“She’s hungarious so she’s Mexican but she’s most likely Indian”: Negotiating ethnic labels in a California junior high school

Jung-Eun Janie Lee

Abstract

Schools in California have become increasingly diverse and the demographic composition of school populations has become heterogeneous in the language, nationality, and ethnicity of students. Using ethnographic and interactional analysis, the present article examines how California youth employ a variety of concepts associated with ethnicity to classify themselves and others. For youth who have peers from multiple national, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds, the criteria of citizenship, national origin, language, and phenotype are negotiated interactionally for ethnic labeling. The article further suggests that ethnicity is not a simple category, but rather a concept that youth in a multiethnic context actively construct and co-construct with the help of associated notions. Finally, it is demonstrated that ethnic labeling in interviews may be a dispreferred practice for some interviewees due to its potential connection with racism and discrimination.

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