Pet peeve time: Are you first- or second-generation American?

February 28, 2012 · 39 comments

in Journalism how-to's

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I am SO ANNOYED. When will people get this straight??! If you’re an immigrant to this country, then you’re first generation. If your kids are born here, then they are second generation.

The logic is very clear…

If you call yourself first-generation American, then what happens if your immigrant parents become American citizens? If you are first generation, are they the zero generation?

Aha! Now you get it.

Of course, our society does have a way of treating immigrants like zeros. This leads to the subliminal context of my pet peeve. We have to stop acting like immigrants are strangers. By thinking of their American-born children as first generation, we are implying that immigrant families have shallow roots in this country — a shaky standing.

But if we properly define our generational relationships, then we instantly become more American. We count more. We need to be counted. Being counted is a source of strength and power. 

My parents came here from Asia. Me, I’m born in New Jersey. Even if Mom and Dad never became naturalized citizens, I am still second generation. For two generations, we have sweated blood and paid taxes to help build this country. My country. Our country. Do not view us as foreigners or recently-arrived guests.



For further amplification, check out “Foreign-Born Population Frequently Asked Questions,” from the website of the U.S. Census Bureau. This unit of the federal government has two centuries’ worth of experience in counting heads and categorizing the American people. Here’s what the bureau says:

What is generational status? Who is included in the first, second, and third-or-higher generations?

The U.S. Census Bureau uses the term generational status to refer to the place of birth of an individual or an individual’s parents. Questions on place of birth and parental place of birth are used to define the first, second, and third-or-higher generations. The first generation refers to those who are foreign born. The second generation refers to those with at least one foreign-born parent. The third-or-higher generation includes those with two U.S. native parents.

Sadly, too many of us are misinformed and oppressing ourselves. Just last weekend, my daughter and I were on a college tour at a major university. During the fancy presentation, a student speaker told the packed audience that she is the daughter of immigrants and “first generation.” After the event, I pulled this young woman aside to explain and she graciously thanked me. Nice.

One-on-one convos like this are easy to manage because there’s a human face to the issue. Changing the media is harder because the cultural bias is so pervasive. Even the New York Times is inconsistent; the news sections show proper usage but I find boo-boos in the paper’s Sunday wedding pages. If anyone has a contact there, please forward this post!

For a typical example of the problem, consider, which just ran a piece on Linsanity.



Here’s what it said:

Jeremy Lin is also an Asian-American. This is notable because very few Asians play professional basketball in the United States! Lin’s parents, Gie-Ming and Shirley, are Taiwanese immigrants; Lin and his brothers are first-generation Americans. The Lins came to the U.S. in the 1970s to study at Purdue…

Wrong, wrong, wrong! Jeremy Lin and his brothers are SECOND-GENERATION AMERICANS.

This topic has been bothering me for a long time. Unloading here makes me feel better. My hope is that you’ll share this post with everyone you know. After all, immigrants and their children are EVERYWHERE.


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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

betty ming liu February 28, 2012 at 9:31 am

and i have another pet peeve for this week….my facebook “like” button on the blog has disappeared! uggggh. my tech consultant won’t have time to fix it until this weekend. but i hope you’ll take the extra minute to share this post on fb. we really need to get this information straight. it would be great for our sense of community and self-esteem. xo


