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Narratives of second -generation Asian American experience: Legacies of immigration, trauma, and loss

Amy S Cheng, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Immigration to the United States is a complex process of psychological adaptation and change not only for immigrants but also for their children. This study initially explored processes of identity in second-generation immigrant Asian Americans, considering a variety of factors influencing processes of self-making. In interviews with eleven Asian American men and women of various ethnicities, aged 18–30, who resided primarily in the Northeast, open-ended questions were asked about immigration history and significant relationships. In subsequent analysis, this researcher proposed utilizing a framework of loss and trauma to explore aspects of participants' experiences, including family relationships, academic achievement, gender role identity, sexuality, and racism. Traumas of immigration were speculated to have been recreated in family relationships. Regarding academic achievement, participants described feeling pressured by and conflicted about pursuing lucrative financial careers, perhaps in an effort to recover losses of immigration and to achieve the “American Dream.” Regarding gender role identity, women in the study described feeling restricted, perhaps in response to a parental effort to preserve a nostalgic vision of cultural purity. Men in the study talked about feeling pressured to assume leadership roles in the family as young adults. They also discussed feeling emasculated in the context of U.S. culture. Regarding sexuality, women felt the pressure to be chaste and to marry someone of the same ethnicity, perhaps in a parental effort to recreate their parents' nostalgic of the ancestral homeland. Men described feeling similar pressures in marrying, but also described feeling asexualized in U.S. culture. Both women and men talked about the pressure to delay sexuality until after achieving career goals. Participants also described various experiences of racism that often led them to feeling marginalized. Racism may have exacerbated the losses of immigration as participants struggled to claim the U.S. as home. This research highlighted not only Asian American lives but also the complex transnational political, historical, and economic forces in which they are embedded. Looking at the experiences of Asian Americans (and other ethnic minorities) through the lens of immigration, rather than through generalized notions of culture, is encouraged as a new paradigm for research in psychology.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Social psychology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Cheng, Amy S, "Narratives of second -generation Asian American experience: Legacies of immigration, trauma, and loss" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3179864.