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Park 2013: The Shaping of In-between Identities through Asian Media Consumption among Second Generation Asian Americans
Electronic Journal of Communication

Volume 23 Number 4, 2013

The Shaping of In-between Identities through Asian Media Consumption among Second Generation Asian Americans*

Sora Park
University of Canberra, ACT, Australia

Abstract: This study examined how second generation immigrants learn and negotiate their cultural identities through consumption of Asian media content. A series of qualitative interviews with nine Asian Americans living in Southern California were conducted in April to May 2010. The participants were second generation immigrants who were young adults and had recently moved away from home. Ethnic media played a significant role in building identities and learning about cultural heritage. Although their encounter with ethnic media started out in early stages of their lives through their parents, it was only when they became young adults that they started to make conscious choices about ethnic media consumption. This occurred within the larger context of their peer group. It was not the country-specific media content that drew their attention but the pan-Asian culture that they identified themselves with. Popular music and television shows not only served as a social hub but also functioned as an arena where they pushed and negotiated their boundaries of ethnic identities as bicultural Asian Americans. The digital media environment enhanced the acculturation experience by connecting peers within the social space. This social space allows young adults to shift from growing up in tight ethnic enclaves to a multicultural society, while experimenting with their new hybrid ethnic identities.

New digital platforms provide people with more opportunities to be exposed to a diverse range of ethnic media. Korean wave is a cultural phenomenon usually found in Asian countries where Korean dramas, movies and pop songs are commercially imported due to the continuing privatization of the media sector and the increase in new platforms. Recently this regional flow of cultural products have been expanded to Western countries such as France, U.S., and Australia, where young people from foreign cultures are now appreciating Korean content. The majority of consumption, however, occurs among second generation immigrants from various Asian countries. This pan-Asian connection through media content can be seen as a reflection of their ongoing negotiations of their cultural identities, a process of reverse acculturation.

Studies on second generation immigrants suggest that they go through a different process of forming cultural identities compared to both their immigrant parents and their host country peer group (Kasinitz, Mollenkopf, & Waters, 2004; Padilla & Perez, 2003; Park, S., 2009; Park, S., & Ahn, 2010; Portes & Rumbaut, 2001; Rajiva, 2006; Rumbaut, 2005; Zhou, 1999; Zhou & Xiong, 2005). Second generations grow up in the host society believing and treated as the same as the mainstream members of the society. They go to the same schools, get immersed in the youth culture and grow up in the same neighborhood. They are different from their parents since they do not have meaningful connecti ons with their parents’ country but yet feel different from the host society. This dual identity makes them straddle the old and new worlds, often times failing to be fully part of either society. This is especially the case for Asian Americans, in contrast to the second and third generation Europeans, who find it much easier to assimilate into mainstream American society. According to the Pew Research Center (2012), despite some differences among the subgroups, Asian Americans largely share distinctive characteristics that distinguish them from other racial groups in the U.S. This study explores the characteristics of second generation Asian Americans who share similar cultural tastes and preferences and as a result, form a special bond amongst themselves.

Few studies examine how second generation immigrants go through difference phases of identity negotiations throughout their youth into becoming adults. Despite the fact that they are culturally and linguistically fit as any other member of the society, differences emerge, mostly during the teenage years, when they develop a self-awareness of their ethnic differences (Kibria, 2002; Park, J. Z., 2008; Park, S., 2009). While there are variations, it is inevitable that they go through a unique transition that can be conceptualized as the “re-acculturation” process (Park, S., 2009). Similarly, “reverse acculturation” is a new phenomenon where second generation immigrants introduce their heritage culture to the mainstream host society, which is enhanced by advanced communication channels (Kim & Park, 2009). Going back and forth between two cultures is a common state of biculturalism found in second generation immigrants.

