Ethnic Identity Development

This page will review the following theories:

  • Breton, Isajiw, Kalbach, & Reitz Components of Ethnic Identity
  • Berry’s Process of Acculturation Model
  • Phinney’s Model of Ethnic Identity Development
  • Torres’s Model of Hispanic Identity Development
  • Guardia and Evans (2003)
  • Ethnic Identity of Asians in the United States
  • Ethnic Identity of Native American/Asian Americans
  • Ethnic Identity of African Americans/Black

Ethnic identity is often used interchangeably with racial identity. However, an individual’s ethnicity is more than just his or her heritage. Ethnicity is the culture, beliefs and values of one’s heritage (Phinney, 1995)

Breton, Isajiw, Kalbach & Reitz (1990)

  • Established ethnic identity into internal and external components
    • External or Internal –
      • An individual exudes a specific identity through language, media depictions, and friendship circles or individual assumes an ethnic identity through self-images, loyalty to ethnic group, attachment to group through a variety of avenues

Berry’s Process of Acculturation Model (1984, 1993)

  • Acculturation
    • ways individuals of different ethnicities relate and assibilate to the dominate culture
  • Four Strategies:
    • Assimilate
      • Individual identifies strictly with dominate culture and abandons his or her own ethnicity
    • Marginalize
      • Individual conjures he or her own identity separate from his or her own ethnicity or dominate ethnicity
    • Separate
      • Individual identifies with his or her own ethnicity with no regard to any other ethnicity, especially the dominate culture
    • Integrate
      • Individual identifies with his or her own ethnicity, as well as, understands infusion of dominate ethnicity into the holistic identity

Phinney’s Model of Ethnic Identity Development (1995)

  • Three Stage Model:
    • Stage 1: Unexamined Ethnic Identity
      • Individuals fall into two categories based upon the influence or knowledge of the existence of ethnicity
      • Diffusion – An individual has not encountered ethnicity as an issue or topic, ethnicity is not an issue of contention
      • Foreclosure – An individual as collected information about ethnicity from family and peers and succumbs to information without interact with individuals of the ethnic group
  • Stage 2: Ethnic Identity Search/Moratorium
    • Individuals encounters cause him or her to look into their own ethnicity, as well as, become aware of ethnicity
    • Individuals continue to seek more information and a multitude of emotions during exploration
  • Stage 3: Ethnic Identity Achievement
    • Individuals are suggested to have a positive, bicultural identity
    • Individuals are informed about their own ethnicity but are aware and appreciative of all ethnicities

Torres’s Model of Hispanic Identity Development (2003)

  • Model look speaks specifically to college students
  • In the first two years, there are three influences:
    • Environment Where They Grew Up –
      • Individuals are more socialized into the Hispanic culture depending on the community he or she grew up in; the more Hispanic influences the stronger the ethnic identity
    • Family Influence and Generational Status –
      • As individuals are more and more removed from the first-generation, the more acculturated and assimilated into the dominate culture
    • Self-perception and Status in Society –
      • An individuals sense of privilege as a Latino is based upon the extent to which stereotypes about the Latino culture are believed
      • Individuals will go through two processes when experiencing conflict in current environment
    • Cultural Dissonance –
      • An individuals realization of their perception of a Latino identity and how other’s expect from a person who identifies as Latino
    • Changes in Relationships
      • An individuals clash with current peer groups’ values of a Latino

Ethnic Identity of Asians in the United States (Evans et al., 2010)

  • Asian Americans are the most ethnically diverse racial group in the United States
  • Overgeneralizations of the ethnic identity development around Asian American is widespread, but there is too little information to offer a concrete model
  • South Asians tend to put more emphasis on the role of ethnic identification

Ethnic Identity of Native American/Asian Americans (Evans et al. 2010)

  • An individual who identifies within this culture is expected to identify with the dominant culture based on historical events

Ethnic Identity of African Americans/Black

  • Due to historical events, many backs in the United States were rid of their culture and a model for ethnic development is nonexistent
  • Ethnic Identity can be views in two models:
    • Caribbean Cultural Identity
      • An individual will fall into two categories:
      • Bricolage – Reexamination of all cultural influences from the Caribbean to form one culture
      • Creaolization – Taking pieces from each separate culture to create an new culture
  • Womenist Identity
    • Women who identify within the Black culture have specific and distinction characteristics
      • Women move from conforming to social expectations to defining her own strong, healthy identity
      • Women go through a similar avenue as Adulthood Nigrescence within Cross – Fhagan-Smith’s Black Identity Model

Acculturation, ethnic identity, where does the intersection take place?

Although ethnic identity is important there is a reason Evans et al. (2010) integrated the concept of acculturation into the ethnic identity chapter. At each institution the may be a different dominate culture on campuses, depending on the constituency of the university. Acculturation is meant to bring a cohesion among campuses and understand that as members of the community, each student has a shared community and as such integrate their ethnicities into the campus. This can be done through programming, campus organizations and institutional policies reflecting integration and thought behind acculturation. At most institutions, this is reflective through mission statements and values.

This page was written and created by Michelle Robinson. Please use the comment section below to ask questions, provide reflection, discussion and/or feedback. To contact directly about this page, please see Michelle Robinson at


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