Scholars from many different academic disciplines have generally categorized ethnic identity formation along two main theoretical frameworks: primordial versus situational.While these two categories ultimately represent a simplistic dichotomy to characterize processes of ethnic identity formation, they are still very useful in framing our analysis of ethnic identity.Alternatively, it can also refer to when they attain socioeconomic mobility and status (usually in the form of income, occupation, residential integration, etc.) equal to other members of mainstream American society.

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The persistence of ethnocentrism and even outright conflict between different racial/ethnic groups attest to the historical and continuing validity of the primordial basis of ethnic identity.

On the other hand, the situational perspective (also known as the "constructionist" or "instrumentalist") states that ethnic identities are socially defined phenomena.

Or it can happen in a non-linear, circular, or "bumpy" manner in which Asian Americans revive or retain old cultural traditions, norms, and behaviors and choose to remain somewhat isolated from mainstream American society (the "ethnic resilience" model) or alternatively, to combine elements of both traditional Asian (although they may modify old traditions and values to fit their contemporary circumstances) and mainstream American culture (sometimes referred to as "segmented assimilation"). But because they were White, they were eventually able to integrate into American society more quickly and easily than non-White immigrants and minorities. During times of economic prosperity, there are plenty of economic opportunities to go around for everyone.

Other research has focused on why why certain racial/ethnic groups assimilate faster than others. But in times of economic difficulties, there is more economic competition and therefore, more hostility toward minorities and immigrants who are frequently seen as economic threats.

However, after movement to demand compensation and redress for this injustice developed in the 1980s, many felt a newly resurgent sense of being Japanese American as they united to fight for an official apology and reparations from the federal government.

Also, many Japanese American children who were born after the end of the war felt a resurgent sense of Japanese American identity after learning about their parents' imprisonment experiences and identifying with their history of perseverance and strength.

One common example is the ethnic identity of Japanese American after World War II.

Many Japanese American adults who were imprisoned during WWII initially discarded their identity after the end of war, to avoid any association, shame, or embarrassment with being imprisoned.

Some argue that the identity of "Asian American" is a perfect example of an emergent ethnic identity.

That is, prior to the Civil Rights Movement, virtually no Asian ethnic group considered themselves part of a larger "Asian American" social group.

Because ethnic identity among second generation Asian Americans is inevitably tied to the process of assimilation, we should recognize the different forms of assimilation and how different factors can affect assimilation outcomes.