Picturing Biculturalism of Mexican American Youth

Bicultural individuals may feel pulled by two cultures, wanting to remain true to the culture of their heritage (in this instance, Mexico), while aspiring to succeed in another (the United States). Health communicators need to understand the overlap and the push and pull experienced by bicultural individuals in order to design effective health promotion messages.

Researchers explored these issues in context of tobacco prevention among Mexican-American adolescents living close to the U.S.-Mexico border. The researchers asked the youth to create a picture collage from magazine cut-out images and words clipped from popular English and Spanish language magazines to describe:

  • What concepts and objects do you view as distinctively Mexican, as distinctively American, and as shared?
  • Which culture do you identify most with when you are at home, at school, and with peers?
  • Which culture do you associate more strongly with smoking prevention?

Smoking was not distinctively associated with either culture, but the participants thought that American culture puts more emphasis on smoking prevention.

Given the youths’ associations with two cultures, these researchers acknowledge that health promotion messages should reflect Latino values. But tobacco-prevention messages, they say, should also incorporate Mexican American’s aspirations, “the aspects of American culture that have brought immigrants to America in the first place…and emphasize the inconsistency of smoking with achieving those dreams.”