Study finds host cultures change with exposure to immigrants

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January 30, 2009

Culture shock doesn’t just affect immigrants; the local hosts are greatly influenced by interactions with newcomers as well. A new study co-authored by a Northeastern University researcher looked at the personal networks of immigrants and local citizens living in Seville and Cadiz, Spain and in Boston to find out how the host community is being acculturated by their exposure to immigrants in both countries, and found that the exposure to the different cultures has a profound impact on the values, attitudes, language, behavior and interpersonal relationships of the locals.

“There has been significant research conducted on the changes experienced by immigrants, but little is known about the changes experienced by host individuals,” said Dominguez, assistant professor of sociology at Northeastern University and co-author of the study. “We focused on the role of the host citizens in the networks of relationships with the immigrant populations. We also studied the changes experienced by host individuals because of their continuous contact with immigrants.”

The two-part study published in the “American Journal of Community Psychology,” first compared the personal networks of compatriots in Seville and Cadiz, Spain to those of the host individuals interacting with immigrants from Argentina, Ecuador, Italy and Germany. The researchers found that host individuals tend to have less centrality than compatriots, showing an overall secondary role within the personal networks of immigrants.

The second half of the study was conducted in Boston and examined personal networks of the local citizens, specifically those who provide help and services to the Latino community. The objective was to analyze the impact of the continuous contact between communities. The study found that the impact of the Latino population on the host population varied according to the amount of time the groups spent together. The researchers found that Latin-American immigrants enriched and energized the lives of the representatives of the dominant culture and as such, point out the possibility that immigrants could be a resource to other host communities.

“Such interventions would constitute an example of fostering diversity as a mechanism to address social problems,” added Dominguez.

Dominguez and her co-author also found that the level of change in acculturation over time corresponds to the level of exposure. They distinguished between “residents” (they have the same access to the same resources as immigrants with whom they interact with every day), “travelers” (they belong to a more dissimilar social niche and can eventually contribute resources to immigrants), and “frontier brokers” (they act as a bridge and channel resources between both communities), and found that the typology reflects the degree of acculturation found in the research. 

The researchers conclude that the impact of immigrants on the host culture seen in this two-part study could also hold true in other societies where cultures live together, and is an example of how support for diversity can become a mechanism for confronting social problems.

“Cultural diversity leads to opportunity,” said Dominguez. “Intercultural communities have the ability to collaborate creatively and work together to innovatively solve problems.”

For more information, please contact Samantha Fodrowski at 617-373-5427 or at s.fodrowski@neu.edu.

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