Vivien O-S February 28, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Betty darlin’, I definitely get the logic here, and I admit I was never aware (until you told me, a while back) of the Census Bureau’s definition. And yet. Don’t be peeved at me, but I’m afraid that I’m part of the “cultural bias” that’s kept perpetuating the incorrect usage. But not for the reasons you’ve presented.
As a fellow daughter of immigrants, I too am passionately committed to honoring their experiences and contributions; this is at the heart of much of my writing and public speaking, even my teaching. Yet I never questioned – or bristled at- the standard designation of being a “First Generation American.” I always thought of it this way: I am the FIRST generation of my family to have had the privilege/advantage to be BORN in America. My parents – and to be scrupulous about terminology, they were “refugees,” not immigrants – built the foundation for my future here, as the first generation to come to America, yes. And they did so without possessing the full complement of advantages (even language) that became my birthright. This made their hard work, their successes, their patriotism, everything they bequeathed to me (materially and philosophically) all the more extraordinary, in my view. It renders them anything but invisible. Rightly or wrongly, thinking of or portraying myself as “Second Generation” makes me feel MORE distant from the struggles and triumphs that forged the deep roots of my parents’ immigrant experience, and more disconnected from the daily challenges to acculturate (but not assimilate) that were central to my family of origin. And I don’t like that one bit. All those “firsts” made me who I am.
Because of my German-Jewish parents’ escape from the Holocaust (one fleeing before the camps, one liberated after), I’m the FIRST to be born into a society built upon “liberty and justice for all.” (Or so we purport – clearly we’ve still got a ways to go.) I’m the first to be free to study at whatever school I wanted to, the first to have a high-school yearbook instead of memories of classmates who were victims of genocide. I never forget this.
The fact that MOST people/media apparently get it wrong, makes it that much harder for me to start gettin’ it right. I want my students who are the children of immigrants to know that I feel a deep, deep commonality with them, regardless of their familes’ ethnicities or countries of origin. This commonality becomes especially important – even transformative – when they hail from cultures in which they’ve had zero opportunity to get to know a Jew – cultures in which Jews, for a variety of reasons, are mythologized, even demonized. If I simply point out that I’m “Second Generation American,” I’m pretty certain that most listeners assume I possess some vague knowledge of my families’ roots, via an immigrant granny’s tales in a language I barely understand – surely not that I grew up in a household that spoke more German than English, or that I relied upon television to teach me how American families were supposed to act (ha) – the Nelsons, the Cleavers, etc., and my favorite, “Donna Reed.”
But because accuracy/specificity of language is my stock in trade, as it is yours, I guess I’ll have to get my act together and start making my newfound identity as a “Second-Generation American” a teachable moment for those as misguided as I was. Sigh.
SORRY for once again writing a long-ass post on your blog. But you raise provocative stuff! I am provoked! xoxo


betty ming liu February 28, 2012 at 12:32 pm

viv, i love all the long comments because it shows people care. thank you for this. i totally vibe with the passion you bring to the discussion.

but i go back to the original point…did your parents become american citizens? would you call them the zero-generation american? especially given all that they suffered, don’t they deserve the right to have their citizenship acknowledged?

i know this is emotional stuff. but it’s a great discussion that we need to keep having. xoxoxox


Vivien O-S February 28, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Yes, they became citizens, and never missed voting in an election. Like I said: I can’t fault the logic of your argument. I guess I never felt compelled to attach the word (or concept of) “generation” to how I viewed my parents’ status as Americans. Does the fact that you’re said to turn “one” on your first birthday, indicate that you were “zero” during the year after your birth? Well, “zero YEARS old” – sure. But this doesn’t imply that you didn’t exist. Instead, your age/developmental status is referred to in terms of months, or weeks. I identified my parents as German-Jewish refugees, Holocaust survivors who proudly attained American citizenship, with my brother and I being the first generation to be born Americans. Their designation – to me – bespeaks serious accomplishment worthy of admiration, while ours was sheer happenstance.
That said: I can definitely see how the more commonly used identifier of people like us, Betty, as “first-generation Americans,” could be rooted (consciously for some, unconsciously for others) in an anti-immigrant bias. Heaven knows, that’s something I’d never want to perpetuate.


Shakti February 28, 2012 at 4:30 pm

My parents are first generation immigrants (born in India) who later naturalized and became 1st generation American citizens. My brother is second generation American (born in America). I was born in India and when my parents naturalized, they naturalized me because I was a minor. What generation American am I?


