Ethnic identity development in multi-ethnic people of color: Perceived parental influence, experience, and meaning-making
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Statement of the Problem and
Need for the Study
Significance of Ethnic Identity
and Parental Ethnic Socialization
Explanation of Terms
Anthropological Origins of Terms
Definitions of Terms
Adaptation of Terms to Psych ology and Sociology
T heoretical Framework
Social Learning Theory
Racial and Ethnic Identity Development Models
Re searcher‟s Stance
Rationale for Narrative Inquiry
Selection of Research Partic i pants
Data Collection Procedures
Notes on Recruiting E fforts
The C ultural Genogram
The Life History Interview
Data Ana lysis
CASE STUD IES
‟Tween “Twinkie” and the Hy phen
The “Twinkie Years”
Lang uage Proficiency and Ethnic Id en tification
Negotiating Multiple Ethnic Identities
A Complex Combin ation
Ethnicity and Race
THEMATIC ANA LYSIS
Manifestations of Ethnicity and Race
Phenotype , Body Imag e,
and S ocial Status
C ultural Connections: Traditions, Landscapes,
1 3 5
Negotiating Multiple Ethnic Identities
1 3 6
The Importance of Education
1 4 1
Money, and Education
The Model Minority: An Ethnic Burden
1 4 5
1 4 9
1 5 1
Interpretation of Themes
Parental Ethnic Socialization and
Ethnic Ident i fication
Multiple Ethnic Identities
Accul t uration
Manifestations of Ethnicity and Race
Importance of Education
Ap plication of t he Intersectionality Framework
Limitations of this Study
1 7 7
Implications for Practice and
Recommendations fo r Research
1 7 8
1 8 3
RECRUITMENT FL YER
PRESCREENING INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
PARTICIPANT CONSENT FORM
QUESTIONS FOR THE CULTURAL GENOGRAM
LIFE HISTORY INTERVIEW PROTOCOL
HO ME ASSIGNMENT #1
HOME ASSIGNMENT #2
HOME ASSIGNMENT #3
LIST OF FIGURES
Isabela‟s g enogram
A view of the Caribbean Sea from the beachfron t
in the d ese rt Columbian town of Cavo de la Vela
A e rial view of Bogotá from Cerro de Monserrate,
a mountain in c entral
Aerial view of Bogotá from Cerro de Monserrate,
a mountain in central Bogo tá
Consuelo displays the Columbian flag in recognition
of the location where the Battle of Boyacá won
Sculpture depicting the moment Jes us fell while
carrying the cross,
h oused in 17 th
at Cerro de M onser rate
Catedra l de Sal (Salt Cathedral)
in Zipaquirá, Bogotá
Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral) in Zipaquirá, Bogotá
Contemporary psychological literature is replete with studies on the development of biracial identity ( Jacobs, 1992; Root, 1992) and bicultural identity (LaFromboise,
Coleman, & Gerton, 1993; Phinney & Devich - Navarro, 1997). The majority of this literature examines the adjustment of first -
and second - generation people of color 1
as new members in American society (Anderson, 1991; Cuellar, Harris & Jasso, 1980; Matute - Bi anchi, 1986; Phinney et al., 1994). Few studies however, have examined how these individuals experience and understand their ethnic identity, particularly as it is influenced by family and other socializing forces.
The term people of color
is used throughout this study to refer to individuals in the United States whose ancestry includes one or more group/s of non - European descent that historically have been denied access to power and economic resources as a consequence of their racial and/or ethnic heritage. It is used in place of the more common misnomer minority
which connotes an inferior status.
Several researchers (Bernal, Knight, O‟C ampo, Garza, & Cota, 1990; Bernal & Knight, 1993; Quint ana
& Vera, 1993) examined parental influence on several aspects of children‟s
development. Others (Brown, Tanner - Smith, Lesane - Brown, & Ezell, 2007; O‟Brien Caughy, Nettles, O‟Campo, &
Fraleigh Lorhrfink, 2006) have examined the impact of contextualized family dynamics on children‟s ethnic identity development. Minimal research has been done on individuals‟ subjective experiences of parental influences on ethnic identity development. An d no research has looked at adults‟ observati ons of parental impact on their identity . This failure to investigate individuals‟ subjective experiences of primary socializing influences on their conceptualization and development of
ethnic self - identificatio n calls into question the depth of understanding psychologists can claim regarding identity. This study responds to this gap in literature with the primary goal of inquiring into
the process of ethnic identity development –
that is, how multi - ethnic people
understand their ethnicity and ethnic identity ,
and how their understanding is
influenced by their family or other primary socializing forces.
