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Dismantling anti-Latinx immigration rhetoric

Neuropsychologist Hector Y. Adames, Psy.D., and Clinical Psychologist Nayeli Y. Chavez-Dueñas, Ph.D., founded the Immigration, Critical Race, And Cultural Equity (IC-RACE) Lab together at The Chicago School to conduct research and mentor graduate students on scholarship focusing on culture, race, and immigration.



In this guest column, they explore how IC-RACE Lab is using its research to combat anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The U.S. has a long history of diverse people settling on its lands, from native residents to European colonizers to immigrants coming from all over the world. Today, the U.S. is considered to be one of the most multiracial, multiethnic, and multilingual countries on the planet.

Currently, more than 58 million people of Latinx* descent reside here, making this group the largest ethnic minority group in the U.S. Scholars have posited that each new ethnic group that has immigrated to the U.S. has faced more hostility than their predecessors. Unfortunately, discrimination and hostility against new immigrants perceived to be different from the dominant group is not a new phenomenon. While social change has taken place, injustice, xenophobia, homophobia, racial oppression, and the like continue to plague the lives of minoritized communities.

In the past two years, this type of anti-immigrant rhetoric has been notably negative toward the Latinx immigrant community. For instance, undocumented Latinx individuals live in constant fear of being torn away from their children while thousands are held in crowded for-profit detention centers where they are not provided enough food for the unpardonable crime of seeking a better life in the U.S. The recent decision to eliminate Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is another example of leaving Latinx youth in fear and elevating stress from something they had no control over.

Professionals in the field of psychology are uniquely positioned to work toward ending social diseases (e.g., racism, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, nativism) that negatively affect Latinx immigrant communities. We are granted with a deep and spiritual privilege: permission to bear witness to the pain, resiliency, determination, and strength of our clients. If nothing changes, the old wounds that have been reopened recently will become protagonists of many of our sessions, where our clients and students will share stories of pain, trauma, family separation, helplessness, and hopelessness.

We can use our clinical and research skills to challenge inequity and anti-immigrant sentiment that have boiled over in recent years.

The Immigration, Critical Race, And Cultural Equity (IC-RACE) Lab, co-directed and co-founded by us—two TCSPP Counseling Psychology associate professors—is a primary example of how faculty, students, and alumni are engaging in scholarship that benefits Latinx immigrants as well as other oppressed communities.

In our initial connection six years ago (due to a shared interest in topics related to race, racial inequality, multiculturalism, and immigration), we made the decision to mentor TCSPP students and alumni through a variety of research projects focusing on social justice. Of the two to three conferences that IC-RACE Lab attends each year, an annual event that we regularly attend is the Winter Roundtable Conference—the longest-running professional education program in the U.S. devoted to cultural topics in psychology—at Columbia University Teachers College in New York City.

One of our most recent studies titled “Immigration Photo Narratives: #UndocumentedUnafraid and #Not1More, A Pilot Study” examined messages related to immigration. We studied resilience expressed on social media, and discussed the implications that such messages have on training and clinical practice.

The tragedy that unfolded in Charlottesville, Va., and the rescinding of DACA propelled us to create and publish two toolkits. “Surviving and Resisting Hate: A Toolkit For People of Color” addresses the mental health needs of people of color, and “Defending DACA: A Toolkit for DREAMers” does the same for Latinx and other undocumented immigrant youth.

In our most recent book, Cultural Foundations and Interventions in Latino/a Mental Health: History, Theory, and Within Group Differences, we also have a chapter where students from the Department of Counseling Psychology at TCSPP author essays describing the personal and professional growth that they have experienced as members of the IC-RACE Lab. The essays were written by a multiracial, multiethnic, and multilingual group including graduate students who identify as African-American, Latinx, South Asian, and European-American.

By participating and engaging in scholarship such as the work produced by the IC-RACE Lab, our collective voices of resistance can permeate the halls of the academy, the sessions at conferences, the leadership of professional associations, and the pages of academic journals and books.

As scholars, we can conduct and publish science that demonstrates the harming effects of xenophobia and nativism, family separation, and immigration detention, create and evaluate treatments that celebrate and affirm the humanity of Latinx immigrant communities, and examine the pathology of social exclusion, inequity, and prejudice. As educators, we can train our students to become social justice warriors. Together, we can fight for the dignity and honor taken from children, youth, families, and communities who have been discriminated against.


* To include the broad range of gender identities present among individuals of Latin American descent, the term Latinx is used.

Dr. Hector Y. Adames

Dr. Hector Adames currently holds an academic appointment as Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, where he teaches graduate courses in assessment, psychopathology, psychopharmacology, and research methods.

Dr. Nayeli Y. Chavez-Duenas

Nayeli Y. Chavez-Duenas is currently the lead for the Latino/a Mental Health Concentration. In addition to her current academic and clinical responsibilities, Dr. Chavez's research and scholarly work includes: Race and racial relations, barriers to mental health service provision of Latino/a clients, culturally based teaching approaches, and implicit racial/ethnic bias.


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