We’re All in This Together: The Relationship Between Ethnic Identity and Friends for Multi-ethnic Individuals in Emerging Adulthood

May 4, 2020   /  

Student: Mia Palmejar-Takaki
Majors: Psychology, Communication Studies
Advisors: Dr. Amber Garcia, Dr. Michelle Johnson

Mia Palmerjar-TakakiThe purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between ethnic identity and friendships in a sample of multi-ethnic individuals in emerging adulthood (18 to 29 years old). This study utilized a quantitative approach via an electronic survey measuring four main concepts: (1) integration of ethnic identity, (2) friendship maintenance characteristics, (3) relationship closeness, and (4) expression of ethnic identity with a close friend. Findings showed that the friendship maintenance characteristic openness is significantly related to relationship closeness. Additionally, expression of ethnic identity is an important factor to consider as it was highly correlated to integration of ethnic identity, relationship closeness, and the friendship maintenance characteristics openness and supportiveness. Overall, participants expressed conflict about establishing their multi-ethnic identity while feeling pressure to constantly prove their ethnic identity. These findings reflect participants’ struggles while highlighting the importance of having a friend who is open to the intricacies of one’s ethnic identity. Further research should continue to explore how ethnic identity is discussed among friends and how one’s multi-ethnic identity functions in relation to other parts of one’s identity.

Mia will be online to field comments on May 8:
Noon-2pm EDT (PST 9am-11am, Africa/Europe: early evening)

48 thoughts on “We’re All in This Together: The Relationship Between Ethnic Identity and Friends for Multi-ethnic Individuals in Emerging Adulthood”

  1. Do you think that people with more ethnicities struggle more/struggle less?

    1. Hi Jillian,

      Thanks for your question! I do think that individuals with more ethnicities struggle more. I think it becomes more challenging to balance and integrate the different ethnicities, especially if some have different cultural values that may put them at odds with one another. But, it all comes down to individuals’ lived experiences and their relationships with each ethnicities. There may be pressure to know everything about each ethnic background from others (e.g., peers or society) but multi-ethnic individuals should feel confident in their unique relationships with their ethnicities that give them a unique perspective on the cultures.

  2. Mia,

    Thank you for your vulnerability woven throughout your presentation. Were there additional concepts you considered before narrowing down to the three you chose?

    Congratulations and we look forward to welcoming you and your class to the alumni community!

    Meret Nahas ’10

    1. Hi Meret,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to my presentation!

      As for additional concepts, when I was initially brainstorming my topic, I had first wanted to compare high school and college students. I was interested in looking at that transition from high school to college because that is a turning point for getting more independence. So emerging adulthood was not yet in my vocabulary. But, as I was planning out the feasibility of my study, I made it broader to include not just college students, but people in this age range because of how many things are changing in people’s 20’s, giving me a larger population to look into.
      I had always wanted to look at the relationship between friends and ethnic identity because I thought it was interesting that not a lot of research looks at the influence of friends, so I knew that these would be my two main concepts.

      I look forward to connecting with you in the future!

  3. Dear Mia,

    Congratulations on being the first presentation that caught my eye!

    I really loved the topic, specially since it was motivated by your own experience. Your presentation was easy to follow and your personal nuggets really helped me retain the content.

    It is interesting to learn more about Ethnic identity development and I wonder if a similar concept could apply to international students? These could be people who might be from one culture/ ethnicity but have spend their emerging adulthood in another culture. Being someone who spent all of my adulthood in the U.S. and then (happily) returned home, this extension of the research would be a wonderful learning.

    Overall, commendable job and looking forward to discussing more with you!

    1. What a wonderful question, Unnati! I hope you are doing well:)–Dr. G

    2. Hi Unnati,

      Thank you for taking the time to listen to my presentation, I am glad that my personal stories were able to come through in the presentation despite being done virtually!

