2022 Winner: Beyond Survival: Fostering Thriving Immigrant Communities in Santa Cruz through Multi-Faceted Social Services

Project Information
Beyond Survival: Fostering Thriving Immigrant Communities in Santa Cruz through Multi-Faceted Social Services
Social Sciences
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style. Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant.”

Maya Angelou’s quotation above, which suggests that humans are not interested in merely surviving, but actually "thriving,” begs the question, "what does it mean to thrive?" At the individual level, healthy thriving individuals are seen as those who experience overall well-being and a sense of success. Yet, because little agreement and scholarship exists around a solid definition of thriving at the collective level, it can be particularly difficult to envision what a thriving community looks like and what conditions are needed to thrive. Being able to understand what communities, especially those most vulnerable and marginalized, need in order to thrive would help initiate fundamental conversations around how service providers and policymakers can collaborate to eliminate barriers and provide crucial resources that foster thriving environments. This switch in approach also allows us to both understand and highlight the steps already being taken by community members to help alleviate both individual and communal obstacles, support one another, and create the necessary conditions for their community to thrive, in place of institutional or systemic aid.
The purpose of this thesis is to explore how service providers and the immigrant communities they serve define “thriving” and “obstacles to thriving,” in order to better understand how social service provision can be modified to better accommodate the direct needs of immigrant families in Santa Cruz. By including both perspectives, I attempt to capture what both believe is needed to create equitable conditions for immigrants to thrive and highlight any possible agreements or disagreements. Drawing on 11 interviews with service providers and 52 interviews with immigrant family members, this work is based on an interdisciplinary analysis of psychological and sociological theories on (social) well-being, belonging, social integration, social support, and access to social services. In the process, this paper examines how immigrant communities are uniquely impacted by intersecting layers of legal and structural violence and lack of access to apropriate resources as well as discrimination in the workplace, educational, legal, and health sector. Because this paper aims to identify gaps and assets in social service provision and advocate for increased accessibility of multifaceted social services, I have formulated a working definition of both individual and collective thriving that examines the transition from one state to the other through social cohesion and both systemic and community-led action. This analysis is based on a qualitative in-depth analysis of immigrant families as both individuals and a collective, a shift in approach that shys away from individuals as the primary unit of analysis when operationalizing thriving. I define the ability to thrive at the individual level as the ability to rely on personal and social resources to achieve an overall sense of belonging and well being that allow one to overcome life challenges and achieve self-actualization. I argue that the potential for collective thriving is a collaborative effort between individuals and society. It is not only the utilization of personal and social resources but the implementation of mutual aid and community solidarity, advocacy, and organizing as well as the reinvention of social services and legal policies (in an attempt to increase accessibility to multi-faceted social services and eliminate social, economic, and legal barriers) that create conditions necessary for marginalized communities to thrive. With policies like Public Charge and ICE in place that enforce fear in the immigrant community, revisions to social service provision alone cannot help create conditions necessary for immigrant communities to thrive. Thus, actual systemic change at the law and policy level must also occur for immigrant communities to feel safe, valued, and supported. By accommodating the direct needs of immigrant communities through increased access to a multi-faceted set of services (education, legal, health, food/housing insecurity, etc) that create a sense of belonging, social support, and well-being, service providers are better equipped to integrate and support the social inclusion of the immigrant community while centering collective action.
In the absence of equitable access to basic human rights and resources, data demonstrated that mutual aid, community-led action, and solidarity were the highest markers of self-defined thriving among immigrant communities. In other words, in the absence of pro-immigration systemic action and change, immigrant communities themselves have worked collaboratively to create and provide the necessary conditions for community members to thrive. It appears that in the absence of local government and institutional aid, immigrant families have attempted to collectively mobilize individual and social resources to respond to immediate threats or challenges any community member may face. In doing so, they attempt to alleviate the individual weight of systemic barriers for one another and contribute to the creation of conditions necessary for each member to thrive. Though I initially assumed collective thriving relied primarily on systemic intervention through the reinvention of social service provision and legal policies, data collected illustrated a much more complex approach. The data highlighted how an increase in collectivist values at the individual, community, and systemic level ultimately produces the necessary conditions for collective thriving to occur. While revision of legal policies and access to multi-faceted services is crucial to overall social well-being, it is only a small facet of a much larger and more complicated process requiring social support at the community and systemic level which occurs through the social integration of immigrant communities and social cohesion through mutual aid, solidarity, and both systemic and community-led advocacy and organizing. This shift in approach highlights and acknowledges the work communities have always done to promote social well-being and thriving independently of institutional support while also acknowledging the work that still needs to be done at the systemic level to eliminate the social, economic, and legal barriers that threaten their sense of belonging and (social) well-being in the first place. Thus, a call for increased access to multi-faceted services is a transitional step, a step towards the recovery of our communities but far from what we truly need to thrive.
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  • Claudia Marina Torres Arias (Oakes)