Becoming Bicultural: Risk, Resilience, and Latino Youth

Becoming Bicultural: Risk, Resilience, and Latino Youth

Becoming Bicultural: Risk, Resilience, and Latino Youth

Becoming Bicultural: Risk, Resilience, and Latino Youth


Although the United States has always been a nation of immigrants, the recent demographic shifts resulting in burgeoning young Latino and Asian populations have literally changed the face of the nation. This wave of massive immigration has led to a nationwide struggle with the need to become bicultural, a difficult and sometimes painful process of navigating between ethnic cultures.

While some Latino adolescents become alienated and turn to antisocial behavior and substance use, others go on to excel in school, have successful careers, and build healthy families. Drawing on both quantitative and qualitative data ranging from surveys to extensive interviews with immigrant families, Becoming Bicultural explores the individual psychology, family dynamics, and societal messages behind bicultural development and sheds light on the factors that lead to positive or negative consequences for immigrant youth. Paul R. Smokowski and Martica Bacallao illuminate how immigrant families, and American communities in general, become bicultural and use their bicultural skills to succeed in their new surroundings The volume concludes by offering a model for intervention with immigrant teens and their families which enhances their bicultural skills.


On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as the fortyfourth president of the United States. Although he was heralded as the first African American to serve in the highest and most powerful position in the nation (and perhaps in the world), President Obama’s cultural heritage was more subtle and complex. He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to an American mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, whose family (in Wichita, Kansas) was primarily of English descent, and Barack Obama Sr., a Luo from Nyang’oma Kogelo, Nyanza Province, Kenya. His father and mother married in 1961 and divorced in 1964, after which his father returned to Kenya.

After her divorce, Dunham married Indonesian student Lolo Soetoro. In 1967 they moved the family to Indonesia, where Barack attended schools in Jakarta from ages six to ten. He finished his schooling (grades five to twelve) in Honolulu while living with his maternal grandparents. Thus, not only was Obama of mixed race, but he also grew up in a state where more than 25 percent of the population reports a heritage of two or more races. The multicultural environment in Hawaii influenced his cultural perspective. Obama wrote,

That my father looked nothing like the people around me—that he was
black as pitch, my mother white as milk—barely registered in my mind.
…The opportunity that Hawaii offered—to experience a variety of cul
tures in a climate of mutual respect—became an integral part of my world
view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear. (Obama 1995)

This mixed-race heritage and multicultural childhood provided the foundation for Obama to become the first biracial and bicultural president. His campaign appealed to young voters and minorities. Overall, 68 . . .

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