Media uses in immigrant families: Torn between “inward” and “outward” paths of integration

Media uses in immigrant families: Torn between “inward” and “outward” paths of integration

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Transcript Gazette International Communication DOI: 10.1177/1748048507084576 2008; 70; 21 International Communication Gazette  Nelly Elias and Dafna Lemish Paths of IntegrationMedia Uses in Immigrant Families: Torn between 'Inward' and 'Outward'   The online version of this article can be found at:   Published by:   can be found at: International Communication Gazette Additional services and information for Email Alerts: Subscriptions: Reprints: Permissions: Journals Online and HighWire Press platforms): (this article cites 20 articles hosted on the Citations    © 2008 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.  at Tel Aviv University on March 6, 2008 http://gaz.sagepub.comDownloaded from   MEDIA USES IN IMMIGRANT FAMILIES Torn between ‘Inward’ and ‘Outward’ Paths of Integration Nelly Elias and Dafna Lemish Abstract  / This study examines the roles of the different media – those in the host language, thosein the mother tongue and those of the global media – in the lives of immigrant children andadolescents from the former Soviet Union in Israel, at a time when they are coping with complexand unique personal and social challenges as a result of the immigration process and the need tosolidify a new identity. In addition, the study looks at the parents’ role in their children’s mediachoices and the roles fulfilled by the media in immigrant family conflicts and in bridging inter-generational gaps. Keywords  / family conflicts / former Soviet Union / identity / immigrant children and adolescents / immigrants’ integration / Israel / media uses / Russians Introduction Immigration and settling down in a new society can be one of the most dynamicand complex processes in an individual’s life. Personal and cultural changes areenmeshed in continuous processes of discovery, upheaval and crisis. In doing so,immigrants attempt to maintain and to continue their srcinal identity amid a cultur-ally bifurcated life. Furthermore, most immigrants must cope with changes in theirpersonal lives as well as those of family members, and especially their children. Inthe case of the latter, the ‘natural’ intergenerational gap becomes convoluted witha differential pace of cultural integration of youth and adults in the new society.Accordingly, parents as well as children are not only involved in ‘outward’ integra-tion, i.e. social and cultural adaptation to the host society, but also ‘inward’ inte-gration – efforts to preserve internal family unity and shared cultural heritage thatis shattered due to immigration.According to the research literature, the mass media in the host language areamong the most significant forms of assistance to immigrants in their adjusting tonew surroundings. However, it appears that such a role is not unequivocal as onoccasion they function as competitive and/or complementary forms of assistance(Riggins, 1992; Subervi-Velez, 1986). On the one hand, studies have found thatexposure to mass media in the host language performs an important role in theimmigrants’ learning about and integrating into the host society. Indeed, it has been The International Communication GazetteCOPYRIGHT © SAGE PUBLICATIONS 2008LOS ANGELES, LONDON, NEW DELHI AND SINGAPORE 1748-0485 VOL. 70(1): 21–40DOI: 10.1177/1748048507084576    © 2008 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.  at Tel Aviv University on March 6, 2008 http://gaz.sagepub.comDownloaded from   found that immigrants who are the ‘heaviest’ consumers of media in the hostlanguage tend to adapt with greater ease (Becker, 1998; Johnson, 1996; Lee andTse, 1994; Stilling, 1997). On the other hand, the host media also shape and spreadnegative stereotypes of immigrants, while exposure to them causes feelings ofalienation among immigrants towards the host society and fosters their social segre-gation (Elias, forthcoming; Keshishian, 2000; Lemish, 2000).Similarly, media in the immigrants’ mother tongue serve a double role. On theone hand, they are a means of learning about the new society and about ways toadapt to it (Hwang and He, 1999; Viswanath and Arora, 2000; Walker, 1999). Atthe same time, they also preserve the immigrants’ cultural heritage and strengthenthe sense of intra-group solidarity (Lee and Tse, 1994; Lum, 1991; Zilberg andLeshem, 1996). Furthermore, in the era of globalization, new communication tech-nologies enable immigrant communities dispersed throughout the world to maintainongoing contact with their country of srcin and with their co-ethnics abroad (Eliasand Zeltser-Shorer, 2006). Accordingly, it may be claimed that the global media areone of the central factors shaping and developing transnational communities indifferent diasporas.However, it is important to note that all