According to Berry, Phinney, Sam, & Vedde (2006), immigrants have different paths in getting adjusted to the host society. Some are well accepted and mingle in seamlessly, while others are segregated and marginalized. There are many studies looking into the factors that make the differences in the transition from one culture to another. Becoming a genuine member of the host society is the ultimate goal of immigrants and the integrated and assimilated groups are more or less the successful ones. While there is a lot of literature on how family, community and the socio-economic background affect the acculturation level, less has been studied on the impact of peer group along with the media they consume together, which immediately influences the identities of young people. While growing up, young people build, negotiate and form their identities through the dynamics of their family and peer group interaction, education and media consumption (< a href="#parksandahn2010">Park, S., & Ahn, 2010). In this study, the significance of peer group and media in forming second generations’ ethnic identities are emphasized.  

The Process of Negotiating and Forming Ethnic Identities

A person’s ethnic identity is not a fixed state. It develops through an ongoing process of negotiating and constructing between differences in the boundaries of race, class, culture, gender and other social characteristics. Most people go through various stages throughout their lives. As children of immigrants, second generations are blended into their immigrant community while comfortable with the mainstream American culture. This bicultural nature of second generations is a product of constant negotiation and re-negotiation of identities during adolescence and early adulthood (Kibria, 2002).

Collier and Thomas (1988) define cultural identity as “identifications with perceived acceptance into a group that has shared systems of symbols and meanings as well as norms and rules for conduct” (p. 113). The process of acquiring cultural identity is through communication and symbolic interactions. Second generations experience more complex social relationships, since their home, neighborhood, ethnic communities and school rarely overlap. They may acquire multiple cultural identities without particularly raising their consciousness about it.

Ethnic identity can be defined as a subjective sense of belonging to an ethnic group consisting of ethnic affirmation and belonging (Phinney, 1990; Phinney, 1992). Acculturation is a process of adapting to a new culture by both physical and symbolic interaction. Depending on the original ethnic identity and link to ethnic community, immigrants adjust differently to the new environment (Berry et al., 2006). Biculturalism is known as the best outcome of adjustment (Berry, 1997; Berry, 2005; Phinney, Horenczyk, Liebkind, & Vedder, 2001). Immigrants are well adjusted when they are comfortable in both the ethnic community and the larger host society. Most second generations grow up to be bicultural, yet they experience a disparity within the society as defined by Kibria ( 2002) as "a part yet apart." They want to fit in but at the same time continuously search for their ethnic identities.

Adolescence is a difficult stage for everybody. Confusion or disturbance by racial or ethnic identity is only one of the many struggles of becoming and belonging one goes through during that time (Rajiva, 2006). Thus we have to be cautious of separating ethnic challenges from other general stages adolescents go through. Nonetheless, studies suggest that there is a turning point, a stage when young people become conscious of their ethnic identities as second generation immigrants (Kibria, 2002; Park, S., 2009). Turning points are triggered by many several occasions, some being meeting with people from their parents’ country (Park, S., 2009), or being treated differently by host country peers (Rajiva, 2006), or simply meeting with other second generations.

This study attempts to look at the process of how identities are negotiated during young adulthood which leads to the first research question.

Research Question 1: What are the processes of negotiating and forming ethnic identities among second generation Asian Americans as they approach adulthood?

The Role of Media on Forming Ethnic Identities

Mass media play a crucial role in shaping cultural identities within ethnic groups. However, the roles that media play differ between immigrant parents and their children. For first generation immigrants, both host and ethnic media are information sources that help them adjust to the new environment (Kim, 1988; Viswanath & Arora, 2000). Ethnic media consumption is often tied to the maintenance of existing relationships and interests in the home country (Kivisto, 2003; Portes, Guarnizo & Landolt, 1999). It is a way of maintaining the link with their original culture (Chaffee, Nass, & Yang, 1991; Jeffres, 2000; Kim, 1978; Lee & Tse, 1994; Rios & Gaines, 1998; Shim & Salmon, 1990; Tan, Nelson, Dong, & Tan, 1997; Walker, 1999). On the other hand, host media consumption helps immigrants adjust to the new culture. Reece and Palmgreen’s (2000) study on the sojourner’s motivation to view American media found that acculturation motives were strongly related.  In contrast, second generations experience the media as a part of their peer group culture. Usually they enjoy both the host country’s media as well as content from their parents’ home country. Ethnic media consumption is often attached to the ethnic identities of second generations (Park, S., 2009; S. Park & Ahn, 2010).

