Growing up multiracial was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I felt like the luckiest girl alive; Having a German father and a Brazilian mother meant that I was raised bilingual, traveling the world, and navigating two exciting, distinct cultures. In these early days, it seemed I had the privilege to pick and choose the best aspects of my intersecting cultural identities. On the other hand, I experienced ostracism and cultural invalidation from various groups. When I was a child other German children would refuse to play with me on the grounds that I was “Pseudo German’, later on, my Brazilian peers scolded me for applying to minority scholarships because, in their eyes, I was not a “real Latina”, and even in college in the US my peers often forgot about my Brazilian identity because I “just look so White.” These feelings of cultural homelessness piqued my interests in social identity, race perception, and discrimination. I began taking social psychology classes, and joined various social psychological research labs but, in digging into the existing psychological research on these topics, I found the literature to be almost exclusively focused on the monoracial experience. In many ways, these gaps in the literature echoed my lived multiracial experience. Yet again, my experiences, and the experiences of multiracial individuals broadly, were largely overlooked and misunderstood. I voiced my desire to investigate the multiracial experience to my lab manager who then called my attention to the SPUR program.
Because of SPUR I had the honor two spent two months this summer, working with Dr. Chen, who has contributed to the social psychology literature much meaningful work highlighting the multiracial experience. Dr. Chen and her graduate student Jasmine B. Norman instructed me during my first IRB protocol formulation, and I assisted them with data checking, cleaning, and analysis on various studies. However, what I found most invaluable about my experience at SPUR were the two independent projects that allowed me to experience the research process from beginning to end.
My two independent projects focused on the Latinx multiracial identity. My first project investigated factors associated with perceived Latinx prototypicality. Past research has found that certain facial features (eyeshape and skin luminance) are associated with the Latinx phenotypical prototype (Ma et al., 2018). However, these features accounted only for a small portion of variability in the data. Ma et al. (2018) concluded that Latinx individuals may have a racially ambiguous appearance or perceivers may view racial ambiguity as prototypically Latinx. My research sought to extend this work by further investigating the features and traits associated with perceived Latinx prototypicality. Given that phenotypicality is important in how we judge and classify others, it is important to understand what features perceivers associate with a typical Latinx appearance. White participants rated multiracial faces on multiple traits (masculinity, attractiveness, racial ambiguity, skin tone, smart, warm, dominant, trustworthy). We additionally asked participants to indicate how “typical” each person was of different racial groups. Raters saw stimuli of various races and ethnicities, and were randomly assigned to rate five of the faces. Consistent with Ma et al.’s claim, we found racial ambiguity was the sole indicator for perceived Latinx prototypicality. However, racial ambiguity was not related to White, Black, or Asian prototypicality. Our study indicates that people use racial ambiguity as a marker for the Latinx category. Of interest, follow up analyses found ratings of racial ambiguity were not associated with self-reported Latinx ancestry of the faces. Taken together, these findings suggests that racial ambiguity is not an informative heuristic for determining whether someone is a part of the Latinx group, but that perceivers use ambiguity as a cue to Latinx prototypicality.
At SPUR I also investigated collective self-esteem differences, that is private versus public regard of identity in Latinx versus Asian samples. It has been found that multiracial individuals express privately great pride for their identities, however, are simultaneously aware of the low public regard of their identities. Most multiracial groups identify themselves as either multiracial, monoracial minority, or postracial. Still, Latinx White multiracials appear to predominantly define themselves as monoracial white. As a result, I hypothesized that Latinx White multiracials, in contrast to other multiracial groups, have low private regard for their multiracial identity. We used a survey methodology to measure collective self-esteem, public regard, and private regard. Furthermore, we asked participants to indicate their race, ancestry, and preferred racial identity. In line with previous studies Asians (both mono and multiracial) had higher public regard than Latinx (mono and multiracial). However, private regard for identity appeared to be higher for Latinx than for Asian participants. Against my hypothesis Latinx-White multiracials did not have lower private & public regard. However, this might be due to the fact that in contrast to Latinx-White samples in other studies my participants predominantly identified as monoracial Latinx or multiracial and not monoracial White.
Through SPUR I learned how to conducted an extensive literature review, formulate a research question, write up a research proposal, sketch out a data analysis plan, and perform that data analysis, and finally interpret and write up my results. Dr. Chen and Jasmine B. Norman have even been gracious enough to still work with me on the Latinx prototypicality project by helping me visualize it on a poster to present in future conferences. SPUR was one of the best experience I have made so far in my life, as it allowed me to investigate meaningful causes and reassured me that research is the path I need to take.