8 First-Generation Kids Tell Their Story
12.28.16

contradictions-month-man-repeller

“What was often tough as a first-generation American kid,” Heba told me, “was explaining things that were so culturally normal in America, like going to sleepovers or having a boyfriend, to which I’d receive a hard “no” or “la” (Arabic for no).”

It’s easy to call communities “melting pots,” but what does it really feel like when cultures mix inside a single home, a single person? When your birth – your life — marks a huge geographical and cultural shift in your family’s history? I talked to eight people about what it’s still like to be first-generation. Their situations are all different and yet they’re threaded together by similar anecdotes both comical and emotional. Click through above to read their stories.

Photos by Simon Chetrit.

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  • Lebanese Blonde

    Ooooh Heba, you’re just like my grandmother (who’s parents came over early 1900’s). I’m only a quarter Lebanese and while we’ve passed down a lot of the recipes and traditions, I’ve been so bummed that Arabic and French weren’t passed down as well. However, it’s such a strong culture that it’s the aspect of my ancestry that I’m the most in touch with. You’re so lucky to be Lebanese-American!

    (Coincidentally, I also want to be a reporter. 😀 )

  • Mercedes Ayala

    This resonates strongly with me. While I am not technically first generation (wasn’t born in Canada), I can certainly attest to some of the struggles these individuals have experienced. For my own obstacles, learning English was certainly tough. My Argentinian accent still comes up at times – particularly when I’m frustrated or angry, as I’m speaking as quickly as I naturally would in Spanish but can’t get the same flow in English. It’s very minor and doesn’t often happen, but it did certainly used to carry a sense of shame when I was young, that I wasn’t the same as everyone else. Now it’s quite the opposite. Oh, you’re making fun of my accent coming out? Because I know two languages extremely well and you barely can spell properly in your own? Coooooool.
    It’ll be interesting when I’m older and (maybe) have kids, and they will have these “first generation” problems themselves. Argentina is pretty Western/European, so it’s not as much as a cultural shift as others, but I know I will want to carry any and all traditions I have onto my future family. Future problem for a future time – right now, more than happy to just talk to my cats in Spanish.

    • Same (about the resonation)! I was born in Russia but my family left when I was one and a half to live in Australia and Canada. I’ve lived in Canada for most of my life and I do consider myself more Canadian but the Russian influence has been strong. Luckily I’ve never felt isolated or left out because I grew up in Vancouver, where there are a lot of immigrants, so seeing a lot of different cultures has always been normal for me.
      There are definitely traditions that Canadians don’t get (the look on their faces when they see Russian salads!), but on the other hand there are certain Russian things I don’t completely get either. But I’m happy to be able to be part of the two cultures and speak different languages. My dad is Nepalese but he never taught us much about Nepalese culture or the language, he was trying so hard to master Russian and English (my parents met in Russia). Now as an adult I wish he had.

      • Bella

        Same! Was born in Russia, and moved to New York when I was 8. When my non-Russian friends see Russian salads (oh, olivie, how I love you) they’re scandalized. Most of my family still doesn’t speak English, even though we’ve been here for 15 years, but as I got older, I’m so grateful to learn about that culture first-hand (and the culture I don’t remember much of from my childhood)

        • I remember once my mom cooked some mashed potatoes with cabbage and I brought the leftovers to school and everyone thought it was so weird haha.

  • Maria Fernandez-Davila

    I love this! My family is from Peru, but I saw similarities across all boards which was comforting. I actually came to America with my parents from Peru at just about a year old, but still consider myself “first-generation” like my younger sister who was born here, since I’ve spent my entire life here. These were some awesome, touching stories that a) reminded me to tell my parents I love them and appreciate everything they’ve done for us and b) reinforced the idea that I should continue unabashedly embracing my unique roots and story. thanks MR!

  • Julissa

    As a first-generation kid myself, totally loved this!

  • Eleni Skoutakis

    This is so awesome!! I love seeing two fellow Greek-American first gen kids!

  • This is great. My father is American but my mom and my stepdad (who raised me) are from Ghana (my mother by way of the UK). Growing up there were so many fights because I felt like they didn’t “get” America and “the way we do things here.”. As an adult, I often seek gravitate to other first-gen kids as friends and my husband is an immigrant from Eastern Europe.

    I am multilingual and a friend of mine calls me an “accent receiver” because my accent can shift a bit depending on who I am talking to. Being a first-gen kid (who is raising a first-gen kid!) means I will never feel “totally” American, but I think that those of us born with an understanding of ourselves as citizens of the world are so well equipped to navigate it!

  • vicki

    1000% relate to this: “…I always felt like I didn’t really fit into either community — I wasn’t American enough nor was I Greek enough despite my fluency in both cultures”

  • sarah

    I love this so much! I’m third culture; my parents are American and I was born and raised in Southeast Asia – I moved to America at 16 in deep culture shock. I love reading these stories.

  • Reading this I realized how much more effort is needed if you don’t speak the host language or not well enough … kudos to all of your parents!
    As for belonging to a culture: ever since I realized none would have me, at least not really, I don’t bother anymore. I schlepp all I need with me…

  • Amelia Diamond

    YOU GUYS LEV IS MY ROOMMATE NOT TO BRAG

  • Cherryblossomgirl08

    I love this so much. Thank you for sharing these stories!

  • Gaby

    I am Costa Rican. Just to clarify, paisa does not mean python or anything similar. I have no idea how that python explanation ever even got to the person interviewed. It does, however, mean Nicaraguan just as explained. Sadly, Costa Ricans tends toward xenophobia when it comes to their neighboring country. Many of them come here looking for work in harsh conditions that Costa Ricans simply do not accept. Latin America features myriad differences between countries itself, which involve food, accent and manners.

  • Kanelipulla

    I have been following Man Repeller since I was a high school student in Finland.
    I am a first-generation Finnish-born Asian and now live in the US. Coming to the US has been life-changing for me as I was exposed to social activism on a whole different level. It has empowered me to see women, POC and minorities of all sorts being so vocal about their concerns and issues.

    Despite all the good media Finland and the other Nordic countries receive, there are many downsides to being, especially, a POC. We barely have a voice there…

  • Ludmila

    Beautiful stories! Thank you so much for sharing. Both of my parents are from Uruguay and I was born in Argentina. Even though the countries are not far away and the cultures are similar (you speak Spanish in both), I felt identified with many of the things told in these stories.

  • Valerie Barahona

    Leandra, I didn’t know you were half iranian ❤ the beautiful, stunning and breathtaking PERSEPOLIS ❤

  • Lizelle Galaz

    Haley, I love this! Thank you for writing it — there’s not enough stories like these out there. There’s also not enough womxn of color writing stories like these on MR. As a frequent reader, I encourage the team to try and help change that.