Motivations of media use usually result in different outcome (Blumler, 1979; Rubin, 1984; Windahl, 1981); also, motivations differ among individuals and groups (Rubin, 1981). The motivations to use ethnic media are different between first and second generation immigrants. Immigrant parents consume ethnic media to connect to the communities in both the host and home country. Their level of media consumption is directly related to their acculturation in the host society. Not only the amount but the type of content is influenced by their acculturation level. According to Hwang and He (1999), those with lower levels of acculturation tend to consume entertainment programs while those who are moderately acculturated to American culture tend to view more information TV shows. Immigrants’ ethnic identities are strongly related to both home and host country media consumption. Home country media consumption is negatively related to the emotional belonging of the immigrants to the host society, whereas the mass media of the host society has a positive connection (Miglietta & Tartaglia, 2009).

In recent years, new information technologies and transportation technologies have made it easier for immigrants to maintain close ties with their homeland (Kivisto, 2003; Portes, Guarnizo and Landolt, 1999). The online environment provides new opportunities for reinforcing existing ties but also opens new ways for new ties to be established in the host society (Burrell and Anderson, 2008; Hiller & Franz, 2004; Mitra, 2005). A study on the differences between native and ethnic minority youths in the Netherlands and Flanders found that digital media were used to maintain social relationships (D'Haenens, Koeman, & Saeys, 2008).

While there are many studies that suggest a link between first generation immigrants’ ethnic identities and media consumption, the interplay between various media consumption and identities of second generation immigrants have not been examined systematically. The dichotomy of host and home country media cannot be applied to second generations since they do not have a sense of “home” media. Thus the boundaries of various culture that are embedded in media content may be understood differently.

With vast amounts of international flow of media and also the migration of people across national borders, people increasingly have multiple layers of identities (Straubhaar, 2007). Second generation immigrants usually have both ethnic and national identities built throughout their upbringing. With the increase of multi-national media consumption and opportunities to travel and live in different cultures, it may be easier for them to embrace additional multi-layers of cultural identities. In this study, the link between second generation immigrants who consume pan-Asian media content and their ethnic identities is explored.

Research Question 2: What is the nature of ethnic media consumption among second generation Asian Americans and how does that affect their ethnic identities?

Growing Up in Ethnic Enclaves

The type of ethnic environment in which the second generations grow up can significantly influence how and when they experience reverse acculturation. Parents’ cultural maintenance was positively related to the ethnic identities of immigrant adolescence in a study by Phinney, Romero, Nava & Huang (2001). Another study on the relationship between parents and children of immigrants found that often times there were intergenerational conflict. Phinney, Ong, and Madden (2000) studied five ethnic groups and found that the time of immigration was an important factor. The complexity of second generation’s acculturation is that they have to not only find their own identities but in the process have to struggle with their parents’ degree of acculturation (Portes & Rumbaut, 1996; Zhou, 1999).

Another significant influence is the ethnic community they grow up in. Most Asian Americans live in a relatively homogenous community where they go to school with Asian Americans and/or attend ethnic after-schools. This leads to tight networks within the community as well as increased competition within the groups. The “minority cultures of mobility” thesis that the minority middle classes share a culture of upward mobility can be applied to Asian Americans (Neckerman, Carter, & Lee, 1999).

Immigrant communities that dwell in segregation have both advantages and disadvantages. Some of the advantages include more job opportunities, enabling group-specific enterprises and thus reducing the costs of individual assimilation. On the other hand, less access to quality public schools or other public goods as well as retaining group characteristics for longer periods which might result in isolation, are the obvious setbacks of segregation (Cutler, Glaeser & Vigdor, 2008a).

Not only the ethnic community but the mainstream society also affects the identities of second generation immigrants. For example, perceived discrimination is found to be a significant factor influencing ethnic identities (Sabatier, 2008; Schwartz, Zamboanga, Rodriguez, & Wang, 2007; Tartakovsky, 2009). If second generation Asian Americans grow up within a tight enclosed community, they may be protected from discrimination until adulthood. On the other hand, if they grow up being exposed to a mixed society while experiencing discrimination, this may better prepare them for the real world. Whatever the outcome, exposure to different races, especially the mainstream white population, is crucial in forming Asian American identities.

