Ethnic Identity, Risk and Protective Factors Related to Substance Use among Mexican American Students

By Codina, Edward; Yin, Zenong et al. | Ethnic Studies Review, April 3, 2001 | Go to article overview

Ethnic Identity, Risk and Protective Factors Related to Substance Use among Mexican American Students


Codina, Edward, Yin, Zenong, T, Jesse, S, David, Ethnic Studies Review


This study examines the relationship between ethnic identity, risk and protective factors for substance use and academic achievement. Risk factors include deviant behavior and susceptibility to peer influence, while the protective factor is self-reported "confidence" not to use substances. The sample consists of 2,370 Mexican American students enrolled in eighth, ninth, and tenth grades. Results of the analysis (MANOVA) revealed that females had more positive ethnic identity than males. Furthermore, males were significantly more susceptible to peer influence, reported higher levels of deviant behavior, used more substances and had lower grade point averages than females. There was no significant difference in their "confidence" not to use substances.

A path analysis performed separately by gender revealed that positive ethnic identity was inversely related to peer susceptibility and deviant behavior. This relationship was stronger for females than for males. Ethnic identity was not directly related to substance use but rather the influence was indirect through its relationship to the risk factors. Findings related to academic achievement revealed that increased deviant behavior was negatively related to GPA. The total effect of a positive ethnic identity was significantly related to increased GPA for the females, but not for males.

Mexican American adolescents, due to their unique historical and current experience in the US, are exposed to risk and protective factors not common to members of the middle class majority. These unique risk and protective factors are related to the combination of class, culture, and ethnicity. Most Mexican Americans, for example, are found in working class segregated neighborhoods, have parents or grandparents who speak mostly Spanish, and are visibly identified as an ethnic minority (Codina and Montalvo 1994; Frey and Farley 1996).

Among the many psychological challenges faced by adolescence, the issue of identity formation becomes very salient during this stage (Erikson 1968). For Mexican Americans identity formation includes self-definition and awareness as members of an ethnic minority along with its social implications and consequences. Development of a strong positive self-identity may be problematic, as they struggle with differences in treatment based on their ethnic origin and social class. This conflict may negatively influence their identity formation and self-esteem. Erikson (1968) proposes that

...the individual belonging to an oppressed and exploited minority... [who] is aware of the dominant cultural ideals but prevented from emulating them, is apt to fuse the negative images held up to him by the dominant majority with the negative identity cultivated in his own group (303).

Mexican Americans may react to these conflicts in a variety of ways. Some may experience a loss of identity or 'identity confusion' (which can also be applied to ethnic identity). Identity loss and identity confusion have been recognized in severely conflicted young people "whose sense of confusion is due to a war within themselves and in confused rebels and destructive delinquents who war on their society" Erikson (1968, 17). Some may become involved in marginal identity and opposition cultural groups such as gangs. This issue has been described by Vigil (1988) based on his work among Mexican American adolescents gang members.

Other adolescents may embrace their ethnic identity with a positive affective evaluation. This ethnic pride generally includes a rejection of negative stereotypes about one's ethnic group (Kitano 1980) as well as positive attitudes and a sense of belonging and commitment to the ethnic group (Phinney and Rosenthal 1992). A positive ethnic identity appears to be a general protective factor in the development of minority adolescents. For example, several researchers have found a relationship between a positive ethnic evaluation and positive self-esteem among African Americans, Hispanics, and other "minority" adolescents (Roberts et al. …

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