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The Evolution of Ethnic Identity From Adolescence to Middle Adulthood: The Case of the Immigrant Second Generation


Through an analysis of qualitative interview and survey data, this study examines ethnic identity development from midadolescence to middle adulthood among a representative sample of immigrants’ children from Mexico, the Philippines, and other countries, who were followed for more than 20 years. Findings reveal that ethnic self-identity labels are more stable in adulthood than adolescence or the transition to adulthood, but the importance of ethnic identity diminishes, especially among those born abroad. Most prefer ethnic identity labels referencing their origin country, reflecting family ties and cultural attachments. However, some, mostly foreign-born, shift to ethnic self-identity labels exclusively related to their American experience, including panethnic labels in response to U.S. racialization. Only a few actively resist such labeling and claim nonhyphenated American identities. Overall, the findings reveal how diverse ethnic identity development patterns over the life course are shaped both by ancestral attachments and the imposition of existing U.S. racial structures.

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