The outcome of ethnic enclaves are usually measured on an economic standpoint, since the communities realize economies of scale for sustainable ethnic businesses and thus gain a safe and cost-effective point of entry into the host society. However, many studies suggest a negative relationship between concentrated ethnic communities and the economic outcome (Chiswick & Miller, 2005; Chowdhury & Pedace, 2007; Cutler, Glaeser & Vigdor, 2008b; Edin, Fredriksson, & Ãslund, 2003). Less is known about the transition process from growing up in enclaves, entering a multicultural society when they approach adulthood and how this impacts their acculturation and re-acculturation. This leads to the third research question.

Research Question 3. What are the experiences of entering a multicultural society after growing up in ethnic enclaves?

Method and Data

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 9 Asian Americans living in Southern California, attending a State university. They were all born between 1988 and 1990. Eight of them were females and one male. Their ethnic background was diverse, ranging from Chinese, Taiwanese to Vietnamese and half-Vietnamese. The field of study of the participants was diverse spanning from sciences, humanities and arts. The interviews were conducted during April 20 - May 6, 2010. Each interview was conducted individually and lasted approximately 1-2 hours. The recruiting and selecting process began in January 2010. A snowball sampling method was used and the first interviewee referred the researcher to 4 other interviewees and 4 more were branched from the second tier of participants. Not all of them knew each other but had common characteristics of being (1) Asian Americans (2) university students and (3) living away from home for the first time to attend university. Interviews were conducted on campus either in the university bookstore or the cafeteria. All interviews were recorded and transcribed for analysis, with the consent of the interviewees. Names used in the analysis are pseudonyms for the purposes of anonymity. Interview method is useful since it can capture the detailed nuance of how young adults negotiate and change their identities. The participants can also account for their previous experience as teenagers when they started to question their ethnic or national identities.


The purpose of this study was to investigate how second generation Asian Americans find their in-between identities during the course of interacting with Americans, Asians, Asian Americans, both in real life and through media representation. The interviewees who participated in this study were all Asian Americans who grew up in ethnic enclaves during their childhood and adolescence but had moved away from home during their early adulthood to attend universities. This transition from living with their family in a close and tight ethnic community to a wider multicultural society forced them to rethink about their ethnicities and identities. Through the interviews, the role of Asian media in the process of negotiating and confirming their in-between ethnic identities were revealed. Even though they could not fully agree with the values that were depicted in Asian media, they felt somewhat closer to that than they did to the mainstream American media. Expanding exposure to d iverse ethnic groups enabled the interviewees to find a place in-between American and Asian identities. The process of reaching this balance was diversified among the interviewees but they all shared the bicultural characteristics to some extent. Details of the findings are reported in the following sections.

Asian Media Consumption and Pan Asian Identities

Veronica watches Chinese historical dramas and Korean soap operas. She also listens to Korean songs. She sources them from Korean American pop culture sites online, all English sites that translate the Korean almost instantaneously. At home, her family speaks Cantonese and watches Hong Kong dramas where she started to watch Asian movies. Her media consumption has since then expanded to Korean movies and dramas.

Ethnic heritage was not the reason for consuming ethnic media. It involved keeping up with trends and fashion within their group of peers. Many in her group had been exposed to ethnic media of different origin as children. Now they were watching and consuming ethnic media from other Asian countries. Consuming media from other countries was a process of building hybrid identities (Nilan & Fexia, 2006).

One of the reasons she likes Asian media is because it seems different and yet similar to their own ethnic background.

I don’t know why [I like Korean dramas]. I feel like it’s similar yet so different to what I grew up with. I also think it’s funnier and more appropriate to watch with family compared to American TV. American shows are funny but it’s not appropriate to watch with my parents. (Veronica)

Confucian values such as respecting the elderly or emphasizing family catch the attention of this peer group because they grew up learning about such values, which made them feel different from their American peers. This point of difference is one way they identify themselves.

