarily, and in principle without the possibility of return, allowing these latter particularities to consider these transits, rather than as a simple migration, as an exile.

In matters of migration and exile, it is common to speak of the duels involved. The word duel works with the four exiles in its two connotations, that of pain, around the rupture and the acceptance of the multiple losses that the adolescents are obliged to assume; and in the connotation of conflict, challenge and struggle, in terms of obstacles and challenges to be overcome.

Exile I: Cos

The first exile refers to the transformations brought about by adolescence itself. Adolescence is not a popular option: mutations just happen. The adolescent is expelled, by force and without the possibility of return, from his childhood world, his prepubescent body, his magical thought. On the one hand, they increase their quotas of freedom, but they decrease (and we must abandon) aspects to which he was firmly linked, and which gave him privileges, prerogatives and comforts.

They must adapt to a new body, to new demands from their parents, their peers, society which, through the media, inundates them with messages about what is expected of them. The sense of what has been and what is happening is entering a crisis.

Questions arise about who you are, how you would like to be, how you should be, how you are perceived. Hormones rush. Priorities and aspirations change, they become more complex. Games have increasingly serious implications. The paradise of the children’s world no longer offers multiple satisfactions and new responsibilities are acquired. Faced with emptiness and uncertainty, there is a great need to belong, that is to say to equalize and at the same time to be unique, to differentiate oneself. The contempt and opinion of others is despised and at the same time their approval and recognition becomes vital.

It is a time of exploration of the different zones to which we begin to have access and it is therefore also a period of confusion, falls, discoveries, illusions and disenchantments. Facing a set of insecurities, contradictions and ambiguities.

Parents are no longer wise or omnipotent in his eyes, but annoying, retrograde and coercive adults, loved or bored, disparaged and admired depending on the moment. The idols are now singers, actors, athletes, the group of friends. One of the challenges for adolescents is to recognize themselves and their parents in their humanity, in their imperfections, in their contradictions. The teenager’s greatest desire is to be left alone, but at the same time he desires and lacks parental care and protection. These contradictions sometimes make him feel like the best in the world and sometimes like the most miserable.

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

The wound of the adolescent exile is not completely healed. The relative adaptation that has been achieved is no longer appropriate in the face of the new requirements of the context. Thus, after a period of relative stability, during which the foundations of a flexible identity are being built, circumstances will emerge which will conveniently awaken our nonconformity, our rebellion and the desire to do things, to be or to live. differently.

Exile II: Territories

Adolescent children of immigrants add to the identity crisis, discontent and conflicts that usually arise in adolescence, conditions that generate tensions and uncertainties surrounding the migration process.

Migration is generally in adults a voluntary decision supported by desires and motivations which function as a support to form a constructive idea of ​​the situations that may be found in the host environment, thus facilitating their adaptation process. Children and adolescents, on the other hand, can be considered as involuntary migrants, because they are often drawn from their living space, their daily life, their ties, their territory, aspects that give them security. participate actively in the decision and especially without being able to measure the ruptures and abandonments that this implies They are in a way drawn to the decision of adults, who often rationalize their well-being (that of children) as the engine of family migration. For many children and adolescents, migration rather than an opportunity can be seen as a threat of losing many of the things they hold dear.

It is probably the children or adolescents who have been cared for by a close relative when their parents have certain conditions that would allow them to bring them with them. They face a double duel, first the separation of one or both parents and then that of their caregiver, who after, in many cases years of waiting, can become a parental figure. strong emotional bonds to which they must break away again. In addition to bonding with parents, after years of estrangement, this can also be problematic.

For them, for those who came with their parents and for the children of immigrants born in the host country, it is particularly relevant to be exposed to two social environments, that of their place of origin, represented by their parents, and the place of welcome they manifest in the interactions they establish in their school, with the media and in the “street”. These two socializing environments may have different requirements, expectations and principles. Even the same conception of adolescence and what is expected of them at this stage may be different in the two contexts. There are generally differences in the patterns of consumption, in our relationships with adults, in the relationships that are established within families.

