Study finds that cross-race mentoring is associated with reductions in perceived racism

Liao, L. C. & Sanchez, B. (2015). An exploratory study of the role of mentoring in the acculturation of Latino/a youth. Journal of Community Psychology, 43(7), 868-877. doi: 10.1002/jcop.21717

Summarized by Jessica Cunningham


There is very little research focused on children from immigrant families in general, and even less research on how mentoring interventions may play a role in acculturation of immigrant youth. Acculturation is particularly important to youth raised in immigrant families because they must navigate both their parents’ culture as well as the “mainstream” culture of their new place of residence. Acculturation also plays a role in identity development, and previous research shows that mentoring can help that process.

The authors of this study sought to explore the role of mentors in the acculturation process of older Latino/a mentees transitioning to adulthood. The researchers wanted to investigate the importance of contact frequency, as well as whether or not different aspects of the mentoring relationship, such as cross-race vs. same-race matches, had any impact on acculturation. They hypothesized that having same race, Latino/a familial mentors would be associated with stronger affiliation to Latino/a culture, whereas having mentors of a different race would be associated with stronger affiliation to U.S. American culture. They also hypothesized youth who were later-generation would receive more developmental mentoring (that is, mentoring around identity development), whereas youth who were new to the U.S. would receive more instrumental mentoring (that is, providing support with connecting youth to services or helping with learning English).


This study included a sample of 140 Latino/a high school seniors from an urban, low-income area. The participants had an average age of 17.88 years. Thirty nine percent of participants identified as Puerto Rican, 42% as Mexican, 16% identified as some other form of Latino/a, and 3% identified as biracial.

To determine length of U.S. residency, participants were asked how many years of their education were in the U.S. on a scale from “a year or less” to “all of my education has been in the US.” Seventy one percent of participants had been educated in the U.S. for their entire lives; only 6% of participants reported having less than 7 years of education in the U.S. To determine generational status, participants were asked where they, their parents, and grandparents were born. First generation students (32% of the sample) were those who were born outside of the U.S., second generation students were those who had at least one parent born outside of the U.S. (51% of the sample), third generation students were those who had at least one grandparent born outside the U.S. (8% of the sample), and fourth generation students (4% of the sample) were those who were born in the U.S., and whose parents and grandparents were born in the U.S.

To measure acculturation, the researchers used The Culture Identity Scale for Latino/a Adolescents, which measures of culture across multiple domains. It includes items asking about language preference, skill, cultural values, familiarity with Latin and American cultures (e.g. fine art and artists), activism in the Latino/a community, and perceived discrimination. Twenty seven percent of participants were classified as “low bicultural and marginalized”, 18% were categorized as “Latino/a-identified/separated”, 37% as “high bicultural and integrated” and 13% as “American-identified/assimilated.”

Participants were also asked to identify mentors in their life; they were asked “are there any individuals in your life who have more experience than you and support and guide you? This person(s) is someone you look up to, you trust, and you feel like he/she cares about you?” – people were eligible to be nominated as mentors provided that they were at least 3 years older than the participant, and not a parent or romantic partner. Fifty four percent of participants said that they had at least one mentor, 31% had two mentors, and 7% had three mentors.

Mentees’ mentoring relationships were categorized as familial (e.g. grandparent) or non-familial (e.g. friends). Participants were also asked about each mentor’s race/ethnicity to determine whether the relationship was cross-race or not. Students were also asked to report the frequency with which they were in contact with their mentor. Participants were asked to indicate the relationships’ duration in number of years. Eighty percent of mentees reported that their mentor was the same race as them, and 70% of participants reported familial mentors. Most participants had at least weekly contact with their mentors and had known them for most of their lives.

Finally, to determine what types of support mentees received, they were presented with a list of options of types of support categorized as either instrumental or developmental. The instrumental items included: responsible behavior, education/school, future career, finances, and practical things. Developmental items included: values, spirituality, life’s hardships, and the self.


The researchers ran a series of multiple regressions, and although the regression models were not statistically significant, reporting more natural mentors was associated with greater familiarity with Latin American culture.

The researchers divided participants with mentors up into two groups; those with all same-race mentors, and those with at least one cross-race mentor. They also divided participants into groups based on whether or not they reported all familial mentors or if they reported at least one non-familial mentor.

The researchers found that perceived discrimination was significant in the model; where having at least one cross-race mentor was associated with lower levels of perceived discrimination. The researchers also found that having more frequent contact with mentors was associated with a higher value for respeto; one of the cultural values.

Finally, the researchers conducted a multinomial logistic regression to explore whether frequency of contact, relationship duration, mentor type (familiar v. non-familial), and mentor race were associated with acculturation status. The researchers found that when looking at all of these variables together, there were no significant associations, but when looking at each one separately, frequency of contact was significant if all other variables were held constant. Youth in low bicultural and marginalized groups were more likely to have frequent contact with youth in the American-identified/assimilated group, and youth in the high bicultural and integrated group were also more likely to have frequent contact with mentors than were the American-identified/assimilated group.

Discussion & Conclusions:

The only significant association for number of mentors with acculturation was found for familiarity with Latino/a culture, and this may be because most youth reported same-race, familial mentors, who would be supportive of youth developing Latino/a identity. The role of characteristics of mentors and mentoring relationships were discovered to be important; youth with at least one cross-race mentor were less likely to report perceived discrimination. The authors posit that “having cross-race mentors may influence youth to interpret cross-race interactions differently where they do not perceive as much racism. However, it is also possible that youth who perceive less discrimination are more likely to engage with an adult of a different race/ethnicity in a mentoring relationship.”

In looking at mentoring characteristics and participants’ acculturation status, more frequent contact with mentors was associated with being in either the bicultural or marginalized acculturation groups. Previous research has shown that being bicultural has the best psychological outcomes, but it’s possible that youth in these two groups “had more contact with their mentors because they needed more support as they try to figure out where they fit in their communities and the larger society.” The authors believe that youth in the assimilated group may have become less comfortable with their family members as mentors, leading to a dropping off of contact.

For future studies, the researchers suggest examining a sample of newly-arrived Latino/a immigrants, and trying to get a larger sample of youth with non-familial mentors to better examine how mentoring relationships may influence the acculturation process.

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