Questions of identity for people of color in America have long been the core of social and po litical discord, and have simultaneously formed the basis for social and political alliances. Access to power and economic resources in this country are closely linked to racial and ethnic identity. Historically, people of color have been denied power and resources in varying degrees depending on their racial and ethnic backgrounds. Simplifying the methods used to identify the
racial and ethnic background of individuals in the United States has helped to maintain this inequitable distribution of power and r esources (Miller, 1992; Root, 1992). For example, it is a common social practice to use physical attributes to assign individuals to racial and ethnic groups despite the fact that phenotype is merely one of numerous elements helpful in identifying racial a nd ethnic background. It is also common to ascribe individuals to singular racial or ethnic groups despite multiple heritages. Practices such as l imiting the number of choices for ethnic self - identification and creating discrete racial categories on census
forms (Fernandez, 1992, 1995; Moore, 1995) ha ve
legalized and institutionalized the restriction of
diversity . These practices redefine people with multiple heritage backgrounds
into constricted groups which may not fully reflect their identities . Furtherm ore , t hese practices
diminish the complexities of racial and ethnic identity and can cause confusion and misunderstanding in multi - ethnic individuals as well as those who wish to identify them.
Helms and Cook (1999) discussed the complexities of racial id entity development for Blacks in the United States due to a history of oppression by ,
and efforts to segregate them from ,
European Americans. In her original model of Black identity development, Helms (1989) addressed the impact of simplifying
race on iden tity development. Her model addresses the effects of the “one drop rule” 2
on the identity development of mixed race individuals.
The purpose of the “one drop rule” was to preserve the exclusivity and power of the White race. Consequently, interracial or
interethnic mixing was stigmatized because it threatened the inimitability of the White group (Miller, 1992; Smedley & Smedley, 2005). The sense of devaluation among Blacks that began with the culture of slavery was extended by the stigmatization and conc omitant negative societal images of interracial and interethnic individuals. One of the effects of this rule of hypodescent was to fuel the intra - racial hierarchy of color that emerged within the Black race. In this hierarchy “mulattoes,” or people of mixe d Black - White racial parentage, were regarded with increased social status in concert with the degree to which their physical characteristics approached those associated with the White race. The discrepancy in the way people of color were regarded based on
physical attributes such as “light” versus “dark” skin, “fine” versus “coarse” hair, “broad” versus “narrow” noses, and “full” versus “thin” lips, bred in - group hostilities that persist today and continue to profoundly impact how people of color perceive and value themselves.
T he “one drop
rule” or rule of hypodescent is the social dictate that assigns to the Black race all individuals of any discernible African ancestry. According to this rule, all individuals for whom any evidence can be found of genetic relation to a person of the Black race are necessarily identified as racially Black.
Recognizing that individuals from other ethnic groups of color often shared similar experiences regarding simplified racial and ethnic categorization, Helms (1990) expanded her initial model for Black identity development to include
other visible racial and ethnic groups (VREGs) and has reported extensively on the social, political, and psychological realities of VREGs. Other researchers (Kerwin & Ponterotto, 1995) also have found pervasive social pressure to adopt a single racial or
ethnic identity. This phenomenon is inconsistent with the experiences of individuals of color who claim multiple ethnic identities despite social pressure to adopt only one. Although ethnic identity is based in part on physical characteristics (Sodowsky, Kwan, & Pannu, 1995), the practice of relegating individuals to singular groups based on phenotype does not take into account the complexity of ethnic identity . A focus on overt physical characteristics
may fail to account for the individual‟s sense of eth nic group membership, another critical component of ethnic identity.
The primary purpose of this study is to elucidate the process of ethnic identity development for the multi - ethnic person of color –
that is, how ethnic identity development unfolds over
time, as a product of social influences, and within social contexts. The clarification of this developmental process takes place through an
examination of the
of the participants
with a focus on how they understand their ethnicity
et hnic identity as influenced by their family and developing over time .
As a consequence of the findings in this investigation I hope to contribute to a more comprehensive discussion of the term
one that more fully captures the experiences of tha t segment of the population whose identity is more complex than current literary discussion conveys.