Toby February 29, 2012 at 8:53 am

Betty: Glad you like long comments because here comes another one! Your post calls attention to issues I have come to realize have serious implications for both individuals and our society at large. First comes the inherent racism – often unconscious – of American culture. One of my wonderful adopted sons is of Philippine descent. So many times he has been asked – by “nice” people with big smiles – “so – where…were…you…born?” (speaking slowly, clearly and a shade louder than usual) His usual response – “uhh…Jersey City,” leaves them a bit non-plussed, having automatically assumed that his Asian features meant “not an American.” That response has been delivered, over the years, with increasingly less patience and I don’t blame him. Beyond the non-American assumption, the further assumptiion that one must have difficulty with the language (even though he has an Ivy League MA) is infuriating. At least It has happened less often as he has gotten older and moves in professional rather than club-kid circles.
The whole present immigration “crisis” so ballyhooed by the right wing is a huge exercise in pure racism. I run the Learning Center at Mercer College’s inner city campus, here in Trenton, on weekday evenings and most of our students are from South America or West Africa. I have developed more respect for them than I know how to express. Most of them get up at dawn to work at some menial, minimum wage job, then come to the college to work on an education until 9 or 10 every night. Throughout this exhausting schedule, their courtesy and appreciation never faiils. How anyone can think they wiill not be valuable assets to our nation is simply a mystery to me.


Yvonne February 29, 2012 at 8:54 am


I am like you…but always confused! I call my myself first generation sometimes and other times second generation…it is further confused by the fact that my dad was born here, but raised in Jamaica and identified as Jamaican! My mom was born in the Dominican Republic…I have spent most of my life in a state of confusion…I didn’t even feel truly American until I was in my 20’s and traveled/lived in Europe. I was often mistaken for Arab and sometimes discriminated against based on that perception. I really missed America. Between getting stopped by the police and Arab men who were upset with me for the way I dressed and not being veiled, it got scary at times. My only weapon was my American accent and my passport! I felt even more American after I wrote my first book on black vets…most of my life I have felt a disconnect to all my cultures because I am just not “enough” of anything. But you are right…I am American and the media and perception has hurt my ability to identify with that. Thanks for advocating for us kids of immigrants. Our identity is often a throw away and never even explained by our parents…another one of my issues…my parents did not have the vocabulary to help me understand who I was as a mixed minority so I was clueless against the white latino bullies who challenged me about my identity when I was in grade school. They were so mean…so mean…


Jeannie February 29, 2012 at 8:57 am

I saw the same item, Betty, and it bothered me too. But not as much, because I’m pretty sure that different immigrant cultures count it differently, despite whatever the Census Bureau says—so the general usage is all over the place. Asians seems to be the most assiduous in following Betty’s system (issei, nisei, sansei, etc. for Japanese-Americans). By Korean-American definitions, Shakti, you would be called a member of the 1.5 generation.


Bria @ West of Persia February 29, 2012 at 10:15 am

Hmmmm, good point, Betty. Now in my case, Mom is from the U.S., but my pops is an immigrant. So does that make me a 2.5 generation immigrant? Not being snarky here, I’ve always been curious about this. (Hey, 2.5 beats “half-breed,” which, yes, I have been called. Ha!)


patty February 29, 2012 at 11:16 am

Wow Betty you really hit a nerve. What a great topic — like back in your old Daily News days! I hear you too, but my story is different from yours. All of my life, people assume that my family has been here for many, many generations — and with that go all the assumptions that I was born to affluence, privilege etc. First, there are millions and millions of Americans who have been here for a very long time who are neither affluent nor privileged. There is a strong bias against them; that if they have been in America so long, they should have figured it all out and become successful investment bankers, and not just plain, ordinary, honest people struggling to make a living. I know some people refer to those people as trailer trash. We live in a cruel world. BTW, my family has been here many generations — half of them anyway. But they did what Americans do — they married “other” people not exactly like themselves. That half — my grandparents – were immigrants. I too thought my Mom was first generation — meaning the first generation born in America. I guess it was hard to think of my Grandma as American since she never became a citizen, never spoke English, and frankly never really liked it here. She had an awfully hard life here.


betty ming liu February 29, 2012 at 11:17 am

shakti, i agree with jeannie — you are a 1.5-er. and bria, i have heard 2.5 used! i also think you both have a lot of flexibility in defining yourselves. btw, even though wikipedia isn’t always the most reliable source in the world, it presents a decent overview on the topic of immigrant generations, 1.5, 2.5, etc. here’s the link:

toby, love hearing about your work at the learning center. what you experienced in having an asian-american son is so typical for those of us who step outside of our race and ethnicities. for me, the defining moment was being with a bf and future husband who is black — THAT was when i finally understand racism against black folks. i’ve also heard white adoptive parents with asian kids say the same thing….when they show up somewhere with their children, some people treat them um, differently.

