Who am I?
Where do I belong?
What can I become?
How do I get where I should be?
When will I be "there"?
There are many immense psychological tasks that adolescents must face as they begin their entrance into adult responsibilities, centering on the formation of identity. Many aspects of a person are being formulated in the adolescent years. These include the persons sexuality, their ambitions, goals, sense of who they are and of what they may become.
More so in societies that are ethnically diverse, but applicable to all societies is the importance of finding a balance between one’s ethnic identity and acculturation. A persons ethnic identity is identifying closely with one’s religious or ethic group, which acculturation is an identification with whatever the dominant culture is.
Acculturation is a process. It begins early in childhood and continues through every person’s life. The time when the issues involved in acculturation are usually the most powerful in adolescence. The reason for this is that teenagers tend to hang out in groups according to their own ethnic groups in school and struggle to find a balance between being loyal to their ethnicity and making it in the world.
Theoretically, there are four ways of balancing acculturation with ethnic identity. They depend upon the weakness or strength of ethnic identity and acculturation as they are now. Some people are bicultural, meaning they have strong ties to both their ethnicity and to the larger culture around them. These people can alternate easily between their culture of origin and the culture of the majority. They slip into the language and customs of each as the situation dictates.
People who have weak feelings of ethnicity but a strong sense of acculturation usually choose assimilation. Someone with this form of identifying themselves might have the attitude of “I am an American. Period.”
The other end of the spectrum are the ethnic separatists, who have a strong sense of ethnic identity but weak feelings of acculturation. They are the ones who are often afraid to join the mainstream.
Then of course are those people who don’t fall completely in either extreme, so they are marginal. They are not connected well to their ethnicity but are also not connected well to acculturation. These people are the ones that usually feel as if they belong no where.
Degree of acculturation is not a constant. It can change over the span of a person’s life. It may change in response to a persons life experiences. It may also change as a result of societal events. When encountering discrimination or setbacks a person may d
decide that acculturation is more difficult than they thought, or that greater solace is offered by ethnic separatism.
No matter what the circumstances, acculturation is rarely ever a complete accommodation to mainstream culture. A lot of individuals adopt values and behaviors of the mainstream culture while also keeping aspects of their heritage that are important to their self-identity. They pick and chose among customs of their own ethnicity as well as others. They adopt some cultural behaviors, and keep other traditions and heritage from their own. Many set limits on how far they will allow their own acculturation to go.
Many people refuse to be identified as only a single ethnic group in current times. We are in multiethnic times. This tension of ethnic balance is going to grow as time goes by. Mainstream culture is likely to continue as the ethnic groups struggle to define their place, raise their status, and secure their identity in a medley of cultures.