Statement of the Problem and Need for the Study
A number of issues warrant inquiry into individual experiences around ethnic identity development. F oremost ,
the recognition of ethnic identity as fundamental to one‟s overall sense of self (Stephan, 1992) marks it as worthy of continued attention for the purpose of unders tanding individual development. The rapid growth of that segment of the population in the United States who identify as people of color, coupled with specific social and political complexities of everyday lives that impact the perception of self among members of this population, call for increased efforts to understand their development in this regard. Although ethnicity is a fundamental element of one‟s overall identity it has failed to capture the attention of psychological study until relatively recently as compared to its counterparts, race and
culture. Despite the relative scarcity o f information on eth n ic identity before the last twenty years, recognition of its importance to an overall sense of self has emerged in psychological literature. This study continues in the effort to add to this body of literature.
Significance of E th nic I dentity
Unlike race which historically has referred to biologically based differences, ethnicity
is grounded in cultural characteristics and refers to the cohesion of people with shared ideologies, practices, knowledge, etc. that are the artifacts of a common culture.
Despite this distinction ,
the terms are often used interchangeably and are commonly determined based on phenotypic markers.
As is true regarding race, questions of ethnicity for people of color in the United States are laden with soc ial and political complexities. Similar to racial hierarchies that emerged as a result of slavery and segregation, ethnic hierarchies emerged as a result of competition for resources between new ethnic groups immigrating to the United States. Researchers a cknowledge that ethnic group classification and stratification came to be centered on political and economic criteria (Bolaffi, Bracalenti, Braham, & Gindro, 2003), and that ethnicity evolved into an alternative to social class distinctions (Brass, 1991). The stratification of ethnicities bred conflict and hostility between groups resulting in denigration of each group by the others. The resulting negative images and stereotyping of each ethnic group were incorporated into the psyche of group members as the y attempted to reconcile their identities as new members of American society and have been transmitted through generations as part of each group‟s cultural socialization. The consequences of denigration of ethnic groups are important because of the signifi cance of ethnic identity to the development of the self.
Ethnic identity . . . is particularly important to the self because it is a master status, an identity that overrides all others in others‟ judgments of the self. As such, it is also basic to the
establishment of self - meaning. The question of ethnic identity is particularly acute and potentially problematic for people of mixed ancestry (Stephan, 1992, p. 51).
Stephan‟s acknowledgement of ethnic identity as fundamental to the conceptualization of the self speaks to the importance of examining the factors that contribute to the understanding of ethnic identity. Beliefs about ethnicity and race can critically influence the healthy psychological functioning of people of color in the United States in p articular, because their ethnic groups historically have been poorly represented and the focus of societal deprecation (Phinney, 1990: Quint ana
& Vera, 1999). Prior to the last twenty years however, psychological literature focused on issues regarding mult iple heritage backgrounds primarily as they concerned the mixing of “minorities” with Whites. Root (1992) found that issues related to the intermarriage and producing of children of color has been given little attention in the literature because the interm ixing between people of color does not jeopardize the boundary between White and non - White. The result is an absence in literature of investigation into concerns of people of all racial, ethnic, and cultural mixing. This absence is reflective of and reinfo rces “. . . [o]ur tendency to think simplistically about complex relationships [that] has resulted in dichotomous, hierarchical
classification systems that have become vehicles of oppression” (Root, 1992, p. 4). Until recently, there has been little focus on understanding the complexities associated with ethnic identity development for members of historically marginalized groups. The significance of ethnic identity to the conceptualization of the self speaks to the need for greater insight into its developm ent in this growing segment of the American population. This study responds
to this need by seeking greater insight into the process of ethnic identity development as conveyed by multi - ethnic individual s .
Changing D emographics
In their recent inve stigation of ethnic identity during adolescence, French, Seidman, Allen, and Aber (2006) pointed to the rapidly changing demographics of our nation as another reason for increased efforts to understand ethnic identity development. The researchers noted tha t people of color will eventually outnumber European - Americans. And although the field of psychology historically has failed to focus on and accurately portray the development of people of color, the growth of this segment of the population calls for renew ed attention to these groups . Earlier, Root (1992 ,
1995) noted that the practice of presenting demographic changes in the United Stated in terms of a White versus non - White duality perpetuates a rule of hypodescent and fails to account for ever - increasing
rates of interracial and interethnic procreation. This practice contributes to the continued misunderstanding of people with multiple heritage backgrounds. Miller (1992) pointed out that the growth of this population would warrant theory to describe their
experiences. The sentiments of French, et al. (2006) and Miller (1992) echo those of Comas - Díaz (1992) who observed that although psychotherapy traditionally has “. . . reflect[ed] the cultural values and inherent biases of the majority. . . [it will] . .