yvonne — girl, you’re an all-american story! but one that isn’t discussed enough. these days, people are much more aware of the concept of immigrants who are black. but growing up, i was always annoyed with the black community for NOT acknowledging its immigrants connections. (another pet peeve that has bothered me since my married days.) it was as if you had to be “african-american” only and not jamaican-american, etc….but maybe that’s all changing too. hey, rihanna and nicki minaj are both first-generation americans. immigrants matter. :)


betty ming liu February 29, 2012 at 11:23 am

patty, it’s amazing how this topic brings up such intense feelings! in terms of your grandma, i think you’re sort of in the same emotional space that viv is with her parents. yes, they came from somewhere else. and yes, they struggled and didn’t fit our image of what an american looks like. but their stories — and the stories of toby’s students — define the american experience. at least, in my opinion.


Cassandra Aoki March 1, 2012 at 12:35 am

The problem seems to be that the U.S. has been a black and white country according to the old way of thinking. Hispanics, who have been here for many generations, are largely ignored unless someone is courting their votes. Asians have only recently started to be courted for their votes and many Americans still do not realize how much blood, sweat, and tears our Asian-Americans have given for their country (building of the railroads; the 442nd in WWII,etc.). The biggest problem for Asians is that while the female is considered exotic and beautiful, the male is largely treated as invisible unless he does something that no one (in the media or America) can ignore. Nothing will change until Asian-Americans start standing up and saying, “Enough! We are Americans! No one adds ‘white’ to white Americans so why do we have to be labeled otherwise?” Stereotypes will go away only if people are made to feel uncomfortable using them. Good grief, how many more hoops are left for Asians to jump through to prove themselves and get the respect they deserve?


betty ming liu March 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm

cassandra, sorry, i didn’t see your comment before. well, speaking of hoops, i always ask myself: what does it take for an asian american to finally break into the nba? he needs a harvard degree AND god on his side. isn’t that a little bit overkill? i also think that those of us who get stereotype bring it upon ourselves either due to ignorance or conscious choice. not everyone thinks there’s problem in getting our generational references wrong. but for me, it’s a significant subliminal issue. developing self-confidence and a sense of personal power would take each of us a long way!


james Ala March 1, 2012 at 7:20 am

First generation, second generation, nisei, what are we talking about?

This stuff makes my head hurt. My Grandad came to the USA from Italy as a small boy. Taught by the Newark, NJ school system (which scrambled his name from Vinny to James; don’t ask) he was for all intents and purposes second generation. But my mom and her sisters were the first generation natural born citizens. (Yea, 13th / 14th Amendments!!) So am I forth, third or second generation?

All I know that the only Italian left in me is an addiction to carbohydrates in any form; but especially when they take the form of noodles : Yakisoba, Pancit, Spaghetti, Ramen, Pad Thai, etc., bring it on! Oh, and I make a fairly good all-cheese lasagna for what it’s worth.

Having study more history than is good for normal functioning, I have a tendency to look at these kind of things sideways. I look at the trajectory of these kind of things, the process. Sooner of later we all end up in the great US Mosaic, each person, each culture a very special piece in that great work. As that mosaic is an ongoing process, and new pieces are being added all the time, it helps to have a sense of humor and proportion.

