My own immigration experience gave me a front row seat as to how an integrated community can be part of a strong set of PVE tools. As a young child, traveling from Pakistan to Iran to Germany, before settling in the United States offered a rich set of experiences that in later years insulated me against identity conflicts that many of my peers suffered.
My experiences allowed me to blossom as an individual who could ask powerful questions and create space for critical dialogues without feeling like I would become triggered.
The four steps below offer a cursory look at those experiences that “nested” in each other, creating a holistic journey that made it much easier to stay far way from the fringe ideologies that act as a conveyor belt to extremism.
The basic hierarchy of needs for all human beings means that everyday survival comes before loftier intangible privileges and luxuries. In other words, things like food, water, shelter and security are a much bigger priority for families over more noble pursuits like self-realization.
This is particularly true for immigrant families. It’s also true for multigenerational American families who (typically due to abusive environments or economic instability) also struggle to secure basic needs.
Before any family can consider deeper conversations, these basic needs must be met. Being there for a family in this capacity is key. Being there for them as a source of support in whatever capacity is possible can also set up trust and bonds needed for the next steps.
Mother to Mother
Every mother wants to protect her child and family. However, often mothers from ethnic communities face cultural opposition where they are not the sole source of power in their home.
In strongly knit families, power structures often include the outer family unit and a crisscross between matriarchal and patriarchal powers. For example, a mother alone may not have the final say in her family. Before her there could be her husband, as well as a father-in-law, mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law and any other person in a position of cultural seniority over the mother.
This means not only is the voice of the mother diminished, but that mixed signals are given to the the child as to who is the real authority in a family.
For outsiders such as neighbors looking to help a family feel welcome and empowered, it’s going to be key to:
(1) be patient with what can/can’t be said by a mother in these environments of dense family politics and drama,
(2) help reinforce a mother’s authority in a family by recognizing and deferring to her in extended family settings; and
(3) be a source of support by lending an ear to these incredible women who at the end of the day want the same thing as any other mother in America.
The Power of Play
Short of destroying the “conveyor belt of extremism,” the next best thing is to prevent a child from even getting on it. This is where the power of play comes in.
Developing rich, grounded friendships with peers (and with their families) can go a long way toward making a child feel included and welcomed — all the more so if they’re new to a community.
While immigrant families will especially worry about their children assimilating to a new culture (and forgetting their own inherited culture), the focus here is acculturation: taking one’s identity and building new pieces to it (without necessarily compromising or eradicating the old one).
Alienation is almost always a primer to embracing extremism. Acculturation through play and the friendships that come from that, goes a long way in preventing feelings of alienation.
As children get older, typically between the ages of 10-16, they are more vulnerable/open to authority figures outside of their parents. In fact, they will flock to individuals who lend a sympathetic and patient ear. If you think your child doesn’t have a confidant, the chances are they do, and you just don’t know who they are.
For neighbors and community leaders looking to help protect a family or its children from falling into the trap of extremist indoctrination, becoming a confidant is key to developing rapport systems that can protect vulnerable youth. Mentorship programs, such as Big Brothers or Big Sisters, are a good avenue to help families struggling to build an outer support network.