. begin to reflect the values of people of color . . . [and] alter the way that psychotherapy is conceptualized, practiced, and researched” (p. 88). Indeed, these changes for the field of psyc hology have come to fruition; changes that necessitated the est ablishment of the guidelines for multicultural education, training, research, and practice which were initially developed with absolute focus on the racial and ethnic identity
of “minority” ethnic and racial groups in the United States (American P sycho logical Association, 2002). This study responds
to t he needs result ing from such changes in the American population . It was u ndertaken to add depth to the
body of research on identity development in
members of this growing portion of the American popu la ti on .
Acculturation and P arent al
E thnic S ocialization
An assumption in this study is that one of the precursors to understanding identity development is to understand the influence of family on this process . The relatively recent onset of accu lturation research includes studies on how the primary socializing circle, such as the family, influences the understanding of ethnic identity among individuals with multiple heritage backgrounds. According to Phinney and Chavira (1995), minimal attention was paid to parental socialization regarding ethnicity prior to the 1990s. In their recent review of literature, Hughes, Rodriguez, Smith, Johnson, Stevenson, and Spicer (2006) noted a tremendous growth post 1990 in studies on parents‟ ethnic and racial so cialization practices. However, many of these are empirical studies which categorize and evaluate parental transmission of cultural mores, values, and customs (Stevenson, 1994, 1995; Thornton, 1997, 1998; Thornton, Chatters, Taylor, & Allen, 1990), examine
the ecological correlates of these variables (Hughes, 2003; Hughes & Chen, 1997; Thornton, et al., 1990), and determine their implications for various aspects of development (Knight, Bernal, Cota, Garza, & Ocampo, 1993; Phinney & Chavira, 1995; Quint ana
Vera, 1999). The few studies that focused on the multi - ethnic individuals‟ experience of ethnic identity targeted children and adolescents. Hughes and Johnson (2001) gathered information from children on their ethnic identity via structured, self - administ ered surveys. Phinney and Chavira (1995) determined the influence of parental socialization on ethnic identity via interviews with parents rather than as reported
by the adolescents who were the subjects of their study. And Fatimilehin (1999) determined te enagers‟ experience of racial socialization via self - report
on the Teenager Experience of Racial Socialization (TERS) measure.
This study moves toward
more personalized representation s of the impact of parental ethnic socialization on ethnic identity devel opment.
Critical to our understanding of the impact of parental ethnic socialization on various aspects of development is
recognizing its relationship to acculturation. Acculturation research strongly focuses on the degree to which immigrants to the Unite d States and their children adopt an American ethnic identity, and/or maintain the ethnic identity of their heritage culture. This literature is relevant to this study given the participants‟ identification as first generation, American - born women of color . The degree of acculturation may vary within a range from full acculturation to marginalization fro m ethnic heritage and American identities. One‟s degree of acculturation would be evident in the extent to which the individual exhibited adoption of an Ame rican identity and renunciation of one‟s heritage ethnic identity, rejection of mainstream culture and American identity
in service of maintaining one‟s heritage ethnic identit y, or
marginalization from both . S tudies on acculturation to American society ha ve had important implications for understanding the identity development of immigrant groups .
The significance of ethnic identity to an overall sense of self
it as worthy of deliberate
attention in psychological research. It is a lso warranted that we intensify efforts to understand the ethnic identity development
of historically marginalized people of color given the
identification of these groups as the fastest growing segment of the American population
(Comas - Díaz, 1992; French et al., 2006; Miller, 1992) . This phenomenon
calls attention to the need for continued inquiry into the social, political, religious, historical, and economic factors that influence their emotional and psychological well - being. Because these groups compris e ethnic immigrant s
and their first or second generation progeny, attention to the influence
of acculturation is critical to any legitimate inquiry into their identity development.