I will admit that a clean up on the Gawker post is needed. But hey, it’s Gawker, not the Good Grey Lady –The New York Times. I kinda expect Gawker to be a little sloppy and insensitive, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

In closing I’m going to inflict, er share, a historical perspective here. It could have been worse. In years past it was worse; does the Chinese Exclusion Act ring any bells? But, by all means, pet peeve away, vent; how are the rest of use lay-abouts ever going to get educated about these kinds of things? Not by our own efforts, I’ll tell you that much.


betty ming liu March 1, 2012 at 9:36 am

based on what you’re saying, i must be italian too because i’m a recovering carb addict. you make other spot-on points too — but my answer is that we have a right to expect others — as well as ourselves — to get it right. the interest is NOT in obsessive labeling. i just think we should get the respect and consideration that we each deserve. :)


Brian March 1, 2012 at 11:29 pm

And yet you feel the need to Hyphenate, by saying ‘ I’m a(n) (Blank)-American’ . Something obviously hit a nerve, otherwise there would not be the grammatical errors. Lets start with the article on Jeremy Lyn. The information I was able to uncover indicates Lyns’ parents are DUAL NATIONALS which may indicate they may not be naturalized US Citizens.
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God. ” (8CFR § 337.1 Oath of allegiance)
When you become a naturalized citizen you renounce all other allegiance(s). I am not a reporter so I don’t really know his parents status legally. The Dual national part may be a hint though tending to indicate that Lyn is a first generation American since he was obviously born here.
Secondly, you must realize that the census department is a government agency which is involved in compiling STATISTICAL DATA. Their definitions are for THEIR OWN STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY. They are making their own deffinitions which apply to their method of collecting data. One of the problem with large data sets is information can be lost unless you are very carefull in coding the data. This process has to start with the initial design. The censis is an extremly large data set. The data sets primary purpose is to determine how many voters are in a district and how many representatives a state whould have. No one likes being treated like a number, but to the censis everyone is a number.

That being said, I can now get to my point, numbers. I am a mathematician who emphasises in statistics. The concept of zero .

“Zero is the integer denoted 0 that, when used as a counting number, means that no objects are present. It is the only integer (and, in fact, the only real number) that is neither negative nor positive. A number which is not zero is said to be nonzero. A root of a function f is also sometimes known as “a zero of f.” (Wolfram Math World)
In China, counting rods were used for decimal calculation since the 4th century BC including the use of blank spaces. Chinese mathematicians understood negative numbers and zero (some mathematicians used 無入, 空, 口 for the latter, until Gautama Siddha introduced the symbol 0.
Zero is more than just a number, it is a very valuable concept. With out an object which functions as 0 it is impossible to have an inverse for any number in the system of numbers. Thus it is impossible to build the most basic of all algebraic object. another concept that is equally important is the zero of a function, f(0). This is called the intial value of a function. This new concept math, physiscs and ofthers sciences surprises most people. There prejusidesed into thinking that zero is nothing and starting a function at point zero must folley. It turns out it is not. Without knowing the initial value, f(0), you can’t understand or solve many problem. In chaos theory, very small diffrences in initial values can lead to widely convergent results. It is also normal to use f(0) to describe the initial generation.
There are models that can be built which are memorylessness. One such is a Markov Process. A stochastic process with the Markov property, or memorylessness, is one for which conditional on the present state of the system, its future and past are independent. An example of this is would be the life of a light bulb. Once you know the average life expectancy of a light bulb there is no more you can predict about it. if someone would ask me how long a particular light bulb will last, all I can tell him is “they usually last a year and a half”. Beyond that I can’t say how long the light bulb will last. i may not be able to tell how old the bulb is. It may have been there when I moved in. It really dosen’t matter. It’s a light bulb, they usually last a year and a half.
I see the same concepts applying to people. Emmigrants bring some intial values with them which can make some huge diffrences in the current state of thngs. They bring new ideas which make america great. However, there is a point where the process is memoryless. All americans are equle and you can’t say what will happen even if you know a long history. I treat my ‘native’ light bulbs with the same respect as the ones I bought last week.
If you want to know how many generations I am I would have to say “why?”. Most of my familiy emmigrated in the 1860’s. One of them was in the Donner Party. (I can trace my family back to the 1200’s) My best friend it is even harder. He is part Cherokee. So if you you asked him what Generation American he is, the correct answer is “Huh?…What do yo mean?”
My family comes mostly from Scotland and Denmark. Danish genelogy is a nightmare. There is no surnames. Peter Jensen has a son named Jens Pedersen (ie Jen’s is Peters’ son). So the Pedersen family begins in america. Or on my Grandfathers side there was a Christinsen. Where there were so many Christensens in Ephriam that he had his name legally changed to Brinholt. Anyone name Brinholt is related to me. Brinholt ie a place in Denmark.

