Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Ethnic Labeling in Mexican-Origin Youth: A Qualitative Assessment

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Ethnic Labeling in Mexican-Origin Youth: A Qualitative Assessment

Article excerpt

Outcomes are reported from a qualitative investigation addressing ethnic label selection, meaning, use, and influences upon Mexican-origin youth. Participants selected multiple labels with distinct meanings and influences. Findings indicate a need for school counselors to honor student label selection and to advocate for variable label use by school professionals and in school documentation. School counselors can provide resources and venues to facilitate student exploration of ethnic labels, as one key component of ethnic identity development.


Numbered at 42 million, Latinos represent the largest population of color in the United States, with individuals of Mexican ancestry accounting for 64% of this group (Pew Hispanic Center, 2006). The Latino population is a youthful one, with Latinos making up 19%, or nearly 1 out of 5, of the K-12 school community (Pew Hispanic Center, 2005). These numbers clearly influence the nature and intensity of services to be offered by school counselors across the nation, indicating a need to respond to the multiple academic, social, and mental health risk factors experienced by this population.

Key areas of concern include the low academic achievement and social stressors experienced by Latino youth. Latinos have the highest dropout rate of all groups in the country; 21%, compared to 8% for Whites and 11% for African Americans (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003). Multiple stressors experienced by many in this population include language and cultural barriers (Thoman & Suris, 2004), racism (Zayas, 2001), violent neighborhoods, drug problems, limited job opportunities (Vega & Gil, 1999), and high teen pregnancy rates (83%, compared to 34% for Whites and 63% for African Americans; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007).

School counselors are uniquely placed and trained to address these stressors. In turn, such efforts are encouraged by recent directives in the literature, positing school counselors with the responsibility to address social injustices and unequal achievement gaps experienced by students (e.g., Lee, 2007; Ratts, DeKruyf, & Chen-Hayes, 2007). Unfortunately, the past literature indicates that Latinos as a group are reluctant to seek counseling support (Cabassa, Zayas, & Hansen, 2006). In addition, studies have shown counseling outcomes with Latinos as resulting in client dissatisfaction or attrition. Authors have identified culturally incongruent counseling services as a key reason for negative outcomes (Barrio et al., 2006; Lopez, Bergren, & Painter, 2008; Ruiz, 2002).

Hence, in attempting to assist Latino adolescents, it is essential that school counselors possess knowledge and understanding of the population in designing and implementing culturally appropriate services. A need exists for continued research regarding the Latino population, to illuminate the unique mental health and academic needs and to inform the development and implementation of counseling interventions (Ruiz, 2002; Torres Rivera, 2004). One area to be addressed by school counselors relates to the healthy development of adolescents of color.


Ethnic identity is cited as a key aspect of self-identity and identity development. A dynamic and complex phenomenon, ethnic identity development encompasses the components of ethnic labeling and a sense of affiliation and pride in one's group (Phinney, 1992; Yip & Fuligni, 2002). Group affiliation is reinforced through practice of a common religion, cultural traits, and use of a shared language and history (Cohen, 2004). Identification with an ethnic group increases positive feelings about oneself, which has been associated with positive psychosocial adjustment (Schwartz, Zamboanga, & Jarvis, 2007).

Ethnic identity development has been posited as a stage process that takes place over time and through exploration and eventual commitment to one's ethnicity (Phinney & Ong, 2007). …

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