      As for research regarding ethnic identity development for international students, especially in emerging adulthood, I think this would be a great area of research to look into! Emerging adulthood is such a time for growth and change (even in 4 years at college a lot can take place) that one’s feelings towards their ethnicity might change as well as they may try to assimilate to, for example, American culture. This can then change their view on how they might see their ethnic identity as they hear about how others talk about it but also through their experiences. It might be similar to people who use a hyphenated identity – a lot of the research is based on individuals who integrate their ethnic and national identity. This is different from what you’re discussing, but this might be another avenue to look into as well. For example, individuals might then choose to identify as being Japanese-American due to their lived experience of being in the U.S. during emerging adulthood.

      1. Dr. Garcia– Thank you and commendable job advising Mia! I am well. Hope you are healthy and safe too.


        Thanks for the well thought out response!

        It is so exciting to think about since when I was living in the U.S. nearing 6 years, I almost began identifying as an Indian-American immigrant, although I wasn’t one. Luckily, I had that peer/support group of students similar to me- ISA and SAC on campus to help me feel comfortable in my dual identity. Moving back to India (which can be a far-off extension of this research), I am trying to change the narrative of my identity. But, I work in an American Work Space so that helps me still be closer to people with dual identities.

        I know, this is a hypothetical extension of your research but it really got me thinking about identity theory. Will read your IS to learn more. Once again, congratulations!

  4. Mia, thanks for sharing your research. This is an increasingly relevant topic for so many people, and I appreciated how you interwove your personal experiences with the lived experiences of those who participated in your study. Congratulations on your study.

    1. Thank you so much Professor Bostdorff! I am glad that my personal stories were able to come through via this online platform. I hope you are doing well!

  5. Great job Mia! As a multi-ethnic person, I’ve particularly valued my friendships with others who identify similarly. I really enjoyed learning about the stages of ethnic identity development, as I could identify the stages of exploration in my life. I’m curious to hear what you think about how this could be applied to multi-ethnic sibling relationships? I know that despite my brother being the only person I know who matches exactly my specific multi-ethnic identity, it’s not something that I’ve ever thought to speak to him about, and I’m curious if other’s feel similarly? I love seeing more and more work being down to recognize and explore multi-ethnic identities!

    1. Thanks so much Shelby! I’m so glad you were able to see the stages of ethnic identity development and how they have played out in your life – I definitely had the same experience when I was first learning about the topic.

      In terms of siblings – as I’ve been home now, I was better able to share my research with my brother (17 y/o) and asked him his perspective. It was interesting to find out that he hasn’t really considered his ethnic identity but as we discussed more and we talked about his personal interests and how his ethnic identity exploration might be starting (e.g., the fighters he follows are mainly Japanese), he began to realize that maybe I have a point!

      In my survey, I did include questions that asked participants to reflect on if they’ve felt conflicted about their multi-ethnic identity and if they have talked to anyone about it. Many individuals mentioned family, but more specifically grandparents, moms, and siblings. When discussing their siblings, responses went in two directions: (1) yes, I talk to them or (2) we share the same feelings but haven’t talked about it explicitly. There was even an instance where a participant disclosed that their siblings have rejected their multi-ethnic identities.

      To sum it up, whom we talk to about our multi-ethnic identity varies from person to person but it might be most important to find someone who simply makes us feel comfortable and is open about these discussions. When it comes to our family, having these discussions might be a little difficult to be so vulnerable in front of one another which is why ways of expressing our ethnic identity and bonding over those might feel easier (e.g., food, clothing, social media posts, etc.). I’ve noticed that with my older sister, we share Instagram posts about food related to our ethnic identities as a way to subtly talk about our multi-ethnic experience but among friends, I talk about it more openly.

      If you’re interested in reading more about multi-ethnic identity and how its represented in literature, I can pass along some books that I’ve enjoyed reading for fun as I continue exploring multi-ethnic identity!

  6. Great job Mia! Such an important topic and you did a great job researching and presenting it. Congrats!

    1. Hi Carly! Thanks so much for taking the time to listen to my presentation 🙂 I miss seeing you and hope you and your family are doing well!

