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The Immigrant Advantage: What Rest of America can learn from the fresh Immigrants’ cultures for Longer and Happier lives

US is an immigrant nation.  Although lately there has been xenophobia towards Hispanics specifically from the religious and political right.  Here is an interesting conversation which takes a peek into the lives of immigrants and see what can be learnt from these cultures. Journalist Claudia Kolker has written a book titled “The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness and Hope“, which explores this topic in detail and she is the guest here.

Her all important question to the immigrants which provided her useful insights was:

What is the smartest thing that you or others did in your home country that you would like to continue here?

Something from Mexico (and strikingly it is EXACTLY what was – and still is in most traditional Indian homes – there in India as well!):  Until 40 days after delivery, the mothers are “quarantined” by taking care of her emotional and physical needs. She doesn’t touches a broom or a cleaning cloth.

May have a bearing and impact on the post-partum depression. Not tested or confirmed scientifically, but the post-partum depression is much lesser in these cultures.

What struck me is the length of time – 40 days – used in Mexican culture.  Because 40 days in the Hindu traditions come from the insight that a Mandala is roughly 40 days – time that it takes for a body to fully imbibe a certain energy into it.  It is used extensively in Yogic Sadhana as well as by the Ayurveda treatments.

Here are the 7 lessons that she culled out from her analysis of the immigrant cultures.

1. How to Save:
When penniless Vietnamese refugees poured into this country after the fall of Saigon, they often astounded other Americans by launching successful businesses almost at once. They did it with “friendship loans”: savings pooled at monthly gatherings of a dozen or more friends, each solemnly committed to bringing a set sum at each meeting, no matter what. Each friend knows that one time in the cycle, she’ll get to bring home the whole pool of thousands of dollars, no strings attached, for herself. The one obligation is you must keep paying monthly until everyone’s gotten a turn. Default even once and lose your friends and reputation forever.

2. How to Mother a Mother:
Though it’s hard to believe, babies of Mexican immigrants average lower infant mortality in the first day, week and month of life than those of non-Hispanic white women. Back in rural villages, Mexican mothers even seem to avoid postpartum depression, suffered by up to 15 percent of mothers in the United States. What are they doing right? One answer is the “cuarentena” — 40 days of absolutely mandatory pampering for new mothers. In the first six weeks after a baby’s birth, the entire family and community work together to make sure the mother does nothing but rest, relax, eat well and get to know her baby. She’s not allowed to even touch a broom or a dishcloth. The result: a healthy, peaceful mother and, perhaps, a more resilient baby.

3. How to Eat:
The only thing harder than getting a hot meal on the table after work is ignoring all the statistics correlating family dinners with health, good behavior and school success. The pressure is even higher for many Vietnamese, raised to believe that family meals must also have several courses and be fresh — nothing frozen or canned. So they invented “monthly rice,” an incredibly low-cost subscription service for home-made dinners. Talented cooks/entrepreneurs from Houston to California cook ultra-fresh, mouth-watering meals from simple ingredients — and are paid by monthly subscription, like a newspaper. A four-course meal for four? Roughly $10.

4. How to Learn:
While there’s great variety in the lives of Asian immigrants, students of Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese parents really do average better grades in public school. It has nothing to do with luck. Asians come here from cultures where learning how school systems work — and then mastering them — is essential for advancing in life. So many bring an amazing toolbox of skills, including “hagwons” — supplementary classes, often led by an older student, to make a child familiar with new skills before her teacher presents it in class. That extra shot of one-on-one teaching, motivated peers, plus confidence can give a public school education the oomph of private school.

5. How to Court:
It’s a jungle out there. And while many U.S.-born children of Indians and South Asians don’t want arranged marriages, by the time they’re in the late 20s and 30s, like many other Americans, they’re tired of dating. And their parents are happy to help. Thanks to the widespread practice of “assisted marriage,” parents and close friends put the word out, circulate “biodata” (bare-bones resumes, never too revealing) and most importantly, screen for cads and nutcases. The singles get to choose which candidates they meet and see for themselves if there’s chemistry.

6. How to Be a Good Neighbor:
The Little Village barrio in Chicago is poor, largely Hispanic and mostly first- or second-generation. Astonishingly, it’s also got one of the city’s lowest asthma rates — five percent, compared to the average 19-22.2 percent in white and black neighborhoods. Not only that, far more Little Village residents survived a fatal citywide heat wave than residents in the neighborhood just next door. The barrio even has less crime than expected for its income level. The secret? Research shows it may partly be the barrio’s old-fashioned street culture. Hanging out on the stoop or walking to stores creates a mix of socializing and vigilance that seems to have health-enhancing effects for the whole neighborhood.

7. How to Shelter:
Jamaicans and other Caribbean immigrants come here with more economic advantages than other immigrants — easier access to visas, higher educational levels, fluent English. So why do so many live with parents well into their 40s? They do it because it makes their lives better. Intergenerational homes boost income so families can live in better neighborhoods with higher-quality schools. They allow young adults to save their money for advanced degrees or cash deposits on houses and surround growing children with more cognition-boosting adult attention. Oh, and they enjoy each other, too. As one Jamaican woman said, “Turning 18 doesn’t mean you have to fall out of love with your parents.”

Another interesting question is if the Americans are really learning the ways of the immigrants that benefit them?

Watch What Immigrants Can Teach the Rest of America on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

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