In this episode, Karma Chávez interviews Dr. Carmen R. Valdez about her longitudinal research on mixed-status families.
Dr. Carmen R. Valdez discusses an article she published in the journal, Family Process, which looked at how Mexican immigrant adults and their children reacted emotionally to the events leading to the 2016 election. She explains why studying mixed-status Latino families is important and how their stresses differ from those families in which everyone shares the same immigration or citizenship status. She also insists that while it is important to understand the precarity and stress these families face, it is equally significant to emphasize the ways that these families can continue to thrive.
Resources / Related Links:
Learn more about Carmen Valdez, Ph.D.
Emotional Reactions and Coping of Mexican Mixed-Status Immigrant Families in Anticipation of the 2016 Presidential Election
- Karma R. ChávezBobby and Sherri Patton Professor and Chair in the Department of Mexican American & Latina/o Studies | @queermigrations
Karma Chavez: [00:00:00] Episode 21. How do mixed status families cope with politics, racism, and procarity I’m your host Karma Chavez. And this is Latinxperts. And today as a part of our series, featuring the Latino research Institute, I’m excited to talk with Dr. Carmen R Valdez associate professor of population health, chief of community engagement and health equity, and director of community driven initiatives at the Dell medical school here at UT where she’s also a Latino research Institute.
Well, this is a community-based participatory researcher with a special interest in mental health promotion and intervention with Latin X immigrant families. She’s also interested in understanding the role of social policy, neighborhood, and family factors on immigrant health. Today, we’re going to discuss Dr. Valdez research. Status families or families where some of its members are citizens. Some hold various legal papers and or [00:01:00] others are undocumented. One of these studies published last year in the journal family process looked at how Mexican immigrant adults and their children reacted emotionally to the events leading to the 2016 election.
Some of her other research involves longitudinal explorations of mixed status families, thriving in spite of all the barriers and discrimination they face. And I’m especially excited to talk with her today because we’ve known each other for quite a long time, as we were both on the faculty at the university of Wisconsin, and then we escaped to the sunshine.
So Dr. Carmen Valdez, welcome to LatinXperts.
Carmen Valdez: Thank you. I’m excited to be here and to be here with you, especially.
Karma Chavez: Well, I am thrilled to have this conversation and learn a little bit more about your research, but I want to just start out and I want to ask you, uh, how, how it is you got affiliated with the Latino research Institute and what your relationship is to the Institute.
Carmen Valdez: Yes, [00:02:00] I became affiliated in 2018 when the director of the program, Debra Parra-Medina, invited me to be involved. Especially because my research is focused on population health and in particular about how to increase access to services and to capture the health of Latinos. My role in the Latino research Institute I participate in two different groups.
One is called bridging gaps and it’s focused on interventions and programs for individuals and communities and the other one has a specific focus on COVID. And so some of my research, as many, many of us have had to pivot to look at the impact of COVID on Latin X communities and also potential interventions.
Karma Chavez: And [00:03:00] so you used a term and it’s, I think also built into your title, but I realize some people may not have a clue. So what that is, which is population health. Can you just tell us what that term is?
Carmen Valdez: Yes, absolutely. And that’s a good point. I think most people understand what public health means which, you know, public health looks at policies that affect society at large, such as, for example a smoking ban or wearing a seatbelt. And the impact that has on society at large population health is one step below that.
So we focus not only on large scale policies, but we focus also on specific programs. That can improve the health and drivers of health for specific communities. So we’re not focused on the individual only as might be the case in, you know, if you were a psychologist, which I [00:04:00] am, I’m a psychologist by training, and it’s also not large-scale policy efforts as in public health, but more specific programs and interventions that can help improve people’s lives so that they can thrive and be held.
Karma Chavez: That’s totally helpful. Cause I realized as you were talking, I really didn’t know that. I thought I was just asking that for the audience, but I also didn’t know. So thanks. Uh, for explaining that it’s so moving into this discussion of mixed status families, why is it important to study mixed status Latin X families?
I mean, are there experiences notably different from families who all share a same.
Carmen Valdez: Yes. Their experiences are similar and are different. I think all immigrant families share the hope and the promise of a better future so that children can thrive, do well, advance and experience a type of social mobility that perhaps their parents were not able to experience [00:05:00] in their country of origin.
So all families have that optimism and hope and sense of resilience. However, when you have mixed-status families there are issues within the family, but also from society that can make it more difficult for people to have agency in their lives. And so, for example, you might have in a mixed status family, you might have some individuals who were born in the U S and therefore are us citizens, others who were not in the most typical case.
The parents do not have citizenship. And one of, and in terms of the children maybe one does and another one doesn’t and depending on which one is older, which one is younger, there may be some dynamics within the family that make it more complicated. For example, if an older sibling is undocumented, but a [00:06:00] younger one does have documents because of their citizenship or naturalization, then you might see where the older sibling who developmentally is supposed to be more independent, more autonomous may be more interdependent than the younger sister.
And so that may create a power imbalance within the family, but then also a demoralization of that one sibling who was growing up in a more limited environment than the rest of the family.