  7. Hello Mia–

    I am so proud of you & I am in awe of all the work you have done.

    I especially enjoyed how you incorporated your own story when considering your research questions.

    I wonder if your research can act as a sort of ‘tool box’ for how a non-multi-ethnic friend can support their friends who are?

    Much love.

    1. Hi Marloes,

      Thank you so much for your sweet note!! And yes, I think my research can definitely act as a sort of “tool box.” From what I’ve found, it’s important for friends to be supportive and open – allowing their multi-ethnic friend to freely discuss their concerns and show that they accept them for who they are completely, not parsing out specific ethnicities. I know you’ve done this for me.

      Sending you virtual hugs!

  8. Super interesting and meaningful work Mia! I enjoyed your presentation 🙂 I wish you the best of luck with everything post-graduation!

  9. Hey Mia. What a great way to wrap up your IS process! The more we can all understand and talk about identity and ethnicity, the better. You did a great job of explaining complicated concepts.

    1. Thanks Dr. Johnson! Thank you for all your support this past year – I will not forget that mental breakthrough we both had as we were going through the last wave of edits for my Chapter 5 in your office and it all just fell into place 🙂 Miss you and hope you’re doing well!

  10. Loved reading and leaning about your research, Mia. I’m glad I got to hear about it on our virtual tours together! Wishing you the best after we graduate!

  11. Mia,

    It’s so strange to see that recent experiences in your life have already been broken down into development stages. I remember having my identity in college questioned by other ethnic students, triggering my own exploration stage. If only I had a close friend to talk to who was also multi-ethnic like me! Alas…

    You mentioned friends might show food to one another to explore their identity. In your research, did you find literature about people would hide their favorite foods, or felt shamed by others for eating their cultural foods?

    1. Hi Marcel,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to listen to my presentation! It has been comforting, and somewhat nerve-wracking, to see all this new terminology I am using to define these specific moments in my life.

      In terms of past literature that I looked at, specifically an article by Oshima (2014) that looked at mixed-race people in Japan, participants did reflect on feeling shame about the food from their non-Japanese ethnicity. Interestingly, in my study, when talking about food, participants did discuss how they felt the need to know MORE about the cultural cuisines to prove their ethnic identity to others (whether it was people from the same ethnic background or not). So instead, participants in my study expressed feeling pressure to know more/”show off” in a sense to prove that they are part of their ethnic background. This may come from perceptions that they appear racially ambiguous, thus feeling more pressure to perform their ethnicity so that they will finally be seen.

  12. Great project Mia! Thank you for sharing your research and perspective on such a personal topic!

  13. Mia – Who would have thought that your IS title would be so relevant to the current slogan in fighting COVID-19, “We’re in this together!” Very well done. Congratulations!

    1. Thank you so much, the phrase now holds more meaning as it has become increasingly important to maintain our social connections at this time. Thank you again for taking the time to listen!

  14. Mia,
    What an excellent video/presentation and I’m so glad I got to see a little bit of your IS process in person! Did you find that the process of creating your survey and writing questions made you reflect or think differently about your identities and friendships (or even how you’d answer a survey related to this topic)?

    Congratulations on all your success, both with IS and throughout your 4 years at Wooster, and I’m excited for your next adventures! So glad you found your people!

    P.S. Where/when did you take that cute photo? 😉

    1. Hi Maya,

      Thanks so much for your sweet comments! I think this process was very therapeutic for me. Especially when it came down to tying the relationship between friendships and ethnic identity. Not a lot of research looks at this relationship and so it was difficult to find survey questions that asked participants to specifically reflect on tangible ways that they express their ethnic identity (e.g., food, music, traditions, etc.) that they can share with others. This not only made me reflect on how more research needs to look at this relationship but also reflecting on ways that I express my ethnic identities with my friends.