The dual context of socialization becomes relevant in adolescence, considering that it is a critical period for the construction of identity, becoming of the utmost importance the way in which it has been perceived and valued by others. , these latter aspects being the basis of self-esteem. built.

With the arrival of During adolescence, the cognitive capacity to recognize appreciations in relation to the group to which one belongs and with which one relates is intensified. In this way, the adolescent becomes more consenting, and even sometimes hypersensitive, to situations of discrimination, prejudices, pejorative and xenophobic attitudes to which he may be exposed at school and in the street. This ability to distinguish in terms of appreciation of social groups is also manifested in the adolescents of the place of reception, and this is the moment when they tend to express prejudices and xenophobic attitudes which were not manifested in the hostel. childhood. Many children in the host group who used to share time and space with immigrant children stop doing so when they reach their teens. Discriminatory attitudes towards immigrant adolescents may also increase, as they are perceived by those in the host group as more threatening the closer they get to the adult body.

The negative feedback that the adolescent receives about his image by the majority group, which places his reference group as inferior in a social hierarchy, can be a great source of frustration and emotional distress. Faced with this, the adolescent may choose to try to emulate the majority group, forcefully adopting ways of being and behaving from his adolescent partners in the host group. Sometimes the attempt at cover-up is greeted by the adolescents in the host group with an indifference or overt rejection which is quite devastating for the immigrant adolescent. It is clear that not all adolescents with an immigrant background are exposed to the same prejudices, and the usual thing is that a social hierarchy can turn out to be linked to place of origin, to physical appearance but above all to condition. socio-economic that are its attributes. .

The attempt to imitate and identify with the host group in reaction to the negative perception of the group itself may be accompanied by the adolescent feeling of rejection towards the culture of origin. He then joins the generational gap between parents and adolescents, which often affects the conflicts between them, the rejection and the shame they can feel towards their parents, because they are representatives of the culture which is negatively valued in the context of the reception.

Faced with the rejection and indifference of adolescents from the majority group, the adolescent can then seek refuge and be supported by adolescents from the same culture or who experience similar situations of discrimination. Identities of resistance are then constructed, in which adolescents relate primarily to other immigrant adolescents, trying to highlight or construct ways of being with which they can feel part of a community that supports them, manifested by a certain type of music, ways of speaking, of dressing, of walking. The group of like-minded people is a refuge from the perception of a hostile environment.

The dual context of socialization can also be experienced by adolescents as various demands and demands of two groups to whom a sense of loyalty is maintained. It can be seen as an update of the archetypal conflict between the tradition represented by the parents and the new and renovating one, represented by the host culture.

When the adolescent has a family environment that provides him with sufficient support and recognition, and a social context of the host group that is sufficiently respectful of his particularities. The adolescent manages to maintain the tension of the conflict of loyalty, allowing him to explore and “play” with the possibilities and benefits of each socialization context. The adolescent then identifies and promotes within himself the aspects which, in both contexts, are more attractive and interesting to him according to the vital moment he is going through. He then attains 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 a limitation. Dual socialization contexts allow adolescents to develop so-called multicultural skills, it is the positive management of cultural diversity that is currently common to find in work, leisure, etc … as well as the ability to develop properly in a cultural context other than his own.

Many writers and artists attribute part of their creative capacity to the strangeness and tension of living between two cultures. The children of immigrant adolescents have the advantage of being more aware that each person and each 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 by the summons of previous exiles. It refers to the involuntary expulsion and without possibility of return of the certainties and rationalities of modernity.

The world in which contemporary adolescents have landed is an unpredictable one, where role ambiguity, faded utopias and fluidity of connections predominate. It is described as a liquid, volatile and difficult to grasp world. A society in which one must constantly coexist with risk and uncertainty; where time and space have been constrained. It is argued that religion, science, politics have ceased to be institutions of mediation of meaning, or at least in the way they were for previous generations.

In the contemporary world, the chances of choosing ways of being and doing have increased for adolescents. Such a breadth of options gives a feeling of freedom, but also generates dizziness and bewilderment. Their identifications are therefore ephemeral, volatile, emotional, contagious, paradoxical. Traditional methods and progressive attitudes can coexist in a person. A desire for novelty and an interest in its roots.

