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Immigrant Women Talk About Coming to Indiana

April 28, 2009

Assisted by members of the Indiana Diversity Women’s Network (IDWN), Dulce Maria Scott has been collecting the stories of immigrant and diverse women in Indiana. Dr. Scott, a faculty member at Anderson University, received a small grant for the project from the Indiana Humanities Council and another grant from the university.

She writes: The work is still underway, but thus far we have acquired an understanding of a variety of reasons why the women left their country of origin. We have also been able to ascertain some of the major challenges faced by the women in their journey of adaptation and integration into American society and the Hoosier state.

The women’s experiences are varied. Some arrived in the United States to pursue a higher education, others to find a better job, some as a result of marrying an American man they met in the country of origin, and others arrived as children or were born in the United States to immigrant parents. Some left their country to escape poverty, others to escape political turmoil, and still others left because the opportunity to do so presented itself to them.

Upon arrival, many of the women experienced cultural shock, an intense sense of isolation, and, in, some instances overt prejudice and discrimination. Some experienced a loss of social status upon arrival. Occupying middle to upper middle class positions in their country of origin, some of the women struggled initially with having to accept menial labor positions in order to survive in the United States. The process of adaptation and integration to American society was not easy for the women, and we have acquired an understanding of the difficulties and challenges they faced in this process.

A few of the women interviewed arrived in the United States at a young age or were born in the United States to immigrant parents. Theirs is the experience of the first American born generation, a generation which is usually caught between two cultures. Theirs is often an experience of conflict between the parent’s values and those of the wider American society. Their struggle is one of trying to fit in with the children of mainstream society, while simultaneously living at home in accordance with the native culture of their parents. While the identity of women who arrived in the United States as adults remains rooted in the country of origin, the second generation tends to experience a much more fluid identity, partly American and partly ethnic.

We hope that the stories collected will become a historical document that gives a voice to immigrant women arriving in Indiana in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Women are often at the center of family and community life. The story of immigrant integration/assimilation into American life is also the story of women who are in the labor force, raise families, further their education, and assume leadership positions in their places of work, churches and communities.

What’s your story?

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