      I took a trip with my friend to visit my Aunt and that helped me brainstorm the ways I showed my ethnic identity with them – through food, sharing of traditions, stories that were told, etc. It made me realize the many ways, especially now with the easy access to technology, that we can express our ethnic identity through others – such as simply putting the flags of our ethnicities in our Instagram bios or emojis of our favorite foods. These small ways show how easy it can be to start opening up the conversation of talking about ethnicity.

      P.S. My fav spot on campus, the Arch, and also where I took another fun photo shoot with my people!

  15. Mia,

    Outstanding presentation. It demonstrates solid research and your passion for the topic.

    You mentioned how perceived closeness between friends contributes to their likelihood to share more of their multi-ethnic background. Do you believe emerging adults who identify themselves as multi-ethnic seek out those they feel may be more open to their backgrounds; either overtly or subconsciously?

    Thank you for exploring a topic so meaningful to a large swath of the Wooster community.

    Dr. W

    1. Hi Dr. Whitehead,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to listen to my presentation!

      I think multi-ethnic emerging adults seek individuals who are open to their ethnic backgrounds overtly and covertly. In terms of overtly finding others, this came to light when I was recruiting participants. I actually found Facebook groups that were titled with names such as “Subtle Mixed Traits,” “Hapa,” or even “Mixed Race Studies” where individuals have found these groups and engage in discussion about being multi-ethnic. This was similarly reflected in participants’ responses when they shared that they have joined cultural groups or Facebook groups that have led them to forming strong friendships with others who are open about being multi-ethnic and are even multi-ethnic themselves.

      In terms of how we may covertly look for these relationships, it can be in ways such as putting the flags of our ethnic identities in our social media biographies, sharing posts to our social medias about ethnic-related topics, or even posting food pics of dishes from our ethnic backgrounds. By exposing our ethnicities a little via social media platforms specifically, this can draw people’s attention to our ethnicities and make it easier for discussions to take place while bringing together more people who are open to our ethnicities.

  16. Congratulations Mia! I really liked your project and your presentation! I think this topic is really important as the world becomes more close knit in terms of relationships and I like that you concentrated on friends impact. Your vulnerability also added greatly to this project. Thanks for being my RA freshman year! I wish you good luck in the future after Wooster!

    1. Thanks so much Anna, I’m glad that you also see the importance of this topic as I was very nervous in the beginning stages of my I.S. to pursue this. Wishing you all the best for the rest of your time at Woo and post-Woo, keep me posted!

  17. What impact do you think environment plays on identifying with one race over the other?
    We live in a homogeneous community. My children are of mixed races (Caucasian – Japanese) but don’t identify with their Japanese heritage. Do you think Friendships had an impact? Age?

    1. Thanks so much for your question!

      I think environment can definitely be a factor in how multi-ethnic individuals choose to identify. For example, by living in a homogenous community, this could limit people’s access to cultural organizations to learn more about one’s ethnic identity. This can also further limit the opportunity for discussion about being multi-ethnic if there is no one else who is also multi-ethnic to share in those struggles. But, this is not to say that multi-ethnic individuals can only talk to one another – they can still have these conversations with their mono-ethnic peers.

      Talking about ethnic identity can be hard and uncomfortable. So a way that this can be done is sharing posts on Instagram, food, bringing up cultural traditions, learning the language, music, etc. But, it requires that a multi-ethnic individual to begin exploring this part of themselves. Ethnic identity exploration can take place at any stage in a person’s life, so individuals may not have had that moment just yet. But, I think having a friend that they feel close to and can have open conversations can be beneficial to jumpstart these conversations.

  18. What a spectacular and fascinating presentation Mia! You explained your I.S. so well, and the visuals were extremely helpful in delivering your message. Thank you for taking the time to present and share your I.S. with us all! SO proud of you! Cheers and many well-wishes. 🙂

  19. Congratulations on such an important IS, Mia. A greater understanding of multi-ethnic friendships and other relationships is absolutely necessary as cultures continue to globalize. I appreciate you sharing your own experiences and wish you the best in your post-graduate life.