Korean culture is similar to the Chinese. I see resemblances in traditional family customs. The way they perform the custom is different but they share similar attributes. (Ashley)

Such values are picked up while consuming Asian media content. Even though they might not fully identify themselves with the content, they do recognize and feel familiar with such values.

There is a big difference. It’s probably what I like more about Asian [Korean] dramas. They have a lot on “family.” Like in 100 Pound Beauty for example, if it was an American movie, they wouldn’t have so much on the father. In the movie, it kept going back to that, like how her mom was not there and how he liked her that kind of thing. I feel that doesn’t exist in American version. I like that kind of family values in dramas. (Kaylee)

They are critical of mainstream American media because there aren’t that many Asians on television to begin with. Kaylee recalls how surprised she was when an Asian actress, Lucy Liu, was casted on Ally McBeal in the 90s since she had never seen an Asian before on a major TV show as the main character. However, as a grown-up she is disappointed that, when they do appear they are depicted as stereotypes.

There were stereotypes on TV. If you’re Asian you have to do Martial Arts, that kind of stereotypes. (Kaylee).

The similarities and differences provide the second generation with a reverse acculturation experience. This is something they struggle throughout young adulthood, and Asian media provides them with some relief in that sense. It was the dual nature of Korean media content that they identified themselves with.

[I like to watch Asian dramas because] there are people that look like me. When I was little, you see all these pretty girls, you could be like them. Like when watching American dramas, it’s harder to imagine yourself as the main character when you look so different. Also the home life is different, the culture is different. (Veronica)

Chloe is a Vietnamese who migrated to the States when she was five. As with most immigrant families, both her parents worked full-time while she was growing up. Chloe enjoys watching Korean TV shows which inspired her to learn Korean. She likes Korean dramas because of the “pretty guys (actors)”. She usually gets information about new dramas from friends she meets online. Most of them are Asian Americans who watch Korean dramas. Korean dramas are “really funny, sometimes cute.” She also feels that the relationships portrayed in Korean dramas resemble the interaction she has with her family and friends.

Pan-Asian identities are developed throughout their childhood and adolescence through interaction with their family and ethnic community and they tend to bloom during their young adulthood. The interviewees who consumed Korean dramas had actively started to watch them after they left home for college and met friends with similar tastes. They realize, as they became adults living away from home, that they had grown up in a unique environment and felt that Korean content provided the cultural link back to their own ethnic communities.

The Irrelevance of Language

Even though some of them aspired to learn the language of the ethnic media they were “hooked on to,” it was not always the case. Language plays a minimal role in appreciating ethnic content. It seems that language is not necessary for group identity (Edwards & Chisholm, 1987). In certain circumstances, such as in group belonging among Asian Americans, language matters less, since most of them don’t share a common ethnic language. This was the case among Asian Americans in this study. Language was not a barrier in consuming foreign media. Sometimes liking certain media leads into an aspiration to visit that country or learn the language but not vice versa.

Jess’s parents are from Vietnam. She enjoys Korean dramas, mostly romantic comedies. She gets recommendations from her group of friends. She also likes Korean music and she is now learning Korean. Ashley likes to watch Korean dramas. She learns Korean and plans to study in Korea. As a young child she used to watch Hong Kong dramas with her family. She speaks fluent Cantonese and a little Mandarin. She went to a high school where the majority was Chinese. Alice is a fluent speaker and writer of Mandarin. She likes watching Korean dramas and movies. She watches them with Chinese subtitles. On several occasions she has been to Asia. She especially enjoys Korean dramas because they seem similar to Chinese dramas that she used to watch as a child but also similar to Western dramas that contain more modern values. As these examples show, language was not an essential cultural tool necessary to appreciate foreign media c ontent.

Ethnic language was more of a communication channel with their family which was mostly forced upon them as children. Their parents’ language affected how they related to their parents and eventually how they positioned themselves in the society. Most of them struggled through their childhood to cope with two languages. It is not until they became adults that they appreciated their bilingual and bicultural abilities.

