why are all my friends 2nd generation immigrants?
Christmas Eve, 2014: My mom hands each of us a gift. One part of the gift is a book called “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri, a story told from the dual-perspective of an Indian woman who marries and moves to the United States, and her American-born son. The second part of the gift is a spiral-bound manuscript of the first chapter of my mom’s autobiography — in Spanish.
My mother moved to the U.S. from Mexico when she was in her mid-20s. She came for a Master’s program and ended up meeting and marrying my dad. Thirty-five years later, she still laments those lost days in Mexico, as she’s lived hundreds of miles from her family all this time. Like anyone would do in their later years, she started writing her story from the beginning so she could honor her past and share with us her journey.
As a woman in my 20s, I now reflect on my mother’s journey and see it reflect back in a funny and unexpected way — through my friends and my immediate social network. The majority of them are children of non-European immigrant parents… Mexico, Peru, El Salvador, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Cape Verde, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, the Philippines, China, Korea, Japan… Collectively, we are the 2nd generation.
I started asking myself, why is it that I gravitate towards so many 2nd generation folks? Why is this pattern self-perpetuating throughout time and space? No matter where I go, I always end up befriending people with this background.
The easy answer is that we may consciously or subconsciously surround ourselves with people that look like us — in our case, vaguely mixed. Then we end up with people around that may have a shared experience, or even upbringing. Our immigrant parents did not grow up here. In most cases, their accents are still thick and they still cook their homeland cuisine.
Ok, so why did 1st generation parental upbringing manifest itself so widely in my social network? What is it, specifically, that lumps the 2nd gen experience together?
Maybe it’s our taste for fluid culture. Maybe it’s our self-restraint. Maybe it’s what they call “resilience,” or a dedicated work ethic. Our family love. Our patience. Maybe it’s our compassion, or our cynicism. (These attributes apply especially when we’re raised by one American-born parent, too. That sh*t gets tense.) Our literal mothers have shaped us with the thoughts and behaviors of our once-removed-mother-land. We have a dual-history that we don’t talk about, because, well, we like it here. And we band together because we see a little bit of our moms in each other.
I think most of all, though, it’s our yearning desire to focus on more important things than what makes us different or what is hard, because that’s all we (or our parents) have ever known.
All in all, we’ve learned to ignore the straw man arguments, and to see the big picture — the trees and the forest. That’s why, whenever I volunteer at naturalization clinics, and there, sitting across from me is an 80 year old Chinese man who has been living and contributing to San Francisco for over 40 years, I do everything I can to screen him through. He’s a tree.
At this time of fired up anti-immigration ideology, I ask all-Americans who stand on that side to look around them. Are you surrounding yourself mostly with other all-Americans? I would wager that you are. Now, think for just a moment, maybe that’s why you’re afraid. There. That’s the very root of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, bullying, etc.
Our 2nd gen status is inconspicuous because most of us look half-white and speak English well. But we’re here. Illegal or not, 2nd gen immigrants assimilate to this country with ease. We don’t detract from it. We continue sending light through the North American prism, just as future generations of immigrants will do for eternity (or at least until the U.S. meets its Rome.) So get with the program.
*If you’re a 2nd generation immigrant and disagree with anything I’ve written here, please feel free to comment.