Jessica Elaine Peña is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland – College Park, expected completion by Spring 2018. Her areas of interest are immigration, racial & ethnic identities, race and mental health, quantitative methodology, and gender, work & family. Jessica’s research centers on the effects of social context factors and lived experience on racial classification for Afro-Latin Americans in the United States. Her research addresses the impact of the “lived experience of race” on mental health outcomes for this population. Additionally, Jessica investigates access to middle-class status and household composition trends among women of color. Jessica received a 2017 Population Association of America (PAA) Blue Ribbon Award in the Family Demography session for quantitative research on access to middle-class status and household composition trends among women of color.


"Racial Classification, Misclassification, and Psychological Wellbeing of Afro-Latin Americans in the United States"

How populations on identity borderlands racially classify is increasingly relevant to the sociological discussion of race in the United States. This is especially so as researchers have begun to describe the “Latin Americanization” of race in the United States, evident in the growth of multiracial and immigrant populations. This dissertation addresses race within ethnicity as experienced by Latinxs on the borders of whiteness, blackness, and latinidad. This three-paper model dissertation makes use of census-collected 2010-2014 American Community Survey (ACS) data and restricted-use National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) data.

Using 2010-2014 ACS data, paper 1 addresses the impact of social context, such as the racial/ethnic and socioeconomic composition of US metropolitan areas, on racial classification patterns. I find racial classification varies greatly across metropolitan areas for Afro-Latin Americans. Social context factors, such as the presence of a large black middle class, white middle class, and overall racial/ethnic diversity, leads to shifts towards black, latinx, or multiracial identities. Using Roth’s (2012) framework of racial schemas, I argue these geographic-level differences in classification patterns are indicative of internal variation in the racial schemas used within the context of the United States.

Using restricted-use Add Health data, paper 2 extends the analysis in paper 1 to address the impact of skin tone, perceived discrimination, and social networks on racial classification. Within the Latin American literature, the impact of skin tone on racial classification has varied across countries. While it has been highly significant and shown the expected associations in some nations, it has been less impactful in others. Findings indicate skin tone variations in racial classification: while black identifiers were of all skin tones, multiracial identifiers were predominantly of darker skin tones, and few white identifiers had darker skin.

Paper 3 uses restricted-use Add Health data to address how the “lived experience of race” impacts psychological wellbeing. I address how the protective factors associated with earlier immigrant generation status may help cushion the impact of the “lived experience of race” on mental health outcomes. The race measures include the traditional measure of racial classification, skin tone, perceived discrimination, and racial misclassification. Using a CES-D scale, diagnosed depression, and a stress indicator as outcome measures, results suggest the protective factors associated with immigrant generational status are greatly outweighed by the “lived experience of race” across all race measures for the Afro Latin Americans in my sample.

Areas of Interest

  • Racial and Ethnic Identity
  • Race and Mental Health
  • Gender, Work, and Family
  • Race, Class, and Gender
  • Latinx Communities in the United States
  • Afro-Latin Americans
  • Immigration
  • Demography
  • Quantitative Methods


  • MA
    Sociology | University of Maryland - College Park
  • BA
    Sociology | CUNY Hunter College
Course Name Course Title Semester Syllabus
SOCY105 Introduction to Contemporary Social Problems Fall 2014 Syllabus
Jessica E. Peña