Academic journal article Family Relations

Enculturation of Korean American Adolescents within Familial and Cultural Contexts: The Mediating Role of Ethnic Identity*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Enculturation of Korean American Adolescents within Familial and Cultural Contexts: The Mediating Role of Ethnic Identity*

Article excerpt


The purpose of the present study was to test a socialization model in which ethnic identity mediated the relationship between 3 domains of family processes and 1 key aspect of enculturation: native language fluency. Data from a sample of 112 Korean American adolescents living in the Midwest revealed that adolescent ethnic identity partially mediated the influence of family cohesion on their Korean language fluency. Findings suggest that ethnic identity may serve as a mechanism through which family relations influence adolescents' native language fluency. Implications for adolescent and family adaptation are discussed within an ecological framework, including potential strategies for strengthening ethnic identity.

Key Words: Asian adolescents, enculturation, ethnic identity, family processes, immigration, native language fluency.

Rapidly changing demographics in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001) have led to a renewed recognition of the importance of understanding the needs of underserved and diverse populations, especially immigrant groups. Currently, children of immigrants comprise approximately 25% of the American youth population, and this proportion is projected to increase in the next two decades (Hernandez & Charney, 1998). Korean American adolescents represent one growing segment of this population. On the basis of data from the 2000 Census, Yu and Choe (2003-2004) reported that the Korean population in the United States increased by 35% between 1990 and 2000, whereas the U.S. total population increased only 13%. Korean immigrants comprised almost 60% of the total increase during that decade (Yu & Choe). Thus, issues related to immigration, adaptation to a new host culture, and retention of cultureof-origin values and behaviors are very salient in the Korean American context. On a day-to-day basis, Korean American adolescents and their families are often negotiating processes associated with enculturation. Enculturation, broadly defined, encompasses "the process of learning about and adapting to one's ethnic culture, potentially leading to the adoption of beliefs, values, behaviors, and language ofthat culture and to one's ethnic identity" (Roosa, Dumka, Gonzales, & Knight, 2002). Successful negotiation of these processes is significant because they facilitate bicultural competence (i.e., competence in both the host culture and the culture-of-origin), which has been linked to better psychological adjustment (e.g., LaFromboise, Coleman, & Gerton, 1993).

Background and Significance

Although a great deal of research attention has focused on the acculturation of Asian immigrants and youths to the U.S. host culture (e.g., Chun & Akutsu, 2003), their enculturation to the culture-of-origin has often been neglected. Such a distinction is important because these constructs represent two different experiential phenomena-while acculturation deals with adaptation to the host culture, enculturation involves retention of the values and behaviors of the culture-of-origin. Understanding both aspects (i.e., acculturation and enculturation) of the immigrant experience is necessary, especially in light of implications for fostering bicultural competence and subsequent well-being. To address these gaps in the literature, the present study focused on one characteristic behavior associated with enculturation: native language fluency.

One of the main elements of bicultural competence (LaFromboise et al., 1993) is communication ability, defined as "an individual's effectiveness in communicating ideas and feelings to members of a given culture, both verbally and nonverbally" (p. 405). In fact, LaFromboise et al. refer to language competence as "a major building block of cultural competence" (p. 405). Native language fluency is significant not only because of its critical role in bicultural competence but also because it has been found to have a positive effect on developmental outcomes among adolescents from immigrant families (Nguyen & Huang, 2007). …

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