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Acculturation: Cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture; a merging of cultures as a result of prolonged contact. It should be noted that individuals from culturally diverse groups may desire varying degrees of acculturation into the dominant culture.

Assimilation: To assume the cultural traditions of a given people or group.

Culture: An integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, languages, practices, beliefs, values, customs, courtesies, rituals, manners of interacting, roles, relationships and expected behaviors of a racial, ethnic, religious or social group; the ability to transmit the above to succeeding generations; is dynamic in nature.

Cultural awareness: Being cognizant, observant and conscious of similarities and differences among cultural groups.

Cultural competence

Cultural sensitivity: Understanding the needs and emotions of your own culture and the culture of others.

Ethnic: Of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.

Ethnicity: Ethnic quality or affiliation.

The Institute on Medicine (IOM), in a 1999 report edited by Haynes, M.A. and Smedley, B.D., defines ethnicity as how one sees oneself and how one is “seen by others as part of a group on the basis of presumed ancestry and sharing a common destiny …” Common threads that may tie one to an ethnic group include skin color, religion, language, customs, ancestry, and occupational or regional features. In addition, persons belonging to the same ethnic group share a unique history different from that of other ethnic groups. Usually a combination of these features identifies an ethnic group. For example, physical appearance alone does not consistently identify one as belonging to a particular ethnic group.

Linguistic Competence: also see for a broad definition. See additional definitions in Compendium of Cultural Competence Initiatives in Health Care (2003). Kaiser Family Foundation. Available at

Race: There is an array of different beliefs about the definition of race and what race means within social, political and biological contexts. The following definitions are representative of these perspectives:

  • A tribe, people or nation belonging to the same stock; a division of humankind possessing traits that are transmissible by descent and sufficient to characterize it as a distinctive human type;
  • Is a social construct used to separate the world’s peoples. There is only one race, the human race, comprised of individuals with characteristics that are more or less similar to others;
  • Evidence from the Human Genome project indicates that the genetic code for all human beings is 99.9% identical; there are more differences within groups (or races) than across groups.
  • The IOM (Haynes & Smedley, eds., 1999) states that in all instances race is a social and cultural construct. Specifically a “construct of human variability based on perceived differences in biology, physical appearance, and behavior”. The IOM states that the traditional conception of race rests on the false premise that natural distinctions grounded in significant biological and behavioral differences can be drawn between groups.
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