these studies dealt with the place ofthe mass media in the lives of adult immigrants; immigrant children and youth werenot included in these studies. Such an oversight is especially surprising given thefact that young immigrants are deeply involved in social and personal changes andmust cope with complex intergenerational tensions. In addition, among the fewstudies that have dealt with the role of the mass media in the lives of immigrantchildren, there is nearly a total absence of attention to the role of the parents inshaping their children’s media preferences and the role of the media in the immi-grant family unit as a whole.One of the few studies undertaken focused on immigrant children and theirmedia uses by comparing patterns of television viewing among immigrant and localsix- to 12-year-old children in the US (Zohoori, 1988). The study found that tele-vision was an important resource for education and information on the new societyfor the young immigrants. Moreover, during the first years of their settling down,while the immigrant children especially suffered from social isolation and depriva-tion in terms of connections with native-born children, television characters fulfilledthe role of ‘substitute Americans’ with whom they had their first social encountersand with whom they made the easiest, even if not direct, connections.Additionally, we find suggestions in the research literature that television pro-grammes in the majority language make it easier for immigrant children to learn asecond language (Blosser, 1988; Lemish, 2007). In this regard, it is important to notethat immigrant children must adapt to society and to the new linguistic environ-ment in a situation in which their parents, who are themselves immigrants, are inan inferior position to their children and unable to assist them. Therefore, the massmedia broadcasts of the linguistic majority become a means of learning a languagein addition to being a primary resource of information about the new society, itscustoms and norms.In addition, the limited literature in the area of native-language media andimmigrant children shows that young immigrants often oppose parental attempts 22 THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNICATION GAZETTE VOL. 70 NO. 1    © 2008 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.  at Tel Aviv University on March 6, 2008 http://gaz.sagepub.comDownloaded from   to interest them in television programmes whose srcins are in their former home-land. It appears that what the immigrant parents use in order to maintain theirchildren’s srcinal identity is often perceived by the children as an obstacle to theirown complete integration into the host society. Yet, many of immigrant children doparticipate in what is called ‘Sunday culture’ when they join their parents inwatching special television programmes, whose srcins are in their home country,in order to preserve the sense of family ‘unity’ (Lemish et al., 1998).In this regard, Hargreaves and Mahdjoub’s (1997) study conducted among twogenerations of immigrant families from Arab countries to France found that instal-lation of a satellite dish made possible reception of channels from native countries,which provided them with an opportunity for multigenerational viewing together.This was particularly appealing given the fact that these programmes were lessaudacious than those broadcast on the French television with regard to sexualmatters. Furthermore, many of the second-generation respondents expressed greaterinterest in events that were taking place in their native country following installa-tion of the satellite dish. Yet, in the case of other families, the satellite dish led toan escalation in the level of family disputes related to viewing preferences. A numberof the respondents who belonged to the second generation even admitted that theycovertly repositioned the satellite dish in order to receive more of the French stationsthey preferred over those from their native country preferred by their parents.Yet, it should be noted that a few studies conducted to date on media and immi-grantchildren (see also Durham, 2004; Mayer, 2003) have focused on the roles ofa single medium (usually television) and only then in a partial manner, as they limitedthemselves to examination of particular programmes (those srcinated in the hostcountry or those imported from the former homeland). As a result, these studiesneglected the various roles fulfilled by different media – in the host language, inthe mother tongue and the international media – in the multidimensional processof young immigrants’ adjustment to a new society alongside preservation of theirsrcinal identity. Furthermore, most of the previous research has not dealt with theplace of the mass media in the totality of the immigrant family life nor with parents’role in shaping their children’s media preferences.This having been noted, a partial glimpse of the media arrangements in