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens …” Ephesians 2:19


betty ming liu March 2, 2012 at 8:17 am

interesting….although it’s not clear to me that becoming american means renouncing “allegiances” to other countries. i remember reading somewhere that jeremy lin’s parents have dual citizenship here and in their motherland of taiwan. there are plenty of countries that offer that to american naturalized citizens. the bottom line is that i’m happy everyone is discussing this issue with me. this is a deep, complicated conversation with lots of twists and turns. :)


Madeline March 2, 2012 at 10:43 am

Thank you for the clarification. This first, second generation has always been very confusing. Now I know.


betty ming liu March 6, 2012 at 7:14 pm

i’m glad that this explanation works for you too, madeline! xo


Skye March 5, 2012 at 11:58 am

It’s hard to say why, but reading this somehow is better for my self-esteem. It makes me see my place here and my parents’ place here as immigrants as much more significant. Why should the ”first generation” (which you’ve pointed out, is really the second) be the first to count? The generation we’ve considered ”zero” is just as significant and has put into this country what everyone else has. This pet peeve of yours was an eye-opener; it gives me a more accurate perspective and sense of pride. Thank you!


HapaMama March 7, 2012 at 12:56 am

AMEN! I was raised to always consider myself a second-generation Taiwanese American, as my parents immigrated to the US before I was born. Seems like recently, I’ve heard many people who were born here (but were the first in their family to be so) refer to themselves as fist generation. It’s not just the media, other Asian Americans also use the terms incorrectly. Now what about the 1.5 generation…


betty ming liu March 7, 2012 at 7:42 am

So true, hapamama! we have to take responsibility for perpetuating stereotypes. there are also the asians who still refer to themselves as “orientals.” as one of my friends says, “‘oriental’ is for describing furniture; ‘asian’ is for people.”


Carp August 22, 2012 at 8:50 am

Why shovel sand against the tide? As much as I don’t like it, language and usage changes. It is changed constantly. Certainly not using capital letters when required is not correct. The usage of first generation has become what almost all think it is. Flammable and inflammable is a good one to look up. As far as newspapers go, they are incorrect (and always biased) as often as correct. Something printed in a newspaper should never be taken as “gospel”.


betty ming liu August 23, 2012 at 6:43 am

Carp, thanks for dropping by and sharing your opinion. While I agree with you that you can’t take newspapers for gospel, they serve an important function in providing a first take on history. Newspapers are a place to start and we take it from there. Hey, hope you’ll visit here again! :)


Benjamin October 29, 2012 at 4:23 am

I don’t know that i’ve ever stumbled across a blog so chock-a-block full of insightful and constructive commentators. I was hunting for an online resource for determining how many generations my family has been living in the U.S. for, and Google decided what i needed was some linguistic clarification and stimulating conversation. As a 19 year old white kid usually inundated in the most vicious circles of the internet, it is a surprise and a relief to find such a successful forum for open thinking. I am not sure how much more i could differ from Betty demographically speaking, but i am certainly grateful for this abundance of food for thought.

Thank you all.



betty ming liu October 29, 2012 at 5:20 am

How nice of you to drop by and visit with us, Ben! Hope you’ll hang with us more in the future. We’re here for you. :)


Cassandra Aoki October 30, 2012 at 2:30 am

I hear that Asians are now being labeled as having an unfair advantage in the best public schools because they spend their after school hours being tutored or going to a cram school for increasing their test scores to get into the better schools which helps them naturally to get into the better universities. The “problem” seems to be that their parents are working their butts off to pay for the extra tutoring and it’s not fair to the black and hispanic kids. They didn’t mention white so I guess enough are getting in still. When are they going to recognize that the reason the Asian kids are doing so well is because they work hard at studying and achieving so that they won’t have to break their backs like their grandparents or parents? When are they going to just give people credit for doing well for the sake of doing well and let them go to school wherever they want to?


betty ming liu April 23, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Agreed, Cassandra. Research studies show that Asian kids aren’t smarter. It’s just that their parents train them to believe that making an effort makes a difference.