[As bilinguals] we can see different aspects of different cultures. It’s not like “this is my culture so it must be your way too.” I can be more open-minded. (Ariana)

[I am learning Vietnamese because I think] the more language you know the better. The ethnicity comes to the same people. So patients like to go to their ethnic group. I think it will benefit me when I practice [physiotherapy]. (Chloe)

The experience of learning an ethnic language at home enabled them to grow bicultural characteristics to be open to other cultures. The reason they liked to watch Korean dramas was not because they fully understood the content but because they were able to identify some common traits in the culture. Language was something that followed.

The Pendulum of American, Asian and In-between Identities

Enjoying Asian media was a part of the reverse acculturation process that young Asian Americans went through in this particular group of study. The interviewees grew up in a tight ethnic community where they went to school with friends with a similar ethnic background and where the majority was Asian Americans. Most ethnic communities have geographic proximity and immigrants prefer to live in the same neighborhood (Cutler, Glaeser, & Vigdor, 2008a; Hatton & Leigh, 2011). Even in the case where parents send their children to largely white schools with the hope of assimilating their children into the mainstream society, the families kept in close contact with their ethnic community by way of ethnic schools and churches.

This type of closed community significantly influences their ethnic identities in various stages of their lives. Those who grew up in predominantly Asian American neighborhood tend to feel less of a conflict between their ethnic background and their lives as Americans. Their view of the host society is filtered through their ethnic communities and is less immediate but they have a strong belonging and identification as an “American” at the same time. Their future job perspective as serving the ethnic community is realistic and optimistic. The ethnic community is large enough so that they can stay in that “island” without having to deal with discrimination and the “scary white” world outside. Their parents encouraged them to stay in good terms with the ethnic community so that they could live safely inside of the community.

Alice was born in California. Both her parents come from a Chinese background but met in America. At home she speaks Mandarin. Her parents wanted her to keep the culture as much as possible and sent her to a Chinese afterschool, four hours every day, ever since she was four years old. Similar to other participants in this study she experienced reverse acculturation when she moved away from home to attend university. She remained in an Asian American clique of friends. Sharing common experiences was a significant factor that leads to friendship.

[Ethnic background does matter] a little bit in a way. You have to have something common to talk about. (Ariana).

It was the “in-betweenness” that they identify themselves with. It didn’t matter whether they shared the same ethnicity. Rather, the fact that they grew up in similar environments were the decisive factor of bondage.

I grew up where the majority was Chinese or Indians. So even my white friends only have Asian friends. My friends are from Asian countries and not necessarily Vietnamese. (Chloe)

The thing is I still have some of the Asian values. I am sort of in the middle. I speak both languages fluently. It’s hard to find an “in-between” group to identify with. (Andrew)

They identify themselves loosely as the “in-between” ethnic group, not fully American and not fully Asian. Reverse acculturation occurs at difference stages depending on the surroundings or schools they went to. Andrew immigrated to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. He went to a predominantly white high school in a small Midwest town. Coming to a university where the majority is Asian American was a cultural shock to him.

[Growing up, I had many occasions of] cultural confusion… I think in high school I sometimes tried to be black… I got a little confused right there. I tried the Asian identity in my first year of college and tried to get in there. I am what I am now -- in the middle. I never tried the full Americanization. I don’t think that would fit my profile very well. (Andrew)

For some, experimenting with identities starts much earlier in life. In most cases, it occurred when they realized that they have a unique ethnic background compared to the mainstream society.

I feel like I was aware since I was young. But not brought on by myself. When I was young my parents told me that you must never forget that you are Chinese because even though you grew up here and speak English whenever someone else looks at you, you will be someone Chinese. You will never be accepted as Americans… That was a strong influence. I tried to ignore that because everyone tries to intermingle… I feel like the reverse side of that. I am white on the inside. (Veronica)

Differences or resemblances in appearance are usually the initial momentum for second generations to question their different identities.

The first time I got self-conscious of my race was in Japan. I was never really conscious before but when I went to Japan I would walk in the streets and nobody would look at me differently. I would be the same as everyone else. Whereas in America I am always regarded as different… It was nice to be the same as everyone else. (Kaylee)

However, beyond the appearance, they quickly realize that Asians are not the group that they can identify themselves either. The Asian American identity is reinforced when young people are exposed to “Asian” culture.

