Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Family Socialization of Ethnic Identity among Chinese American Pre-Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Family Socialization of Ethnic Identity among Chinese American Pre-Adolescents

Article excerpt

Although the number of native-born immigrant children with Latin American and Asian origins reached 16.4 million in 1990, still little is known regarding this group of children's identity formation and socialization (e.g., Portes, 1994a; Walters, 1994). In sociology, the education of minority children has attracted some research, but findings from this line of research are rarely applicable to second-generation immigrant children due to a difference in social and family environment. Beginning in the early 1990's, a group of sociologists developed a portfolio of second-generation immigrants. An etnographic study conducted by Fernandez-- Kelly and Schauffler (1994), for example, documented the variety of segmented assimilation among different groups of immigrant children. Jensen and Chitose (1994), relying on the 1990 U.S. Census data, depicted the demographic characteristics of children of immigrants. Other studies employed a large scale survey to compare the differences of ethnic identities among the second-generation children by a wide range of variables (Rumbaut, 1994; Waters, 1994). However, despite these efforts, as Portes (I 994a, 1994b) indicated, what caused the shifts in language and ethnic identities in this group of children is still a puzzle at best. Furthermore, even the existing studies have explored the ways the family structure determines social identity, self esteem, and language development of children in a new cultural environment, the dynamics within a family which influence identity formation were seldom examined by studies which employed macro-approaches. (Perez, 1994; Walters, 1994).

This study has a modest purpose; that is to conduct a small-scale but more focused analysis of the dynamics of family socialization in identity formation. A social psychological perspective will be utilized to investigate ethnic identity formation and family language development among second-generation Chinese-American pre-adolescents.

THEORETICAL BASES

Traditional socialization theory adopts a functional perspective, arguing that socialization serves to produce and reproduce social values and societal norms. Social learning is viewed as a one-way process in which macro social structures transmit their value systems into the behavioral patterns displayed by individuals. Such a transmission of cultural norms helps societies produce competent adults (for a brief review, see Corsaro & Eder, 1995 Inkeles 1968), for example, argues that socialization is a prerequisite for maintaining appropriate social orders and thus promotes societal stability. What is implied in this traditional socialization theory in the context of ethnicity formation is that parents take an active role in projecting and shaping minority children's racial concepts and social identities within families. Through teaching family languages and ethnic cultures, immigrant children learn to identify with their parents' nationalities and thus develop an ethnic consciousness distinct from mainstream society. Outside of the family, identity development is also viewed primarily as the product of macro social factors. Past studies have documented that contextual factors, such as generational differences in immigration, religion, the pattern of geographical settlement of ethnic groups in a society, as well as the prevalence of common cultural language usage, significantly affect the formation of racial identities among minority individuals (e.g., Alba, 1990; Hurtado, Giles, et al. 1976; Taylor et al. 1973).

The traditional functionalist perspective has been criticized for its deterministic views of society and its ignorance of the capacities of individual social agents in constructing social realities (Corsaro & Eder, 1995; Willis, 1981). Further, even the one-way transmission of cultural norms helps explain the reproduction of social orders, such a perspective fails to address the issue of social change. In acting on these weaknesses, social constructionists in sociology, who followed the Meadian tradition of symbolic interaction, developed an alternative perspective in explaining the development of social identities in individuals (Stoller 1996). …

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