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Developmental Processes of First Generation Female Ugandan Immigrant Youth: An Examination of Identity Development and Acculturation

  • Author(s): Green, Emily Kennedy
  • Advisor(s): Kools, Susan;
  • Chesla, Catherine
  • et al.

Purpose: The purpose of this constructivist grouded theory study was to explore first-generation female Ugandan immigrant youth perceptions, beliefs and attitudes toward health and self-development and identify which factors among their social contexts including community, school, family, and peer groups impacted their development.

Background: In many ways, this immigrant group looks very different from other immigrant populations in the US: size of population, recency of immigration, socio-demographic profile, and primary migration channels. The impact of immigration on this growing population’s health and development is unclear. Existing literature suggests that the integration and developmental processes for young people and families from East Africa are complicated by family values, interaction styles, and social roles that many times are at very polar ends with those of the US host culture. Insights from these participants were needed to better understand the needs of this population, in order to improve health and development of immigrant adolescents, as they become young adults.

Methods: This qualitative study employed Grounded Theory methods. Over 100 hours of community participatory observation and 28 total interviews with 20 participants were primary data collection strategies. Participants were recruited through purposive, theoretical and snowball sampling and included English speaking females aged 10-25 years, immigrated to the US at the age of 8 years or later, and self-identified as Ugandan. Dimensional analysis, an approach in the generation of grounded theory was used as a primary analytic strategy. In addition to multiple levels of coding, memo-writing was used as an analytic tool to track the developing conceptualizations and decisions. Emerging areas of salience were then be integrated into future interviews for further development and verification. An explanatory matrix was used to consider which dimension and concept best served as the central action and process. A wider philosophical orientation taken in this study was one that assumed a positive youth development (PYD) approach. Acculturation theory provided a theoretical lens through which to understand the processes young people were experiencing as newcomers to the US as individuals in various social contexts such as within families, peer groups, schools or community settings.

Results: Identity development was chosen as the central perspective of the findings, that is, the dimension with the greatest explanatory power. As immigrants, participants made certain adaptations and adjustments that led to altered developmental paths for these young women including their beliefs about gender, their ethnic and racial identities, and how they balanced and integrated US culture into their existing understandings and cultural awareness. Conditions that impacted these identity development processes include the timing of immigration, Los Angeles and the US as contexts of reception, influential people and social settings primarily including the Ugandan community and school settings, the perceived value of Ugandan cultural maintenance versus the value of adopting certain American traits and habits, and experiences of prejudice and discrimination versus opportunity. Factors across various social contexts including community, school, family, and peer group were identified that impacted this population’s identity development, with the domains of wider community influence and school/peer settings as particularly influential.

Conclusions: The findings presented represent an in depth consideration of the unique cultural, linguistic, religious, racial, social, and societal attributes of the female Ugandan immigrant youth population and can therefore be seen as an important step in the direction of developing an understanding of the developmental assets and risk/protective factors that characterize this specific young immigrant population.

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