There are many aspects to the prevailing dynamics of the contemporary world that make it look like a teenage character. Like them, the postmodern world does not quite know what it is or where it is going.

For some social scientists like Michel Maffesoli, the contemporary world is in search of new principles, logics and modes of relationship. He considers that modernity and its conception of the world are saturated, even questioning its fundamental premises such as the notion of progress. We are then in a somewhat erratic search for new paradigms that allow them to be viable or at least to delay longer the experience of humanity within the framework of the ecosystem of this planet.

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

Exile IV: Rights

The status of immigrant, or of a certain type of immigrant, continues to be an important factor of vulnerability for discrimination and inhibition in the enjoyment of basic rights in which human dignity is upheld. In previous exiles, adolescent children of migration have to contend with seeing many excluded from the possibility of leading a life of dignity, in which they can develop their potential on an equal basis with other adolescents.

Many adolescents have to live with the fear that one of their parents will be deported because they have failed to regularize their residence after many years and a life built in their foster home. Some are forced to return to their country of origin, sometimes being a place they hardly know.

They may also be the subject of suspicion by the police, in their dealings with gangs or groups that have committed acts of violence, restricting their right to travel without having to explain their appearance or manner of behavior. dress.

They are also exposed to their parents’ precarious work, to their frustration, to the fact that they sometimes have to work much longer hours than other parents, to earn enough money to support themselves. That they cannot participate in the election of the leaders, that they cannot influence the policies that affect them.

Rights and human dignity cannot be renounced without feeling mutilated. The exile of rights is not appropriate to harm it, but to channel it so that it is the engine of activism and defense against all forms of exclusion. The duel, conveniently unresolved by rights, is the spark of resistance to unworthy living conditions.

And the parents of the exiles?

Faced with the difficulties, some parents even wonder if it was not a mistake to have emigrated and to expose their daughters and their sons to situations which, in their opinion, are now getting out of hand. There may be uncertainty as to whether the difficulties they are going through are part of adolescence, or a consequence of being between two cultures, or their personalities, or how their relationship with them has deteriorated. Doubts, however For example, if your child reports being discriminated against at school, this is objective facts, hypersensitivity, or an excuse to justify neglect.

Fear and helplessness in the face of the ambiguity of gender roles, the experience of sexuality, the heavy consumption of alcohol and drugs to which their children are exposed. There are also doubts about how far we should go in their role as parents, on the boundaries between being authoritarian and understanding, controlling or too permissive, on what is the best strategy to get what we want from them, and on what suits the best. Perhaps one of the biggest conflict issues is the use of free time.

You can come to feel guilty about mistakes that may have been made in your upbringing and anxiety for those that will surely continue to be made.

For parents, the adolescence of their children can also be experienced as an exile. They may come to feel the degrees of autonomy they acquire and the identification of their children in the reception context as abandonment. They are forced to mourn the childhood of their child, to give up being their idol, sometimes to put up with being the subject in which they channel their frustration. Gradually lose their degree of addiction, which on the one hand may have been experienced as a relief, but also frustrated at ceasing to be so immensely important to someone.

It becomes necessary to learn to renegotiate a new type of relationship with a person who is no longer a child but who is not fully adult, who requires responsibilities, who needs limits, but also of confidence to take decisions. risks.

It also leads them to assume that no matter what they want, it is impossible to control all the variables that keep their children from being exposed to situations that will cause them pain. Suppose also that they did not come into the world to meet the expectations and dreams of the parents. Be open to being surprised by its uniqueness, and try not to be overwhelmed by your own fears, prejudices, and labels.

A teenager usually involves a relocation of all family dynamics, transforming roles, attitudes and behaviors that cease to make sense. Adolescents, for example, require less attention and less energy than when they were children. Excess energy that parents need to replace in their own life, in their own projects. The best thing that can happen to a teenager is to have a parent who feels relatively comfortable with themselves. 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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