I do notice the segregation there. Foreign students cluster together and speak their language. They don’t mix with Asian Americans…I had a friend from China last year and she said that she didn’t get along well with the Chinese Americans here because the culture is different and the values are different. (Ashley)

I feel disconnected. From whose who have just come from Asia….Then the people who were born here and lived their whole lives here [as Asian Americans], I couldn’t really identify myself with them, either. So I was kind of stuck in the middle. (Andrew)

Veronica distinguishes “us” from “them”. She feels that Asians are exclusive and do not mix well with Asian Americans. And Asian Americans look down upon them. Such exposure to Asians and Asian culture shifts their identities back to being Americans but this time in a place in-between. Being Asian Americans is the middle ground they finally find themselves after going back and forth the American and Asian identities, both of which they could not fully identify themselves with.

Variation within the Integration Group

Biculturalism is an indicator of how well immigrants adapt and adjust to their surroundings. Existing studies categorize minority groups into four categories, integration, assimilation, segregation and marginalization (Berry, 1997; Berry, 2005; Berry et al., 2006). It was evident that all the interviewees felt comfortable with both the mainstream American culture and their ethnic culture, indicating that they all belonged to the integrated group. Even so, there was considerable variation among them. In this study two distinct patterns emerged. First is the “bicultural and content” group. These young adults were comfortable switching cultures between Asian Americans and Americans in various settings.

Yes, most of my friends were born here. But they are Asian Americans. Or they might have been born somewhere else but I can’t really tell the difference and it’s not a big deal. I can’t tell the difference. (Ariana).

I identify myself with Asian Americans in the middle, if you see it in a continuum. Most likely I would marry someone who is in the same position as myself. (Andrew)

Second is the “bicultural and ethno-conscious” group. They are competent in both languages and culture but are aware of their differences, possible discrimination and different roles they are expected to play within the larger society.

[Discrimination] is definitely here. There are people [who] hate Asians because they do well in class. So I guess for me, it is kind of weird because I am tall, 5 foot 7 inches, is quite tall for a girl, Asian. Whenever I walk around with my Asian friends they are much shorter than me. They think that’s weird. That’s like a stereotype that Asians are short. That kind of small things. Or double eye lid, small eye things. I have double eye lids. (Kaylee)

Right now I have a really big stigma about things portrayed in American media about Asian Americans. There’s a new movie coming out called The Last Airbenders. When they were casting it all the lead characters were Caucasian...They were all getting Asian cultures mixed up. They were casting for extras for Asians and they were saying things like if you’re Korean come wear a Kimono. Koreans wear Hanbok! Americans lump Asians together. (Kaylee)

Regardless of their position along the spectrum, most of the interviewees felt that it was beneficial to keep their ethnic identities for pragmatic reasons, such as more opportunities in the job market or international opportunities. It is not until they reach early adult age that they acknowledge the benefits of being bilingual or bicultural, as found in other studies (Park, S., 2009; Shi & Lu, 2007). Many of them valued their ethnic identities as cultural and social capital that will benefit them in their future.

Negotiating Ethnic Values and Hybrid Cultural Boundaries

The uniqueness that Asian American communities provide the second generation with is the competitive environment within the group. Most of them went to schools where the majority of the students were Asians which led to competition among Asian families in the vicinity. This culture of Asian families was predominant in their early lives. Parents perceived of their children’s performance as an indicator of their own success as immigrants.

My family, in general, is more controlling of their kids. My cousins who are 7 and 8, they go to after school classes every day. On Saturdays they have Martial Arts and on Sunday, tutoring. My other cousin who is a senior in high school, his parents sent him to every SAT, AP prep institute out there. (Ashley)

For immigrant Asian families, good grades in school are the barometer of success because they believe that will lead to a stable profession.

I think they wanted us [siblings] to [get a professional job]… [When] I wanted [to] become a doctor, an optometrist, they were supportive. (Ariana).

When differences in values among the first and second generation surface around studying and socializing, they are rarely discussed. Most of the interviewees perceived their parents as being “strict” (Chloe) and “focusing too much of studies and pushing hard” (Kaylee). They are more controlling compared to American parents.

