Being blessed to have parents that were born and raised in a different country is a wonderful experience that allows you to be cultured from birth. However, your childhood may have still been a bit different than your friends who had parents that were born in America. Of course, you are probably bilingual and that’s awesome. But I know from experience that being a first-generation American comes with some specific circumstances that happen as a direct result of not having American born parents.
1. Your name is often pronounced incorrectly.
Maybe your parents wanted to preserve their culture by giving you a very traditional name based on your nationality. Or maybe your parents wanted to name you after a family member who passed away which led them to naming you something more traditional and different. Whatever the case may be, if your name isn’t something commonly found in a baby naming book then your name was likely mispronounced growing up. This led you to likely dread the first day of school not because you didn’t know what to wear but because you dreaded your teachers butchering your name. This dread stemmed from the snickers and giggling that came from your classmates. The embarrassment of having to correct your teacher in 3rd grade can be very difficult for a shy 8-year-old.
2. You can meet a new relative every year.
Not because there are so many births in your extended family (although this also occurs frequently), at large occasions like weddings and funerals, there are relatives that come from far and wide. Most of these people you may have never met before or maybe met when you were too young to remember them. This leads to the interesting idea that you’re constantly meeting new relatives. There are many stories stemming from “the old country” that detail how often everyone got together during holiday celebrations. It can be very exciting knowing that you have relatives all around the world, some you have yet to meet.
3. Sleepovers were a terrifying concept for your parents.
I was lucky to have parents who assimilated quickly. This allowed me to experience an extremely American childhood. But I can remember when I had my first sleepover. It was at my friend Esther’s house. Being my best friend at the time, my parents thought it would be an okay experience. She was also a first-generation American, which I think was a big reason my parents allowed me to go to the sleepover. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t do it. It could have been the Jewish guilt from my mom, or my shy demeanor, but I just could not do sleepovers. For many years I went without the sleepover experience. Eventually, I got over my fear and loved sleepovers, but the fact remains sleepovers were a “thing” for me and my parents and find that most first-generation Americans experienced a very limited amount of sleepovers if at all.
4. Cooking and baking are regarded as extra-curricular activities.
I was lucky enough to have my grandmother live with us in our house for a majority of my childhood. She was a master chef. She may not have gone to culinary school but she could prepare a fancy pants meal on the regular. This concept of cooking, baking, and just spending time in the kitchen passed onto me (it skipped a generation). I loved spending days after school learning how to bake cookies, the proper way to fold dough, and the correct way to chop veggies. While all my friends were joinig sports teams and playing lacrosse or running track, I was having a first-hand lesson in the essentials of cooking. The only downside to being a foodie is that going to college and struggling to comprehend dining hall living can be extremely difficult. The concept of eating ramen every night is unheard of in my family. Fortunately, having parents and grandparents who value good food, they will gladly send care packages filled with goodies for you to enjoy.
Being a first-generation American has many perks and drawbacks. For the most part, I am so grateful that I get to have this great experience of being able to have cultural roots very close to me while at the same time immersing myself in American culture.
Now, I’d love to hear from all of you. What experiences have you had as a first-generation American that I may have missed. Please share in the comments below. As always I love reading all your feedback and comments. Let’s continue this conversation below.