immi-grant families has been provided by an ongoing international research project thatinvestigated how refugee and migrant children in different European countries repre-sent and express their experiences of migration through media production andconsumption (de Block et al., 2005). Even though the project’s main focus was onimmigrant children’s media activities that took place in special groups that met solelyfor the purpose of the study, the findings offer important insights into the rolesfulfilled by the media in immigrant families. Two main media roles are cited by thestudy: cultural preservation and relieving feelings of nostalgia, alongside being atool that stimulated the children’s cultural adaptation. It appears, therefore, thatmedia were perceived and applied by immigrant families as means of retaining aswell as breaking srcinal cultural links (Christopoulou and de Leeuw, 2004).Moreover, the research revealed that immigrant parents played a major role inshaping their children’s media preferences. In general, most of the parents aimedto control the media consumption patterns of their children due to the supposed ELIAS AND LEMISH: MEDIA USES IN IMMIGRANT FAMILIES 23    © 2008 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.  at Tel Aviv University on March 6, 2008 http://gaz.sagepub.comDownloaded from   negative influence of media. Yet, at the same time, parents belonging to differentethnic groups differed according to their motivation to maintain their children’saffiliation with the culture of srcin versus their attempts to facilitate their children’sincorporation into the receiving culture. Thus, on the one hand, many immigrantfamilies recreated a familiar cultural atmosphere by intensive viewing of channelswith satellite broadcasts from their homeland; while, on the other hand, othersavoided installation of a satellite dish so as not to interrupt their children’s host-language acquisition (Christopoulou and de Leeuw, 2004).Accordingly, the case study reported here of immigrants from the former SovietUnion (FSU) who had immigrated to Israel over the last 15 years presents a thoroughinvestigation of immigrant children and adolescents’ media uses and the role of theparents in this process. In so doing, the study focused on the media arrangementsof immigrant families, while distinguishing between the roles of host, Russian and‘global’ media as they are involved in two parallel processes: ‘inward’ integration(i.e. uses of the media to strengthen internal family unity and to maintain a sharedcultural heritage); and ‘outward’ integration (i.e. uses made of the media to facili-tate immigrant children’s integration into the host society and into the local youthculture). In doing so, the research aims were to illuminate the immigrant family asa unit of analysis, while focusing on the roles of the parents in shaping the mediapreferences of their children, as well as the roles of the media in intergenerationalcultural transmission and conflicts. The Media and the Immigrants: The Case of Israel During the 1990s, Israel was swamped by a huge wave of immigration from theFSU that comprised approximately 1 million men and women, nearly a fifth of thecountry’s population. As a result of the arrival of such a multitude of immigrants,Israeli society was witness to the extensive blossoming of Russian-language news-papers and magazines and a variety of electronic media, including channels broad-cast from the FSU through cable and satellite subscriptions, as well as an Israelitelevision channel and several radio stations in the Russian language (Adoni et al.,2006; Caspi et al., 2002).The existence of such a rich supply of print and electronic media in the immi-grants’ native language has had a number of meaningful consequences. The researchliterature reveals that FSU immigrants are, on the one hand, ‘heavy’ consumers ofRussian-language media; while, on the other hand, there is very limited consump-tion of Hebrew-language media. Nearly 80 percent of the adult immigrants areregular viewers of Russian-language channels, while only 25 percent regularly viewchannels in Hebrew (Al-Haj and Leshem, 2000). Similarly, approximately 70 percentof the adult immigrants tend to read one of the Russian-language newspapers atleast once a month, while only 30 percent reported that they read one of the news-papers in Hebrew at least once a month (Mutagim, 2003).While patterns of FSU immigrants’ media usage (Adoni et al., 2006; Al-Haj andLeshem, 2000) and the roles of the mass media in the process of adult immigrants’integration (Elias, forthcoming) have been studied extensively, very little is known 24 THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNICATION GAZETTE VOL. 70 NO. 1    © 2008 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.  at Tel Aviv University on March 6, 2008 http://gaz.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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