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Immigrant Workers and Meanings of Work

Communicating Life and Career Transitions

Edited By Suchitra Shenoy-Packer and Elena Gabor

This first-of-its-kind book uniquely captures the meanings of work expressed by immigrants. Their stories – from work histories to life transitions and professional journeys – are conscientiously and rigorously mapped by the academic insights of communication scholars, many of whom are immigrants themselves.
Immigrant workers’ narratives of work and its nuances in an adopted country offer many hitherto muted, invisible, and/or purposely silenced perspectives. A variety of new and familiar terms – concepts such as career inheritance, aphorisms, cultural adaptation, acculturation, and cultural distance – and culture-specific terms such as ganas and consejos are discussed alongside the inherent struggles of identity construction across borders.
While the contributors represent diversity in co-cultural affiliations, national origin, and immigration experiences encountered both personally and professionally, the stories of immigrants represent an even larger number of countries and cultures.
This volume compels the academic community to acknowledge immigrants as workers whose voices matter and whose sense and processes of meaning-making is nuanced, complex, and multi-dimensional. Immigrant workers’ voices can contribute significantly to the rich growth of research in organizational communication, meanings of work, career studies, cross-cultural management, psychology of work, and work and society.

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Chapter Nine: Meanings of Work and Emotions of Immigrant Women Engineers in the United States (Elena Gabor)

Extract

c h a p t e r n i n e I think this [taking advantage of visa rules] is a strategy at [name of company]. This is their business model, clearly. It’s like someone sticks his fist in your mouth and you can’t scream. —Romanian engineer Immigration is a major disruption in a person’s life and can cause tremendous emotional upheaval. Ben-Sira (1997), Berger (2004), and Daniel (2006) have characterized immigration as a veritable life crisis, fraught with difficult emotional aspects: “It shakes up physical, social, financial, legal, and emotional being and self-definition.… Immigrants are also challenged in their understanding of new cultural norms, social clues, acceptable behavior patterns, the ability to adequately perceive reality and the context for interpreting it” (Berger, p. 6). Immigration is not a single event, but a lifelong, multifaceted and never-ending process involving three phases: departure, transition, and resettlement. The departure phase involves two kinds of factors: push factors make one decide to go away from the culture of origin, and pull factors attract one towards the culture of relocation. The transi- tion phase can last up to a few weeks or months (e.g., staying with friends before finding a place to settle); the resettlement phase can last years and even a lifetime. Immigrants not only struggle to find work and recreate a sense of worth and mas- tery, but they also become more aware of the permanence of the changes brought about by immigration. Perhaps most relevant for this chapter, immigration brings with...

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