Effects of Acculturation and Structural Assimilation in Resource-Based Recreation: The Case of Mexican Americans

Article excerpt

Variation in outdoor recreation behavior between racial and ethnic groups has been the subject of empirical research for nearly 30 years. Two general hypotheses have guided studies on this topic. The first of these, known as the marginality hypothesis, states that the "under-participation" of some minority groups in outdoor recreation results from limited economic resources, which in turn are a function of historical patterns of discrimination (Washburne, 1978). The second explanation, known as the ethnicity hypothesis, states that minority under-participation is the result of differences in value systems, norms, and socialization patterns (Edwards, 1981; Washburne, 1978; West, 1989). According to this view, these cultural variables, rather than socioeconomic factors, are more important in explaining ethnic differences in recreation participation patterns.

In reality, both marginality and subcultural processes probably operate. Evidence for a joint effect can be inferred from the failure of either explanation to fully account for ethnic variation in recreation behavior. Even so, the question of which dimension has greater impact on recreation behavior has important public policy implications.

Because the marginality hypothesis assumes that majority and minority groups have the same propensity to participate, measures designed to meet minority needs would emphasize removing barriers to recreation opportunities (Hutchison, 1988; Washburne, 1978). On the other hand, the subcultural hypothesis implies that recreation resources should be allotted so as to reflect distinctive ethnic and racial preferences (Edwards, 1981; Washburne, 1978). Given these issues, and in view of the rapid growth of minority populations in the U.S., the marginality-ethnicity paradigm as a basis for leisure ethnicity research and public policy must be critically examined.

Re-Thinking the Marginality-Ethnicity Paradigm

For several reasons, the marginality-ethnicity paradigm has limited value for advancing social theory or social policy. First, with few exceptions (e.g., Dragon & Ham, 1986; Hutchison, 1987; Irwin, Gartner, & Phelps, 1990; McMillen, 1983), research to date has focused almost exclusively on differences in black-white participation rates. Thus, the ability to generalize results to other ethnic groups is limited.

Second, leisure researchers have yet to move beyond the use of racial categories and ethnic labels to measure "culture" (Hutchison & Fidel, 1984). More direct indicators include language preference and use (Keefe & Padilla, 1987) and measures of cultural value systems (Dragon & Ham, 1986). The conventional approach has been to interpret significant differences in participation rates that remain after controlling for socioeconomic factors (e.g., income and education) as cultural differences (Wendling, 1981; West, 1988), without specifying which aspects of ethnic culture affect recreation behavior.

Third, leisure researchers have tended to view ethnic groups--whether Hispanics, African Americans, Anglos, or others--as culturally monolithic, despite significant cultural and socioeconomic differences that exist within ethnic groups. For example, the nation's many Spanish-origin groups are usually combined under the "Hispanic" label, even though the diversity of their national origins, which spans three continents and the Caribbean, challenges the concept of "Hispanic" as a single ethnic group (Tienda & Ortiz, 1986).

Fourth, the marginality-ethnicity framework has not been amended appreciably since Washburne's initial statement in 1978, nor has it benefited from reviews of either sociological or anthropological research on race and ethnic relations. Thus, the paradigm remains restricted in scope and has been tied only tenuously to the larger body of social science literature.

In this paper, we attempt to address these four concerns. First, we move beyond black-white comparisons to look in greater detail at Mexican American recreation behavior. …