Ethnic vitality among Asian-Americans and Hispanics: Do places matter?

Date of Completion

January 1999


Sociology, Theory and Methods|Geography|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies




This study develops the concept of ethnic vitality, and explores the factors that influence it. Building on the recent work on constructed ethnicity, ethnic vitality is conceptualized as the sum of individual behaviors and group activities which strengthen interaction and ties among group members. Resources of the groups and race/gender relations encapsulated in local places are seen as important influences on ethnic vitality. Case studies and quantitative data on Asian Americans and Hispanics are examined in several leading immigrant destinations. ^ Analysis of the case studies reveal that the salience of ethnic boundaries vary depending on the outside context. External threats to the larger ethnic group—Asian American or Hispanic—lead to an emphasis of these part ethnic boundaries. In the absence of such threats, sub group boundaries are emphasized. Ethnic groups are not unified cultural communities, instead they are characterized by intra-group conflict. Higher levels of community resources appear to positively influence ethnic vitality among these non white groups.^ The quantitative data are drawn from the 1990 Public Use Microdata Sets (PUMS), Census data on metropolitan areas, and from various other secondary data sources. These data are used to examine the links between resources of the community, characteristics associated with metropolitan areas—proportion minority, concentration of top opportunities and global orientation—and ethnic vitality. Global orientation emerges as the most consistent positive influence on ethnic vitality. Higher proportion minority also appears to positively influence ethnic vitality. Top opportunity milieus appear to promote reactive ethnicity among Asian Americans but assimilation among Hispanics. ^ This study provides further evidence about the existence and nature of ethnic vitality among “recent” immigrant groups. The different experiences of the two groups indicate the need to examine the experiences of groups separately. While characteristics of the groups play a part in their adjustments to US society, factors external to the group, as they are experienced in local places, appear to be important in influencing ethnic vitality. Both ethnic vitality and place based factors appear to merit further research. ^