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Women Immigrants Key to Family Unity

New America Media, News Report, Viji Sundaram Posted: Jun 08, 2009

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Women immigrants must overcome formidable barriers when they first come to the United States, but their determination to hold their families together helps them overcome many of those obstacles.

Those are among the findings of a recent New America Media-commissioned national survey that pollster Sergio Bendixen shared with a tightly packed gathering here at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on June 5 at a forum, "Women in Ethnic Media Breakfast: Women Changing the Face of Immigration and Journalism."

NAM chief of staff Odette Keeley, who immigrated from the Philippines nine years ago, said women are redefining themselves both in the home and the workplace.

Meredith Greene Megaw, communications director at the Committee to Protect Journalists, a press freedom advocacy group, talked about her organization's efforts to shine the spotlight on the two North Korean journalists and the Iranian American journalist, Roxanna Saberi, all of whom were arrested while in pursuit of stories.

The threats to women journalists are not much different than those faced by their male counterparts, Megaw noted, except that women journalists also face cultural taboos, as well as the danger of being sexually assaulted and threatened.

Those risks have forced many of them to switch to other forms of media like the radio and the Internet, where they can maintain some amount of anonymity while still practicing their trade, Megaw said.

Bendixen said that one of the greatest challenges new immigrant women initially face is language. It is even more challenging if they come from a certain socio-economic status. Many have little or no access to health care. And to top it all, most of them face gender discrimination.

"But within 10 to 15 years after they come to United States, women shed their submissiveness," become more assertive and take on a new role: family stewardship, Bendixen said. "Keeping their families together is their number one goal," and they will do whatever it takes to ensure that.

One of the first things they do in their new role in their family is to urge their spouses to seek citizenship.

"What could be more American than that?" Bendixen said.

Women who were forced to leave their children behind in their homeland when they migrated to the United States generally succeed in bringing their children over within five years, the poll shows. Those who face deportation, take their children back with them.

Of the 90 percent of the women immigrants interviewed, 30 percent were undocumented. Nearly all the women interviewed said that their families were intact, their husbands live with them and their children were either born here, or live with them in the United States.

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