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View Full Version : "First generation" means the immigrants - or their children?


Johanna
12-25-2006, 10:26 PM
1. The way I learned the meaning of "first generation," it's the first people in a family to live in a given country. That means they came from somewhere else. My grandparents were born in Sicily, they immigrated here before having kids, they were first-generation Sicilian-Americans. My dad is second-generation, and I'm third-generation, by this definition.

2. It can be confusing because sometimes I hear it used to mean the first generation that was born in a given country. So their parents, who after all had to move here from somewhere else for the kids to be born here, should be numbered what? The zeroth generation? They didn't just drop off the newborns in foster care and hightail it back to the old country. They settled here, became naturalized citizens, and raised the kids.

We don't usually use "zeroth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeroth)"* as an ordinal (outside of certain branches of mathematics, perhaps). So it looks clear to me that definition 1 is the only correct one. Is there any general agreement as to which is right?

*OK, I just looked and found that some wiseacre blogger actually is using the phrase "the zeroth generation" http://www.zerothgeneration.com/ for immigrants. So who's right?

Dr_Paprika
12-25-2006, 10:32 PM
My understanding was that the immigrants were first generation and their children second generation. Never heard the zeroth thing.

Khampelf
12-25-2006, 11:00 PM
I've always understood to be the second meaning. My Great Grandparents were from the Old Country, My Granparents were the First Generation (to be born in America).

They're not Zeroeth, they're from the Old Country, like all the generations before them, who aren't issued negative numbers. Sounds like GD material to me, or dueling cites.

{banjo} Bend-de-ben-de-ben-de-ben-de-ben {/banjo}

robardin
12-25-2006, 11:19 PM
Generation = birth. As in, "the people of my generation" means "the people born in the same year or era as me".

So "First Generation American" = "First Generation (in your family tree) to become Americans", I suppose this is possibly meant to mean citizenship, but usually is used in the context of "growing up in this country" versus the "Old Country", i.e., to have "internalized" some kind of inherent American-ness.

So it's a bit vague. In my experience, if your great-grandparents "came from the Old Country" when they were adults, especially if they came over already married, and then your grandparents were born to them here, most people would call your grandparents the "first generation", not the great-grandparents. On the other hand, if your GGP came over as children and met in the US while going to school, most people would call your GGP the "first generation", and your grandparents "second generation".

MEBuckner
12-25-2006, 11:50 PM
Just to further cloud the issue: issei (http://www.bartleby.com/61/78/I0257800.html) refers to a Japanese immigrant (especially to the U.S.) and literally means "first generation"; nisei (http://www.bartleby.com/61/43/N0114300.html) or "second generation" is the American-born son or daughter of Japanese immigrants; and sansei (http://www.bartleby.com/61/61/S0076100.html) or "third generation" is the second generation to be born in the U.S. (the grandchildren of the Japanese-born isseis).

Eleusis
12-26-2006, 01:10 AM
Generation = birth. As in, "the people of my generation" means "the people born in the same year or era as me".
My understanding as well, with the caveat that context is given.

First generation = born here.

panache45
12-26-2006, 02:29 AM
I've always understood "first generation" to mean first generation born here. But I can understand the confusion.

Penchan
12-26-2006, 03:11 AM
Really? My Asian American Studies professors always promoted the theory that first generation were the immigrants and the second generation were the children who were born in the new country. There is also discussion of a "1.5 generation" or children who were born in the old country but were essentially raised and lived the rest of their lives in the new country.

Eleusis
12-26-2006, 03:25 AM
Really? My Asian American Studies professors always promoted the theory that first generation were the immigrants and the second generation were the children who were born in the new country. There is also discussion of a "1.5 generation" or children who were born in the old country but were essentially raised and lived the rest of their lives in the new country.
I can see that.

But I still disagree that anybody that just moved here can classify themself as any "generation".

Further, the whole title flaunting thing pretty much subtracts credibility, in my world.

Lynn Bodoni
12-26-2006, 04:05 AM
I've always understood "first generation" to mean first generation born here. But I can understand the confusion. My father has always claimed to be first generation American, of Italian immigrants. I think that first generation = first generation (of whatever nationality) to be born in the new country.

Hostile Dialect
12-26-2006, 04:16 AM
So "First Generation American" = "First Generation (in your family tree) to become Americans", I suppose this is possibly meant to mean citizenship, but usually is used in the context of "growing up in this country" versus the "Old Country", i.e., to have "internalized" some kind of inherent American-ness.

What of a family who immigrates while the children are old enough to be members of the "Old Country"'s culture and speak the language fluently, but young enough to adopt a native-sounding American English accent and integrate fully into American culture as well? My best friend in high school was just such a child. Is she "first-generation", or would her (American-born, we'll assume) kids be first-generation?

Eleusis
12-26-2006, 04:30 AM
The whole thing is subjective, therefore, there can be no GQ answer.

I say you have to be born the in country to be first generation.

twickster
12-26-2006, 07:04 AM
My maternal grandparents were born in Lithuania, and I've always referred to my mother as "first-generation American."

Johanna
12-26-2006, 09:39 AM
What title flaunting? :confused: Did I miss something?

This starts to look like a controversy on the order of "the week starts on Sunday" vs. "the week starts on Monday" - or "next Saturday" means this week vs. it means next week.

