How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

What goes into cultural identity? Two generation 1.5ers, two experiences

Photo by K W Reinsch/Flickr (Creative Commons)


All manner of factors influence how 1.5 generation immigrants, who arrived in the U.S. as children or adolescents, develop their cultural identity. How old they were upon arrival, where they grew up, their immigration status, the attitudes of their parents, all play a part.

In a panel this Tuesday night at KPCC's Crawford Family Forum, I'll be discussing the 1.5 experience with Cal Poly Pomona sociologist Mary Yu Danico and UCLA Chicana/o Studies professor Leisy Abrego, all of us 1.5ers ourselves. One aspect we'll be talking about is something Danico wrote about in her book, "The 1.5 Generation: Becoming Korean American in Hawaii." Among other things, she wrote about the vast cultural and identity differences among young people who assimilate as kids and teens.

Danico compares two women, one raised in Oregon and another in Hawaii, whose large Asian American population provides a familiar place to land for many immigrants. From the book:

Sally, a 31-year-old, immigrated to Hawai'i when she was 3 years old. When speaking to her, one would guess that Sally was either second- or even third-generation local Korean. However, she identifies herself as Korean.

She grew up in government-assisted homes with her mother, who spoke only Korean. Most of her immediate neighbors were Korean, she attended a high school where her friends were predominantly Korean and local, and she works in a hotel that is run and owned by Koreans. Although she speaks Konglish with her Korean American friends, at works she speaks primarily Korean. Sally shows how defining the1.5 generation is complex.

Sonia, a 39-year-old Korean American, immigrated to Oregon at age 12; however, her parents instructed her and her siblings not to speak Korean and to speak only English. Her parents felt that in order to succeed in the dominant white culture, their children had to perfect the English language and never let out that they are immigrants.

Consequently, Sonia and her siblings do not speak or understand Korean. She states, "You know, I really feel like I'm just American. Yes, obviously I'm Korean. I mean look at me. But I don't speak Korean, don't eat Korean food, don't date Korean men...I'm really just superficially Korean." The pressure in the continental United States to assimilate pushed Sonia and her family to leave their culture behind and to become "American."


Stories like these abound, and I'd like to hear them from readers. If you have a 1.5 generation story to share, feel free to post it below. And join us tomorrow night in Pasadena for what promises to be a lively discussion. Tickets are free, but an RSVP is required.
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