The interplay of these social phenomena are considered in this inquiry that
was designed with the idea that c ontinued investigation into the ways in which individuals of color with multiple heritage backgrounds conceptualize their ethnic identity and the factors that influence their conceptualization will contribute to a more tho roughly informed conversation about identity. A deeper understanding of the subjective experiences of these individuals may aid in a more profound appreciation of the complexity of social, political, economic, religious, and other factors that impact their
identity development. Ideally, efforts to take into account the lived experiences of these individuals “. . . might enable us to disassemble the vehicle of oppression . . .” (Root, 1992, p.4) fueled by identity limiting constructs such as race , culture , a nd ethnicity .
Expl ana tion of Terms
In the United States, race,
culture , and ethnicit y are the predominant terms used to discuss people‟s identities as related to physical attributes, location of or igin, and customs and traditions. Due to a lack of precise definitions, however, their meanings have considerable overlap and the terms have been used interchangeably, causing confusion over how they contribute to our understanding of identity. Several res earchers ( Cokley, 2005; Helms, 1994; Jackson, 2006) have acknowledged this problem and have attempted to clearly distinguish between these terms. Generally these researchers acknowledge that each term
is socially constructed. They also acknowledge that the
concept of ethnicity
is fluid and malleable ,
changing within and between the individual and the environment.
The meaning of ethnicity
also change s
from one person to the next given its fluid nature. ( The dynamic nature of these constructs will be discusse d further in the following expl ana tions of each term. )
This conceptualization of ethnicity
as shared and changeable represents the crux of the inquiry
in this study. The goal
in this study is to clarify the unfolding of ethnic identity development as a pro cess that occurs over time as a function of social influences and within social contexts.
The focus will be on the transmission and assumption of ideas regarding ethnicity
through the participants‟
lived experiences, their perception of parental influence on their views of ethnicity, and the
transformation of these into a sense of ethnic identity as
multi - ethnic people of color.
Ultimately the aim of this study is to contribute to a more profound
understanding of the term ethnicity,
one that will more truly
reflect the identity of all individuals.
In an effort to provide a context for our discussion of the term ethnicity , I offer in this section the history and progression of the literary meaning of this term and its counterparts, race
and culture .
Anth ropological O rigins of T erms
The terms race , culture , and ethnicity
were originally anthropological terms intended to generally categorize, describe social norms, and define social ties respectively. These terms were conceived to assist in understanding
cultural differences which has always been the primary aim in anthropology. This understanding however has been informed by European and Northern American cultural viewpoints which historically have dominated the field of anthropology (Jenkins, 1996). The
following discussion of these terms begins with the premise that the tendency to interpret cultural differences from a Eurocentric viewpoint has endured through years of transformation and is embedded in the meanings
that are made of these terms. These me anings have been inculcated in all fields of research.
Definitions of T erms
Smedley and Smedley (2005) asserted that the earliest conceptualization of race , which appeared between the 16 th
and 18 th
centuries, was as a general classifying term and could be likened to terms such as “ type”, “kind”, and “sort.” This early concept of race
had no relation to its current notion of biologically - based differences which separate and assign value to different groups of people. These researchers maint ain that the trend toward what is now a deeply entrenched notion of race
as the structure for separating and categorizing different groups of people began with its reference to three groups in North America
d uring the 17 th
Europeans, Africans, a nd Native Americans. 3
According to Smedley and Smedley, the 18 th
into 19 th
century saw increased use and standardization of the term race
to refer to these three groups in terms of their social status, as well as its establishment as the new way of structu ring society and thinking about human differences. These changes responded to the need to divide and stratify
Other groups were fitted into the racial classification system as they immigrated into the United States, with some eventually being assimilated into the White race and others being assigned to various racial categories between White and Black.
groups resulting from the enslavement and dehumanization of Africans that took place during the time.
This worldview of racial differences and W hite superiority has endured into the 20 th
and 21 st
centuries with debates about its veracity taken up by the fields of anthropology, sociology, psychology, and medicine in the United States and Europe. The field of medical science has been most influentia l in promoting as reality the inequality of races rooted in physiological differences. Efforts toward this end began during the early 19 th
century with the examination of differences in parts of the body, and head and brain size (Marks, 1995). By the late 19 th
century, the field of psychology had taken up the task with the creation of tests to measure differences in intelligence. The efforts in these fields legitimized the notion of biologically - based differences and inequalities between the races as natura lly occurring phenomena.