Ethnic Identities: The Role of Institutions in the Assimilation Process*

By Jaein J. Lee.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The paper explores how the institutional contexts of reception in the receiving countries may either enable or restrict how immigrants perceive and assert their ethnic identities. My findings demonstrate that affirming a certain ethnic identity does not necessarily reflect how one perceives his or her identity. In fact, immigrants assert their ethnic identities and membership to local society based on not only how they feel in terms of social interaction but also the social and institutional circumstances arranged for them. For this project, I have conducted one-on-one qualitative in-depth interviews with 1.5 generation Korean professionals in two cities, Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Chicago (the U.S.). Using the collected data, I have analyzed their similarities and differences from three different institutional contexts of reception: higher education, naturalization of citizenship, and racial and ethnic categorization. Despite similar levels of social acculturation and socioeconomic mobility, 1.5 generation Korean professionals in Buenos Aires view themselves as foreigners whereas those in Chicago assert themselves as members of their local society. I argue that such difference should not be understood as one group being more assimilated than the other, but rather the institutional arrangements in the receiving countries create unequal conditions for immigrants to develop their ethnic identities. As not many published studies have observed one ethnic group in two different countries, this comparative study intends to further explore immigrants’ ethnic identity formation paying particular attention to structural factors, especially the institutional systems.

Keywords: Assimilation, Acculturation, Identity, Ethnic Identity, Immigrants, Second Generation, Korean, Minorities

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 6, Issue 11, pp.19-34. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.108MB).

Jaein J. Lee

Research Analyst, Providence, RI, USA

Jaein J. Lee is currently working as a research analyst at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. She supports the College Readiness Indicator System network through cross-site research, communication, and project management. She holds a B.A. in Asian Studies and Latin American Studies from Bowdoin College and an M.A. in Sociology from the University of Chicago. As a Fulbright Scholar, she conducted qualitative research on Korean immigrant children in Argentina for her M.A. thesis—a comparative study on Koreans’ integration to the mainstream professional labor force in Buenos Aires and Chicago. As a research intern at Migration Policy Institute, she researched and reported on projects related to immigrant integration through workforce development, including credentialing, career pathways, and alternative career options. She is an Asian-Latina American, who grew up in Paraguay and re-migrated to the U.S.

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