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Second generation Arab Americans: do parents’ pre-migration traumas influence ethnic identity, acculturation, and emotional distress?

1 January 2014


The Arab world has been plagued by political conflict and war for generations. Often, where there is war and conflict, the human experience of trauma and suffering and the consequences on further generations are overshadowed by the national responses and political involvement. This study examined the correlation between parents’ pre-migration traumas and second generation Arab Americans’ acculturation strategy, degree of ethnic identity, and emotional distress. The participants were 132 second generation Arab Americans who were born in the United States, had two immigrant parents from Arab countries, and were over 18 years of age. The majority of participants (68.2%) reported knowledge of their parents experiencing at least one type of traumatic event prior to migrating to the U.S.; the mean number of traumas by those who had knowledge of parental trauma was 4.7. The majority of participants (62.9%) were found to use the integrated acculturation strategy, and no significant differences were found in acculturation strategy between Arab American Christians and Muslims. The majority of participants in the study demonstrated a moderately high level of ethnic identity. The main hypothesis in the study was that correlations would be present between parental pre-migration trauma and the participant’s acculturation, ethnic identity, and emotional distress. None of these correlations were found to be statistically significant, though qualitative information gathered by participants indicated that their parent’s traumatic experiences were meaningful to their identity development and worldview, suggesting that the transmission of trauma among Arabs might manifest in ways that were not measured in this study. A discussion of the results as well as implications of the findings, limitations of the study, future research recommendations are discussed.


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