An examination of acculturation, ethnic identity, discrimination, and offending among U.S. Hispanic persons

Published date01 August 2023
AuthorVanessa Centelles,Ráchael A. Powers
Date01 August 2023
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2023, Vol. 50, No. 8, August 2023, 1209 –1228.
Article reuse guidelines:
© 2023 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
University of South Florida
Although racial and ethnic differences in offending are well-established, the processes associated with those relationships for
U.S. Hispanic persons are less known. Using a nationally representative sample of U.S. Hispanic adults, the current study
contributes to the literature by focusing on three factors thought to be particularly salient for understanding offending among
U.S. Hispanic persons: acculturation, ethnic identity, and discrimination. We examine the association of each of these with
offending, as well as the potential interactions between them. We found that acculturation and discrimination were positively
associated with violent and nonviolent offending and ethnic identity was associated with nonviolent offending. For nonvio-
lent offending, there was a positive interaction between acculturation and discrimination, such that experiences of discrimina-
tion intensified the relationship between acculturation and nonviolent offending. Findings are discussed in relation to both
individual and contextual factors that are associated with health and behavioral outcomes, including offending, for U.S.
Hispanic persons.
Keywords: acculturation; discrimination; ethnic identity; Hispanic; offending
Hispanic1 persons in the United States—both foreign (first-generation) and native-born
(second-generation and higher)—make up the largest ethnic group in the country, compos-
ing approximately 19% of the nation’s population (Flores, 2017; Noe-Bustamante et al.,
2020). Hispanic-identifying individuals often trace their ancestry or heritage to Mexico,
Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America, and other Spanish-speaking countries (M.
H. Lopez et al., 2022). As the number of Hispanic persons living in the United States has
continued to increase, so have negative—and often unfounded—discussions of Hispanic
persons’ involvement in criminal behavior (C. T. Harris & Gruenewald, 2020; K. Harris
et al., 2020). With regard to criminological scholarship, little is known about individual
AUTHORS’ NOTE: The authors declare no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article. The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Ráchael A.
Powers, University of South Florida, 4202 East Fowler Ave., SOC 107, Tampa, FL 33620; e-mail: powersr@
1171158CJBXXX10.1177/00938548231171158Criminal Justice and BehaviorCentelles and Powers / Cultural Processes and Hispanic Offending
correlates of Hispanic offending due to the lack of variability in race and ethnicity data,
partially because of the intricacies of Hispanic identities (Schuck et al., 2004). Moreover,
much of the discussions regarding Hispanic offending are situated in the context of crime
and immigration (see Ousey & Kubrin, 2018), and although offending rates are often higher
for Hispanic persons with longer tenure in the United States, it is still unclear how birth
location plays a role in Hispanic crime (Eggers & Jennings, 2014).
These inquiries can be contextualized through acculturation, a process by which foreign
group attitudes and beliefs change because of contact or exposure to the dominant culture
(Cabassa, 2003; Sommers et al., 1994). Acculturation has been linked to an array of social,
behavioral, and health-related outcomes, such as delinquency (Vaughn et al., 2017). It is
important to note that even while Hispanic persons compose a heterogenous ethnic group,
they often share salient cultural characteristics including—albeit not limited to—familismo
(familism), respeto (respect), collectivism, and the use of the Spanish language (Calzada
et al., 2020; Hill & Torres, 2010; Lopez-Tamayo et al., 2016; M. H. Lopez et al., 2022).
Thus, assessing Hispanic persons’ acculturation levels—particularly through language
use—can assist in contextualizing culturally relevant associations to criminal behavior. As
Hispanic persons become more acculturated, they may move away from crime-insulating
values provided by their ethnic heritage, associated with an increased likelihood of offend-
ing (Krohn et al., 2011; Trujillo & Vélez, 2018).
In relation to acculturation, discrimination and ethnic identity are two sociocultural pro-
cesses that have been found to inform our understanding of Hispanic crime (Bersani et al.,
2014; Lopez & Ventura Miller, 2011; Pérez et al., 2008; Isom-Scott, 2020). Ethnic identity
is closely related to acculturation, as less acculturated Hispanic persons often have a stron-
ger sense of their ethnic identity and are more closely tied to their Hispanic values (Cuéllar
et al., 1997). Thus, as levels of acculturation change, ethnic identity may moderate the
strength of the association between acculturation and offending. Even so, the multiplicative
effects of these processes have not been thoroughly studied in criminological scholarship,
with recent literature suggesting the exploration of these relationships as avenues for future
research (Ibañez et al., 2017). The moderating effect of discrimination on the relationship
between acculturation and offending is also relevant and may be distinctive for Hispanic
persons (Cano, 2020; Viruell-Fuentes, 2007). Indeed, more acculturated Hispanic individu-
als may process discriminatory experiences differently when compared to their less accul-
turated counterparts, increasing their likelihood of engaging in antisocial behaviors,
including offending (Viruell-Fuentes, 2007).
Taken together, the current study contributes to the limited literature on Hispanic offend-
ing by focusing on acculturation, ethnic identity, and discrimination, among a nationally
representative sample of U.S. Hispanic persons, inclusive of those reporting ethnic heritage
to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Central and South America. Although Hispanic persons
comprise a dynamic ethnic subgroup, it is important to contextualize the relevance of these
cultural processes more generally in efforts of encouraging large-scale, group-specific, and
robust criminological research beyond adolescence and narrow discussions of immigration
and crime. As such, we focus on these cultural processes due to their salience for Hispanic
persons regarding behavioral outcomes (Acosta et al., 2015; Cano, 2020; Lui & Zamboanga,
2018; Schwartz et al., 2015). We first examine the relationships between acculturation,
ethnic identity, and discrimination in both violent and nonviolent offending. Second, we
examine the potential interaction between acculturation and ethnic identity in their

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