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More than culture: Structural racism, intersectionality theory, and immigrant health


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  • Viruell-Fuentes, Edna A.
  • Miranda, Patricia Y.
  • Abdulrahim, Sawsan
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    Explanations for immigrant health outcomes often invoke culture through the use of the concept of acculturation. The over reliance on cultural explanations for immigrant health outcomes has been the topic of growing debate, with the critics’ main concern being that such explanations obscure the impact of structural factors on immigrant health disparities. In this paper, we highlight the shortcomings of cultural explanations as currently employed in the health literature, and argue for a shift from individual culture-based frameworks, to perspectives that address how multiple dimensions of inequality intersect to impact health outcomes. Based on our review of the literature, we suggest specific lines of inquiry regarding immigrants’ experiences with day-to-day discrimination, as well as on the roles that place and immigration policies play in shaping immigrant health outcomes. The paper concludes with suggestions for integrating intersectionality theory in future research on immigrant health.

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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Social Science & Medicine.

    Volume (Year): 75 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 12 ()
    Pages: 2099-2106

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:12:p:2099-2106

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    Keywords: USA; Immigrant health; Acculturation; Discrimination; Racialization processes; Racism; Intersectionality theory; Immigration policies;


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    1. Rosenthal, Lisa & Lobel, Marci, 2011. "Explaining racial disparities in adverse birth outcomes: Unique sources of stress for Black American women," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 72(6), pages 977-983, March.
    2. Abdulrahim, Sawsan & Baker, Wayne, 2009. "Differences in self-rated health by immigrant status and language preference among Arab Americans in the Detroit Metropolitan Area," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 68(12), pages 2097-2103, June.
    3. Carter-Pokras, Olivia & Bethune, Lisa, 2009. "Defining and measuring acculturation: A systematic review of public health studies with hispanic populations in the united states. A commentary on Thomson and Hoffman-Goetz," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 69(7), pages 992-995, October.
    4. Diane Lauderdale, 2006. "Birth outcomes for Arabic-named women in California before and after September 11," Demography, Springer, Springer, vol. 43(1), pages 185-201, February.
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    6. Viruell-Fuentes, Edna A., 2007. "Beyond acculturation: Immigration, discrimination, and health research among Mexicans in the United States," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 65(7), pages 1524-1535, October.
    7. Osypuk, Theresa L. & Bates, Lisa M. & Acevedo-Garcia, Dolores, 2010. "Another Mexican birthweight paradox? The role of residential enclaves and neighborhood poverty in the birthweight of Mexican-origin infants," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 70(4), pages 550-560, February.
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    10. Lee, Min-Ah, 2009. "Neighborhood residential segregation and mental health: A multilevel analysis on Hispanic Americans in Chicago," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 68(11), pages 1975-1984, June.
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    12. Lopez-Class, Maria & Castro, Felipe González & Ramirez, Amelie G., 2011. "Conceptions of acculturation: A review and statement of critical issues," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 72(9), pages 1555-1562, May.
    13. Yoo, Hyung Chol & Gee, Gilbert C. & Takeuchi, David, 2009. "Discrimination and health among Asian American immigrants: Disentangling racial from language discrimination," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 68(4), pages 726-732, February.
    14. Hunt, L.M.Linda M. & Schneider, Suzanne & Comer, Brendon, 2004. "Should "acculturation" be a variable in health research? A critical review of research on US Hispanics," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 59(5), pages 973-986, September.
    15. Osypuk, Theresa L. & Diez Roux, Ana V. & Hadley, Craig & Kandula, Namratha R., 2009. "Are immigrant enclaves healthy places to live? The Multi-ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 69(1), pages 110-120, July.
    16. Robert Kaestner & Jay A. Pearson & Danya Keene & Arline T. Geronimus, 2009. "Stress, Allostatic Load, and Health of Mexican Immigrants," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 90(5), pages 1089-1111.
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    Cited by:
    1. Acevedo-Garcia, Dolores & Sanchez-Vaznaugh, Emma V. & Viruell-Fuentes, Edna A. & Almeida, Joanna, 2012. "Integrating social epidemiology into immigrant health research: A cross-national framework," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 75(12), pages 2060-2068.
    2. Torres, Jacqueline M., 2013. "Cross-border ties and self-rated health status for young Latino adults in Southern California," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 81(C), pages 79-86.
    3. Naomi Priest & Yin Paradies & Angeline Ferdinand & Lobna Rouhani & Margaret Kelaher, 2014. "Patterns of Intergroup Contact in Public Spaces: Micro-Ecology of Segregation in Australian Communities," Societies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 4(1), pages 30-44, January.


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