Karma Chavez: Hmm, that’s fast. Go ahead.
Carmen Valdez: And the other point is that the it’s not just the individual and the family who is. Undocumented that has impacted it really affects the whole family. I have done interviews, countless interviews with us, born siblings of undocumented children who worry all the [00:07:00] time about their family, whether the family will always be together or not.
And those us born children are also less likely to benefit from programs that they are entitled to because their parents are afraid of exposing other family members.
Karma Chavez: Yeah. So a whole of Ray of things that make this family dynamics super complicated and, uh, totally makes sense why it’s a very unique situation. So this particular study that I want to talk to you about, I guess, I mean, I find it fascinating and I’m interested why you and your colleagues were. Interested in studying how mixed family, mixed status families, collectively and individually dealt with their emotions around the 2016 election.
So I’m interested in why you wanted to do it, but then also, what did you discover?
Carmen Valdez: Yeah. Well, I, I have been conducting a study for [00:08:00] 11 years now. Wow. I actually had to look at the year to see, cause we started in 2010 conducting focus groups in Phoenix, where we were where I was an investigator on a project that focused on schools and families. And so. Arizona passed Senate bill 10 70 in 2010, which was at the time, the most restrictive piece of state legislation, to restrict immigration and also to deport individuals from the state.
So we started hearing from families about what types of work around. They were devising. So instead of dropping off their kids at school, they would have a family member who was a citizen drop off the kids at school. And so I became very interested in how they made meaning of what was happening, which to us is a news story.
But [00:09:00] to them it’s very much personal it’s about their lives and their livelihood. And so I started a project. That followed five families from those original focus groups followed them over the years. I met them in their home, spent numbers of hours talking to them about their lives, about what they thought, what was happening and in 2015 or so, I felt like I had enough data.
Um, you know, what we call saturation enough data to understand the impact of SB 10 70, but then. The 2016 election came up and we started hearing messages from politicians about Mexicans and immigrants as being criminals and pretty much the whole election centered around immigration and who could have the hardest line around immigration.
And so. Families naturally started talking about that, about [00:10:00] who they thought was going to win. What would happen if Trump were to win or if Clinton were to win, what would happen to them personally, but then also to other immigrant families.
Karma Chavez: So. Arizona, I mean is such an interesting context, not just for SB 10 70 of course, but much earlier. I’m thinking about the infamous Chandler raids in the 1990s in Chandler, Arizona. And, and we often think of immigration res as connected with ice. And under the George W. Bush administration, but these things were happening also under Clinton in the 1990s.
And then you can look to 2004, I believe it was with the proposition 200, which was modeled after a California’s proposition, 180 7, both of which are designed to take healthcare. Access to all public services away. Um, and then I think there was one point where in one year there was something like [00:11:00] 147 anti-immigrant bills in the Arizona state legislature, not all of them pass, but they were all introduced.
And so, thinking about that context in a longer form, too, is really interesting and really solidifies why Arizona is so important. But you, weren’t just interested sort of in the negative things, you were also interested in how people thrive. And so I wonder if you could talk about that idea of thriving and how people were thriving, even in these horrible times.
Carmen Valdez: Yeah. Definitely these are families significantly impacted in their day-to-day lives. And it’s really, evident how many of the dreams and hopes that they have to curtail or they have to delay. Many other plans are delayed because of fear so it is definitely the case that policy is intended to restrict people free [00:12:00] movement in society. In that by doing so that they will choose to self deport or leave the state or go back to their country of origin. But what I found is that is often not the case. People stay and they find ways to live their lives in spite of being in a restrictive environment, Just to give you an example.
So when E-Verify was passed, it made it more difficult for employers to hire undocumented immigrants, but it doesn’t mean that people went hungry and didn’t work. It meant that they’ve found different ways of finding employment whether it’s by getting an ID, a non-valid ID or by being paid cash or by creating more demand for their work.
So by standing at a [00:13:00] Walmart parking lot as a day labor, they’re creating more demand for their work or they start their own business. And so people always find ways to continue pursuing their goals and their plans for their personal goals, for their family goals.
And they find ways to do that. And so these young adults who are undocumented and their us born siblings and their parents, they continue to live their lives and they find ways to experience joy, to experience fulfillment, to have access to capital and to create capital that brings them stability.
And that is a very important part of the conversation because often we focus on the negative and the precarity, but we don’t consider how creative people can be in thriving. And [00:14:00] what an amazing lesson to learn about how people are resilient and flexible and how they adapt to difficult, extremely difficult situations to do with.
Karma Chavez: Yeah, I love that. And not to take away from. Any of the impacts, of course, as you’re saying, but just to remind people that, of course people are creative, resilient, and, scrappy. People will figure out their way having all that said the kind of return to the study , thinking about the emotions in the 2016 election.
Yeah. The impacts of SB 10 70, uh, were there different ways between say the siblings with citizenship and the undocumented parents or the undocumented siblings, how, how they were experiencing or dealing with. their emotions around the island?
