Understanding the Impact of Heritage Language on Ethnic Identity Formation and Literacy for u.s. Latino Children

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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  • 1 Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church Street, Ann Arbor, mi 48109-1043, USA
  • 2 Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church Street, Ann Arbor, mi 48109-1043, USA
  • 3 Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, University of Michigan, Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, mi 48109-1043, USA

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Studies show positive associations between ethnic identity, socio-emotional health and academic success. However, most work is carried out with adolescents and few have examined how young children develop an ethnic identity, particularly u.s. Latino children. The present study represents a first-pass investigation of children’s ethnic identity mechanisms and their relation to academic success. We carried out semi-structured interviews in Spanish with 25 Latino children (ages 5–12). Open-ended questions addressed items on the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure and Ethnic Identity Scale, incorporating a mixed qualitative (i.e., themes) and quantitative (i.e., scoring) analysis. Results revealed that children provide great detail when discussing their ethnic background. Additionally, Latino children’s bilingualism and Spanish-language proficiency were significant markers of ethnic identity formation, which in turn were positively associated with affect and Spanish literacy. These findings shed light on the complexities of ethnic identity construction during children’s early years, and establish a path for further investigation of Latino children’s socio-emotional health and academic achievement.

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