Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Erika Y. Niwa

Committee Members

Myriam Villalobos-Solis

Anna Stetsenko

Yana Kuchirko

Cristiane S. Duarte

Subject Categories

Developmental Psychology


Acculturation, Cultural Stress, Puerto Rican, Youth, Latent Class Analysis


Demographic changes across the United States (US) indicate that much of the population growth between 2005 to 2050 will be driven by US-born Latinx youth, who will likely face, as the major part of their experience, the challenges of negotiating their heritage and US mainstream cultures from birth. As a result, examining the cultural experiences of Latinx youth is crucial for understanding and promoting the healthy development of a large proportion of the increasingly ethnically and racially diverse US population. Research with Latinx youth suggests that acculturation – the psychological changes associated with navigating two distinct cultures – can be a challenging process that yields acculturative stress and can lead to poor mental health, but results have been mixed. This is due, in part, to assessing acculturation as a homogeneous construct using single indicators primarily among one Latinx subgroup during adolescence. Recent conceptual expansions along with advances in clustering statistical modeling have enabled researchers to better assess sample heterogeneity by shifting towards person-centered approaches (e.g., latent class analysis) that capture differing patterns of acculturation based on several cultural indicators (e.g., practices, identification, values) and the changes in acculturation as youth develop and navigate the cultural demands of US and Latinx cultures.

Although the existing acculturation literature, largely focused on Mexican-heritage youth, has advanced the understanding of how Latinx youth may integrate US and Latinx cultures, less is known about whether these findings extend to other Latinx subgroups with different sociopolitical histories in the US. For instance, Puerto Ricans have been reported to be at an increased vulnerability to mental illness when compared to other Latinx groups. Researchers suggests this pattern may be related to the unique acculturation experiences Puerto Ricans may undergo because of the long-standing colonial relationship with the US. Thus, studies focused on Puerto Ricans are needed, as research on Mexican Americans may not generalize to Puerto Rican youth. Additionally, variations in acculturation experiences may exist within Latinx groups based on different social factors. For example, research suggests that people with darker skin tone (when compared to people with lighter skin tone) may experience more discrimination and in turn react to such negative experiences (i.e. reactive ethnicity) by orienting towards US culture (assimilate) or strengthening their heritage culture orientation (enculturation) (Capielo Rosario, Adames, et al., 2019). However, issues of colorism (prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone) are understudied in acculturation research despite its pervasiveness in Latinx communities and potential impact on the Latinx youth’s development.

Using an existing dataset of Puerto Rican youth mental health, this study examined multidimensional acculturation patterns in childhood/adolescence using a person-centered approach and examined its relationship to cultural stress in childhood/adolescence and young adulthood among Puerto Rican youth (5-13 year olds) in the South Bronx, NY (SBx) and San Juan, Puerto Rico (PR), and explored the moderating role of skin tone on this relationship. The person-centered approach latent class analysis was used to extract different acculturation patterns based on nine indicators assessing cultural practices, identification, and values. Four patterns were found, three of which reflected bicultural patterns of acculturation, and one primarily Latinx pattern. Prevalence of each acculturation pattern differed by study site (SBx or PR) but not by age group (5-9 or 10 and older years old). Changes in acculturation patterns during childhood/adolescence were examined over a three-year period, and associations between these patterns and cultural stress in childhood/adolescence and young adulthood as well. Findings from adjusted models (by site, gender, age, and use of public assistance) suggest that acculturation class during childhood/adolescence is not related to cultural stress during this period of the lifespan, while changes in acculturation during childhood/adolescence are related to cultural stress in young adulthood. Exploratory analysis were conducted to examine the moderating role of skin tone on the relationship between acculturation in childhood/adolescence and cultural stress in young adulthood, and found no main or moderating effect. Potential explanations for the findings are provided along with study limitations and implications for future research.