In my family, I mostly have conflicts with my mom but I don’t usually speak out. She says the same things most of the time. She wanted me to get A’s and everything, so I aimed to get A’s. (Jess)

They often struggled with the “model minority” stereotype that is expected from them.

Stereotype of Asian Americans being the model minority, they study and work harder. So the expectations are higher. Everyone just thinks that. (Ashley)

Within the family, Confucian values are often the source of conflict. Although the second generation might not agree with the values, they would rarely contest their parents. For example, Ariana never talks back to her parents because that is how one should respect their elders. Like many other second generation Asian Americans, she usually follows her parents’ ways of resolving problems by silence and avoidance.

Like the main thing is, regarding authority. In my family if you’re the father you hold the position of authority…. When I was little, I really hated when my father said, “you have do bla-bla-bla because I am your father” “How come you talk to your father that way.” (Veronica)

In my family the oldest son is most important. My parents definitely think so. (Kaylee)

I haven’t really argued with my parents much. Most of the time I just keep it in because if I have an argument with my Mom it’s gonna end like being me by myself in the corner thing. I know that in Asian culture you have to respect your parents and [they are] superior all the time. (Jess)

In a way, even though they have left home to attend college and they all live independently, they have a constant link to their ethnic community and culture. It is realized through their peer group of Asian Americans, their Asian media consumption and maintaining a close relationship with their family back home. While some of them wanted to expand their horizons by going to other countries or other bigger cities, in most cases they were regarded as temporary arrangements. Eventually they plan to go back to their hometown to live within the Asian American communities.


California is a unique state with the highest immigration rates and non-white population in the U.S. which makes the results of the study hardly generalizable. However, there are some significant implications that can be drawn from this study. Second generations who grow up in ethnic enclaves and continue on their young adulthood amongst Asian American peer groups tend to have less of an identity conflict or crisis. Instead, they comfortably form an in-between identity, part American and part Asian with their bicultural heritage. However, their bicultural capacities expand beyond the two countries that they belong to. Being exposed to a different culture while growing up enables them to acquire a hybrid multi-cultural capital which has potential to expand and add layers to their existing bicultural identities.

Recent observation on ethnic enclaves reports a new trend of multi-ethnic groups where a diverse range of ethnic groups form immigrant communities. Immigrant communities are porous clusters of activities rather than insulated enclaves (Spencer, Flowers, & Seo, 2012). This was the case with the interviewees. Their views of their ethnic communities were broader than the typical sense of one ethnic group belonging to one enclave. They would identify easily with other Asian Americans and other Asian culture, regardless of language or cultural values. Rather than attaching their identities to one ethnic group, they were identifying themselves with the “in-betweenness”, not belonging fully to any one group but easily switching from one to another.

The interviewees in this study did not go through the typical reverse acculturation of adjusting to their ethnicity during their adolescence. Rather, they encountered it after they had become young adults and had left their ethnic enclaves. During the process of identity forming, negotiating and expanding, the role of Asian media played a significant role. Intertwined with friendship and peer group dynamics, second generation Asian Americans were able to play around and experiment with their cultural identities by consuming Asian content. At the time of the interviews, Korean dramas, movies and songs were the common content that young Asian Americans enjoyed, relating the characters’ appearances and relationships to their own lives. The narratives of Korean content were modern enough for them to value but also had traditional norms that they could recognize from their parents. Their preference was not confined to Korean content and many of them expanded to other Asi an media content.

This was an exploratory study conducted with a unique group of Asian Americans. Follow-up research on how they change and expand their hybrid ethnic identities as mature adults is necessary to confirm the hybrid expandable nature of second generations’ identities. Nonetheless this study contributes to the less known field of how young adults extend their hybrid identities through consumption of Asian media with their Asian American peer group. Another limit to this study is that the hybrid nature of Korean media content could not be fully explored since it was not the scope of this study. The interviews revealed that Asian Americans prefer Korean dramas and music due to its “universal” nature or its “dual” nature of being both Asian and Western. Further investigation into the content of Korean media is needed to find the reasons to why Asian Americans, in particular, tend to prefer Korean media over other Asian fare.


The project was funded by Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) Foundation Fellowship Program (2009-2010).


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