    1. Thanks so much Professor Weller! 🙂 I definitely learned a lot more about friendships from taking Interpersonal Communication with you in the fall. Maya and I still use phrases from your class when talking about our own experiences!

  20. Hi Mia,
    Congratulations on achieving this significant milestone! Very impressive. I am fascinated by your research topic, as in high school one of my very good friends was bi-racial. I’ve always wondered if there are any correlations between those who have parents who are very comfortable with being in a multi-ethnic relationship or marriage versus parents/families who are perhaps not as comfortable with it. Did you come across any of this in your research? I applaud you for this terrific work and wish you the best of luck as you pursue your professional interests beyond Woo!

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      Thank you so much for your feedback and lovely compliments, it’s crazy to see how it has finally all come together now!

      In terms of research on how one’s family has viewed multi-ethnic relationships, I did not come across this in my literature. I mainly focused on how ethnic identity is discussed in the home environment since that is where the majority of research lies, but there was not a lot of discussion on the perception of multi-ethnic romantic relationships. There was limited discussion of this in participants’ free responses, talking about they have talked about their multi-ethnic experience to their significant other or that their significant other is also multi-ethnic and can relate to their experiences. This is definitely an area to look more into as we all become more accepting of one another’s diverse backgrounds and that multi-ethnic individuals are a growing population in society!

  21. This is so incredibly interesting and I am so proud of you for doing this! As a half white and half puerto rican person, this makes so much more sense as to why I feel out of place some of the time. Thank you so much for not only doing this but for being such an awesome coworker and friend this past year!

  22. Hey Mia!
    Nurse Rhonda here. Great job!

    How does increased global motility effect the support for one’s ethnic identity? Growing up, I often heard of cities having their own “Little China”, “Little Italy”, etc. These ethnic gatherings of various cultures would have naturally supported each other, but since we have become more mobile—do you feel various ethnic identities have that same level of support?

    1. Hi Rhonda!

      So lovely to hear from you – thank you for taking the time to listen to my presentation 🙂

      You bring up a really interesting point about global mobility that I hadn’t thought of. I think that the support provided is definitely different. In Chicago, we still do have those communities throughout the city but I can understand if someone moved outside of the city, these communities may be a little bit more difficult to find. More effort would probably be needed to find those communities in their area but there is always an opportunity to find online support via Facebook groups as well.

  23. Dear Mia,

    Congratulations on your IS! I really appreciate the interconnection in your work between the experiences of individuals and the influence of friendships. That intersection, as you described it, between finding your people and finding yourself, is explained so well in your video, and is illuminated by the research you did. I wish you all the very best for the future! I know you will keep asking great questions, and that will be very important for whatever profession you choose.
    All my best, Pres. Bolton

  24. Congratulations Mia! I thoroughly enjoyed watching your presentation. Taking a difficult and sensitive topic and integrating your own personal experiences into it was great to see. I am so proud of you and all of the hard work you put into this. Best of luck to you!

  25. What an awesome presentation, and thats some awesome work! Great job

  26. Hi Mia

    It’s Karen from the Wellness Center
    Congratulations on your IS and presentation. Kudos to you for doing the virtual presentation. You did such a good job. It was a pleasure to work with you at the Wellness Center and good luck to you

  27. What a beautiful presentation. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. I miss your smile. Best wishes

  28. Mia! This was such beautiful and important work. Thank you so much for exploring this and sharing it with us.

    Did you come across any information about the country that a multi-ethnic individual grows up in playing a role in their ethnic identification? For example, I have cousins who are Cameroonian and Chinese and they grew up in China versus my other cousins who are Cameroonian and German yet grew up in the USA. I’m wondering if there is any correlation between identifying with one ethnic group more because you grew up in that predominately in that culture versus having a “neutral” place of living in which the society itself is not exposing/”pushing” one ethnic group over another? I hope this question makes sense lol.

    Again, beautiful work! Congratulations and I wish you the best <3

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