States typically begin with the general characteristics of their native region (e.g., Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America). This is usually followed by the identification of distinguishing features related to their specific country of origin, the generation and timing of immigration, the region of settlement in the United States, religious affiliation and practice, current community structure, and current socioeconomic status. Different members of a given ethnic group generally demonstrate varying degrees of adherence to its identifiable values, beliefs, and practices, thereby making it virtually impossible to characterize “the culture” of the group.

Individuals can claim ethnicity as an identity, independent of the extent of one's adherence to its cultural values and practices, which has been characterized as “symbolic ethnicity” or “ethnic loyalty” (Keefe, 1992; Keefe and Padilla, 1987). Embedded in this construct is a sense of membership in an ethnic group and a positive feeling about the affiliation (Bernal and Knight, 1993; Phinney, 1990, 1996). Like culture, ethnic identity is a complex phenomenon that varies among the members of a group, as well as in individuals over time. Its psychological correlates also vary, depending on the quality of the identity (Phinney, 1996) and whether it is the result of self-labeling or labeling by others.

Some ethnic groups are characterized as minority groups. This characterization implies a position of relative disadvantage with respect to power and status, often accompanied by previous or ongoing experience with racism or other forms of prejudice and discrimination (Phinney, 1996). It too varies among individuals and over time. In selected cases, it may be correlated with any of a variety of historical experiences that differentiate specific groups, such as slavery, internment, relocation, and refugee or immigrant status.

The concept of race can be especially difficult to define. García Coll and Magnuson (2000) defined race as a term used in the United States to describe a group of people who are defined mainly by physical characteristics, such as skin color, hair type, and other features. In reality, a significant proportion of the U.S. population is of mixed racial descent, and many individuals only marginally resemble the physical prototype of a distinctive race.

Although preschool children do not have well-formulated ideas about race, it is among their earliest emerging social categories. By the time they are 4 years old, children appear to realize that race is an enduring feature that is inherited from parents and established at birth. They also seem to be aware that race is a dimension along which humans are arranged hierarchically, but they do not have a very clear idea about who belongs to which category. Unlike gender, race is not a particularly salient or important dimension by which preschoolers spontaneously categorize people, especially when it comes to choosing playmates. The translation of racial



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