Is It Really So Sad to Be A Second-generation Immigrant?

As an international student, I was very curious about how the second-generation immigrants define their identity when I first come to the US. My assumption was that their immigrant identity is more likely to be a disadvantage. On one hand, these people do not look like white American people. No matter how well they speak English or how familiar they are with American culture, their skin, name, and color of hair and eyes are always telling people that they are not WHITE American. This difference implies that they may be discriminated when applying for higher education, may meet glass ceiling when getting job promotion, and may face difficulties when trying to date or marry white Americans. In other words, they have disadvantage when comparing to white people in the US. On the other hand, they are also different from international students like me. They are raised in the US, so they are not fully shaped by the culture of their original countries. Therefore, they don’t think they are Asian or African from deep inside. They may even rebel the cultural characteristics from their original countries because that would baffle them. Hence, they actually cannot get along well with new immigrants who are labeled by the culture of the original countries.

I somehow thought my assumption was right when I first came to the US. I saw there are less American born African or Asian in the college-wide student association, while at the same time they seldom mingle with international students from Africa or Asia. It seemed that African Americans and Asian Americans are isolated. However, my assumption got complicated after I read Americanah and Alice Walker’s essay, “In Search of our Mother’s Gardens”. In the first chapter of Americah, Ifemelu found an Afican hair salon to braid her hair. And when she was asked about how many years she had stayed in the US, she exaggerated it as fifteen years. The girl who helped Ifemelu to braid her hair, responded in an interesting way. “’Fifteen? That long time.’ A new respect slipped into Aisha’s eyes.” (P19) However, this reaction was not suprising for Ifemelu. She knew that staying in America for longer years is a benefit for her. “…to earn the prize of being taken seriously among Nigerians in America, among Africans in America, indeed among immigrants in America, she needed more years.” Similarly, It came up to me that the relatively longer experience in the US of the second-generation immigrants may be an advantage among all the people in the US from their original culture.

In “In Search of our Mother’s Gardens”, Alice Walker mentioned that there were some African women such as Phillis Wheatley and Zora Hurston that had made their talents seen by the world, but they were raised in both black and white cultures. On the contrary, many talented black women, like Alice’s mother, didn’t have chance to make her voice heard. It took more generations for women raised in black culture to get rid of the hardship of life and show the world their capabilities. Maybe that’s another advantage of second-generation immigrants. They are raised in white culture, so they may be easier heard by the mainstream society, though that may still be harder for them than for white people. Based on what I get out of the texts, now I believe that the identity of second-generation immigrants have both pros and cons.

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