Sapo
12-26-2006, 09:43 AM
Mom born in Italy and arrived in Venzuela at age 2. I consider myself to be first-generation Venezuelan. So does she.

robardin
12-26-2006, 10:59 AM
What of a family who immigrates while the children are old enough to be members of the "Old Country"'s culture and speak the language fluently, but young enough to adopt a native-sounding American English accent and integrate fully into American culture as well? My best friend in high school was just such a child. Is she "first-generation", or would her (American-born, we'll assume) kids be first-generation?
My personal barometer would be, if they can "pass" as native Americans (not Native Americans, mind you), they count as 1st Gen under this rule of thumb.

True cultural duality is pretty rare though. Kudos to those who achieve and maintain it.

Sunspace
12-26-2006, 11:06 AM
I always referred to myself as "second-generation Canadian" because both I and my parents were born here, but my grandparents were born overseas.

Napier
12-26-2006, 01:57 PM
You might think this phrase had a well understood meaning, but I hear both. However I think I hear "first generation" meaning the first generation living here more often than meaning the first generation born here. Of course, "the first generation to live here" and "the first generation born here" are both perfectly clear and well defined.

Chefguy
12-26-2006, 02:01 PM
Definition (http://www.infoplease.com/dictionary/first-generation)

robardin
12-26-2006, 02:53 PM
Definition (http://www.infoplease.com/dictionary/first-generation)
Well, the dictionary doesn't provide much clarity beyond saying that both meanings are used. Which we've figured out on our own, Mr. Webster :)

We'll settle this issue next Thursday. Don't you think that's reasonable? (Yes or No?)

Derleth
12-26-2006, 03:36 PM
"First generation" means the immigrants - or their children?Yes.

Seriously, this has always bothered me as well. The course of this thread seems to indicate my fears are true: There is no consensus, so anyone who uses the family of terms we're discussing opens the door to much confusion. It's best to be explicit.

ouryL
12-26-2006, 07:23 PM
In Hawaii, it is understood that the first generation Japanese born here are called nisei-those born American. Those who first arrived are called Issei. The sansei are the grandchildren. This is the generation who when play soldiers would fight as the Americans vs. the Japanese. :eek: Of course, if these immigrants married islanders, they didn't usually consider themselves nisei or sansei.

Chefguy
12-26-2006, 08:14 PM
Well, the dictionary doesn't provide much clarity beyond saying that both meanings are used. Which we've figured out on our own, Mr. Webster :)

We'll settle this issue next Thursday. Don't you think that's reasonable? (Yes or No?)

I can't find a definitive answer on the genealogy sites, and would have to send a query to someone, but as a genealogist myself, I always assume that a 'first-generation American' is someone who is born here of immigrant parents.

kunilou
12-26-2006, 10:36 PM
My wife and I don't even agree on this, and we both are the grandchildren of immigrants.

In my family, it was very clear that the grandparents were "immigrants" and their children were "first-generation" Americans.

My wife is Japanese-American, and to her it was equally clear that her Issei grandparents were first-generation Americans. We've simply agreed that I am "second generation" and she is "third generation."

John Mace
12-27-2006, 01:13 AM
Well, the dictionary doesn't provide much clarity beyond saying that both meanings are used. Which we've figured out on our own, Mr. Webster :)

We'll settle this issue next Thursday. Don't you think that's reasonable? (Yes or No?)
Exactly what I was thinking. This is like the whole "next" controversy. People us the words both ways, although I have always used it to mean "first generation" as the actual immigrants, and "second generaiont" as the ones born here.

audiobottle
12-27-2006, 03:02 PM
From glancing over this thread, it sounds like there's a break between European immigrants and Asian immigrants. My parents came from Korea, and we consider them to be first generation. Kids who were born in Korea but pretty much raised up in America are considered 1.5 generation, and kids (like me) who were born and raised here in America are 2nd generation.

Johanna
12-30-2006, 04:14 AM
Well, I'm a European voice added to your Asian voice, audiobottle. I think it has more to do with the level of professional study in the social sciences. The only cite of actual social science scholars in this thread is the mention Penchan's professors, who agreed with us. Maybe it's because Asian-Americans reach higher education levels. Or maybe I have Asian characteristics I hadn't known about.

jimmmy
12-30-2006, 09:37 AM
1. The way I learned the meaning of "first generation," it's the first people in a family to live in a given country. That means they came from somewhere else. My grandparents were born in Sicily, they immigrated here before having kids, they were first-generation Sicilian-Americans. My dad is second-generation, and I'm third-generation, by this definition.


I am +80% sure that the Washington Post uses this meaning of 1st generation - anecdotally so did I.

(Like biweekly or bimonthly there seems to either a change orthere always has been - dual meanings - which I never would have guessed if not for this board)

Shalmanese
12-30-2006, 09:54 AM
In my mind, if you moved to a country after you were 10, you are first generation. If you arrived in the country before you were 5 (including being born there), you are second generation. Between 5 and 10 is fuzzy. Based on long experience with immigrants, if you are immersed in (say) white culture before you are 5, then you will "think white" and embody a large chunk of white ideals. If you come after you are 10, you generally retain the ability to read/write/speak in the old language, read novels in the old language and be generally aware of the culture.

IMHO, it's very much a matter of deep cultural values. It's hard to describe to someone who is not an immigrant but there is a marked difference that comes between 5 and 10.