Misha April 29, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Both my parents and I are first generation, hehe. I don’t know why, but I love it.


betty ming liu April 30, 2013 at 8:21 am

Well, enjoy your life as new Americans, Misha! Thanks for stopping by. :)


Hannah January 5, 2015 at 8:01 pm

This is so ridicilous.The second generation, the third and so on. And for how long will this continue ? And who decides what we are ? If you are born in a country and you are a citizen or if your children are born in that county, that’s it! No need to dig deeper of ones heritage. It’s not about the biological genes but of citizenship.You were born, you went to school, you’re working and paying taxes, you are simply a part of that country. Why making a huge debate of this? I really don’t understand. I’m so fed up with this second generation thing.


betty ming liu January 22, 2015 at 10:13 pm

Hannah, this issue matters! Not everyone thinks as democratically as you do. I wish more folks shared your attitude!

Unfortunately, we are in a time of tremendous anti-immigrant sentiment. Just look at the debates going on in Congress over immigration reform. To be counted in the discussion, it’s important for immigrants to be acknowledged as first-generation American. This is the beginning of roots.

If you make the immigrant’s American-born child the first generation, that implies that the roots don’t run very deep. And if they don’t run deep, then you’re viewed as a foreigner. Some of us, depending on our race and ethnicity, are viewed as perpetual foreigners. Is that fair?


Elijah X February 14, 2015 at 5:39 pm

Hello . I don’t agree with your previous statement, how can I be a second generation “American” if my Grandpa that is foreign born got his citizenship and my Dad that is foreign born got his citizenship? If that was the case my Grandpa would be first and my Dad would be second… Wouldn’t that make me a third generation American ? No it wouldn’t because I am a First Generation American because I was obviously born in the land of the free from immigrat parents.


betty ming liu February 18, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Elijah, thanks for dropping by. You raise an interesting point. Please allow me to clarify. You are referring to two separate issues.

1) You are in a family with you, your father and your grandpa. You are three generations! We can agree on that, right?

2) But it sounds like your grandpa and dad both came from another country. They came together, starting life over here in America. Together. they represent the first generation of your family to live here. So they are the first generation to live here. They are also the first generation with the option to seek citizenship, making them first generation Americans.

You are different because you were born here. You, unlike your dad and grandpa, were born American. That makes you the second generation of your family to put down roots in America.

So if you really want to declare yourself a proud citizen of the land of the free, claim your birthright! You are second generation. You have roots in this country. These roots are longer and deeper than merely a first generation in the USA.

There’s an anti-immigrant tone to this country that would like us to make some of perpetual foreigners. To declare yourself first generation makes you sound like a newcomer. It denies you your rights as a longtime American family with an American history.


someone April 23, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Wrong. Just add an adjective: either immigrant, naturalized citizen or natural born citizen. In your case, you are a first generation natural born American [citizen]. Period. Your parents are first generation naturalized [citizen] if they have been naturalized, or first generation American immigrants, if not. The grandparents would then be first generation immigrants or citizen, giving your parents the second generation label. If we were to drop the clarifying adjectives above, it would make you third generation American, your parents second, and your grandparents first, depending on naturalization status. Pretty simple and clear, in my opinion.


betty ming liu April 23, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Hey someone, we actually agree. What you’ve done in your comment is explain to us how to use the word “citizen” across the generations. Thanks!

But your explanation on how to use the word “generation” is the same as what I’ve got in the post.


Trisha April 27, 2015 at 1:23 pm

What if a set of parents came here with already born children? What does that make the parents and children now? And then if the parents have another child born here on top of their previous child(ren)–would that child still be 2nd generation?


betty ming liu April 28, 2015 at 11:13 pm

Oh, I see your confusion, Trisha. This is not about the generation between children and their parents. It’s about how many generations an individual has been in the country. So if a family with kids immigrates to a new country, they are ALL first generation in that new country. If the parents have an American-born kid, that baby is second generation. The older siblings who immigrated are still first generation!


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