Can Immigrant Women Thrive Under Trump?
Immigrant Women in Trump Land
Thriving — and feeling happy — is a psyche-rooted phenomenon, and for the American immigrant women who make 15 percent of US working-female population, thriving has a special sense. These women need to know they are wanted in our country, and their contributions to America’s well-being and culture — appreciated. This has never been a big issue for women-achievers before this election which exposed broader misogynist, racist, and anti-immigrant sentiments that may continue for a while. Will it prevent new immigrant women from coming to Trump-spirited America? Will this knock resident immigrant women off their course dumping their productivity? Let’s review the situation.
After I read Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive, it hit me instantly: above other motivations, it was a subconscious dream of thriving that brought people to America, for centuries now. Arianna made a case for our need to redefine success — beyond traditional Money + Power, interpreting it as a three-legged stool: money + power + thriving.
Writing a book about American immigrant women made me see things through their specific lens. Indeed, prominent women immigrants manage to achieve money and power. But Arianna’s third metric of success, thriving, is often beyond their reach. Why? Because America is a country where too much work can suck any joy out of life. American work ethic is as unique as America itself, and its number one component has always been “working hard.”
According to Arianna, the three-legged stool will still stand if we follow the principles of Thrive: paying attention to our well-being, ability to draw on intuition, inner wisdom and sense of wonder . But there’s a caveat…
Thriving Depends on Cultural DNA
Taking a closer look at my pool of immigrant women interviewees, I noticed how their cultural DNA affects their attitude toward — and ability of — “letting go” of the work stresses and success-obsessions, and “letting in” the joys of relaxation and well-being. It really depends on a cultural DNA, “a bio-psycho-social-spiritual code that underlies every aspect of our lifestyle and culture and holds it together,” as Dorothy Bonvillain, William McGuire and Rosemary Wilke put it.
Certainly, in some countries/cultures, a “work-to-live” principle dominates: people generally work from nine to five, and then comes their quality time — for family, friends and fun. In other countries/cultures, including the United States, a “live-to-work” principle is king, trumping everything else. For better or for worse, research shows that the latter attitude has saturated the American psyche since the settlers/pioneers, whose very survival depended on their hard work and passion for success. Handed down for generations, this hard-work mentality may have morphed — with many individuals — into pragmatism, materialism and money-plus-power pursuits that followed a separate path from the “pursuit of happiness” we are entitled to by our Constitution. Since cultural information can be genetically encoded, it became part of American cultural DNA. And this is what Thrive is trying to improve.
Indeed, all of my immigrant interviewees noted that American work ethic is stellar. Clearly, people who immigrate and succeed are workaholics by design anyway, regardless of culture, so they fit in on that dimension. But, given the intensity of immigrant lives, are they ever able to reach a “thrive-time”? Here’s one positive example.
One Who Thrives: June Sevilla, from the Philippines
June immigrated to the US as a young engineer seeking professional opportunities. Lucky to find employment, this self-starter made it to senior engineer managerial positions at the time when women leaders were uncommon at high-tech companies like AT&T and Bell Atlantic — where managing the all-male team of design engineers took a lot of her uncommon creativity.
Where did her skills come from? Well, June was drawing from her cultural DNA and personal resources:
1. The Philippine culture is unique in its matriarchal tradition — so its women are less deterred by male dominance than other Asians.
2. This culture experienced a prolonged U.S.-American influence — so English is learned at school, and people are no strangers to American work ethic.
3. June’s naturally thriving personality led her to: become a national Philippine beauty queen at 19, seek involvement in the arts in parallel with her tough corporate workload; take up TV movie supporting roles after she semi-retired; enjoy swimming with the dolphins and travel to special destinations, like Scotland; pose for magazines as a model (representing different ethnicities) — and enjoying her life! Is this thriving, or what?
June’s story tells us that all three metrics of success are achievable for talented immigrants — and women like her are unlikely to be stranded in Trump land.
To make it in America, both immigrants and native-born women have more hoops to jump through than men — and they will continue to reach their goals, regardless of who’s on top. It may become harder, but their respective cultural DNAs will spice up and fine-tune their tenacious actions, to include stopping and smelling the roses. That’s my best answer. What’s yours?
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on April 2, 2014.