What Qualitative Interviews Reveal that Surveys Do Not: Evidence on Ethnic Identity from the Mexican American Study Project

Edward E. Telles, Princeton University
Christina Sue, University of Colorado at Boulder

This paper examines the ethnic identity of Mexican Americans based on in-depth qualitative interviews for roughly 80 of the respondents from the Mexican American Study Project. These respondents represent parental and child generations from 34 families of Mexican Americans, of various generations since immigration, selected from a random sample of Mexican Americans. Issues of identity are especially difficult to gauge in a survey interview in which the questions are rigidly phrased in particular ways and respondents must respond with one of a limited number of response categories, with no further explanation. I deepen the survey analysis with long, less-structured interviews among a subsample of the survey respondents. These interviews produced more complete and nuanced understandings of Mexican American national and ethnic identities. The process of comparing such in-depth interview results with survey results provides a methodological contribution about the relative merits and weaknesses of the two approaches.

Presented in Session 151: Mexican Immigrant Integration: Health, Family, and Identity