Abstract: Latinx Adult Perspectives on How Ethnic Identity Is Constructed from Birth to Adolescence in the United States: A Phenomenological Study (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

159P Latinx Adult Perspectives on How Ethnic Identity Is Constructed from Birth to Adolescence in the United States: A Phenomenological Study

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Xochilt Alamillo, LCSW, Doctoral Student, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Miguel Trujillo, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Denver, CO
Lisa Colon, MA, PhD Student, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Ceema Samimi, MSSW, MPA, Doctoral Candidate, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Background and Purpose: The Latinx population will be the largest minority group in the United States by the year 2050.  In order to maintain an educated, healthy society it is imperative that we reduce disparities facing Latinx youth.  Currently, they are disproportionally at risk for mental health issues, substance use, high school drop-out and others.  While there has been research demonstrating strong ethnic identity acts as a protective factor for these negative outcomes, there is a lack of research on how ethnic identity is constructed, specifically amongst Latinx youth.

This paper helps fill this gap by examining the retrospective narratives of ethnic identity construction in Latinx adults. Through their own experiences, we can begin to understand the creation of this vital construct and how it can be effectively strengthened in Latinx youth. 

Methods: Fifteen in-depth, semi-structure interviews were conducted with Latinx adults.  Participants were recruited at a Latinx serving community center and a private university in the mountain west. Interviews began with a definition of ethnic identity and then elicited life history narratives focused on events related to the development of their Latinx ethnic identity.  Interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded thematically using ATLAS.ti qualitative software, guided by the principals of phenomenology and an inductive approach to qualitative analysis.   

Findings:Data analysis revealed that family plays a critical role in the development of participant’s ethnic identity.  While none of the participants described an explicit conversation with their parents around their ethnic identity, through observing practices and behaviors of family members, the understanding of what it means to be Latinx was developed. 

Participants also described experiences of feeling shame or being ‘othered’ that caused them to dissociate from their Latinx identity. These negative experiences often originated from those outside of their ethnic group; however, some participants also described intragroup shaming which would occur if they were viewed as ‘not Latinx enough’.  None of the participants were able to recall being able to respond to these experiences in a positive way. 

Conclusion and Implications: Findings highlight the importance of strengthening whole family units, instead of focusing on individual youth, as the familial role in ethnic identity development is critical.  Practitioners should help facilitate a dialogue amongst family members around Latinx identity which could provide youth with more coping skills to deal with the feeling of being ‘othered’.  Other social structures such as schools or after school programs, should also be more proactive in contributing to the ethnic development of Latinx youth through incorporating more culturally relevant curriculum and focusing on recruiting a more diverse staff.  Future research should focus on understanding the impact parents have on the development of ethnic identity and the specific practices they use to strengthen ethnic identity in their children.