Carmen Valdez: Yeah. Yes. And so that was a very interesting finding that we had when [00:15:00] we interviewed undocumented parents and siblings, many of them chose to disconnect themselves from. What was being said on the news, what was being reported, what politicians were saying. And we were at first taken aback by that because we felt like they have a skin in the game and that perhaps they would be the opposite that they would be hypervigilant about it or very much attuned to what was happening.
But on the other hand, we found that the us born siblings. We’re much more tuned to what was happening and what we think the process is is that if you’re too close to it, it can literally consume you. And so you choose to not talk about it. You choose to not be connected to it too much. And I think for the us born [00:16:00] siblings who wouldn’t necessarily be impacted personally, although that’s not necessarily the case, because obviously if something happens to your sibling that has a significant impact.
But if you, as a person are not the target. You still worry about what might happen to your family. And so you’re more likely, or in this case, these youth knew a lot more about what was happening. Had more opinions about what was happening than their undocumented siblings, which was very interesting. And I don’t think we should pathologize the fact that the undocumented siblings were more disconnected from what was happening, because I think quite the opposite it’s a way of taking care of oneself. And so we need to explore that a little bit more, but we also need to.
Karma Chavez: Yeah. I mean, I think even, yeah, for those of us in very privileged [00:17:00] positions, especially the last year and a half, but even since 2016, the political environment has taken lots of us away from the news. And so there should be no judgment for folks in very precarious situations. Um, did you happen to follow up the study before or around the 2020 election?
Carmen Valdez: Yes. So we’re still collecting data and definitely have data from the parents and from youth about their perceptions of the 20, 20 election. And I also feel like there’s some fatigue sinking in and people are fatigue and also skepticism, right? Like sometimes people talk about politics as how it affects their lives.
And then they’ll also just grow wary of letting politics intrude in their lives. And so families who spoke about the 20, 20 election were relieved. To say the least, [00:18:00] that many of the policies that seem like we’re being terminated by the Trump administration, like DACA, for example, the deferred action for childhood arrivals that was under threat of termination under the Trump administration.
And so there was relief that now there was the promise of a formalization of that. But at the same time, the social discourse around immigration continues to be very harsh, very negative and restrictive. And so I think what many immigrant mixed status families are seeing us like a rollercoaster of, sometimes it seems that things are going to get better and then it doesn’t, or there’s.
Um, that intervenes and that either helps or hurts what they’re hoping for..
Karma Chavez: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. And I want to just return to something, we all have a few minutes left, but I want to return to something you said earlier, you [00:19:00] used the word consume that the kind of the gravity of it can be, you know, can you one and I was thinking about what are the health implications of this meaning?
Well, one way to ask the question is what could health practitioners or health researchers take from your work? Based on the.
Carmen Valdez: That’s an excellent question. Karma one. The lessons of this work is that the experience of being in a mixed status family can be a very traumatic experience. And the trauma may be actual events such as losing a parent to deportation, but in most cases is anticipating the loss of a family member.
And that is something that happens from they. Not because an infant understands that this can happen, but because they experienced the [00:20:00] uncertainty and the anxiety of other family members from day one, in fact, I’ve often spoken with, adolescents who for one reason or another, or college age, young adults who status has been adjusted, maybe because they were, their family was a victim of a crime.
And so they applied for a UV set, which allowed them to adjust their status. And they say that they will never shake off the experience of being undocumented, but that’s an identity that follows you for the rest of your life. And so I think we need trauma informed services for children and these families, or for families, wheels need family level interventions.
One of the things that we haven’t really talked about here is that often youth don’t know that they are undocumented until. They are in that [00:21:00] transition age until they start applying for college or they get to an age where they can apply to try to secure a driver’s license, open a bank account, because that’s the first time that they need a social security number and parents want to protect their children.
And so they don’t tell them they don’t disclose that they are undocumented until they’re 16, 17, or 18. And so there’s a lot of secrecy in the family. And a lot of unspoken words, even when children do know often families choose not to talk about it because they’re afraid that by talking about it, it will put more of a burden on the child.
And so, just as in a policy, doesn’t need to change for the individual. It needs to change for the whole family, the same intervention are not going to be beneficial for the individual, unless they also include family issues. And then I think another [00:22:00] implication for health, it’s just the type of ambivalence that results from being in a vulnerable and legally vulnerable situation.
So these are children who experienced higher levels of stress, where their sleep may be disturbed. Their appetite might be the served who at an older age may experience cardiovascular disease at higher rates than the rest of the population. So every imaginable impact that we can associate with prolonged and chronic stress is going to affect health
Karma Chavez: well, I don’t mean to leave it on that note. Although I think what you’ve said is very, very valuable for so many people to hear, but we are at the end of our time. So I just want to thank you so much for being here today. Dr. Carmen Valdez.
Carmen Valdez: Thank you, Dr. Karma Chavez.
Karma Chavez: Again, our guest today was Dr. Carmen Valdez, uh, associate professor of population health at Dell [00:23:00] medical. And I’m your host karma Chavis. And this has been LatinXperts