How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Terms of assimilation: What do we call people who assimilate into another culture?

A panel that I moderated last week on what defines the 1.5 generation, immigrants who arrive in the U.S. as children and adolescents, yielded enough material for many, many related posts. Panelists and audience members connected over identity, the immigrant experience as lived by young people and how it shapes them, among other things. And of course, the role of language.

On the language front, a follow-up question via email this week from an audience member, my KPCC reporter colleague Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, has prompted a great collection of replies from the panelists. First, his question:

In Mexico the word "pocho" is used to describe someone who's left Mexico and has assimilated into another culture. Is there a word used by Koreans, Salvadorans, or Filipinos to mean someone who's assimilated into another country and left the language and culture of the home country?


'A different kind of consciousness': On what defines the 1.5 generation

Photo by K W Reinsch/Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’ve been listening to the raw audio from a great discussion that my KPCC colleagues and I held earlier this week at the station's Crawford Family Forum on the experience of the 1.5 generation, immigrants who arrived in the United States as children or adolescents.

I've moderated a few of these events by now, but listening to it again, this conversation was striking in terms of how personally those of us involved - both the panelists and the audience - connected with the topic, and with one another, as the evening went on.

The panelists were Cal Poly Pomona sociologist and author Mary Yu Danico, UCLA Chicana/o Studies professor Leisy Abrego and by Dennis Arguelles, director of program development for Search To Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA). Three out of the four of us (me included) are 1.5ers ourselves. So were many members of the audience, who helped is cover diverse perspectives on growing up as intergenerational bridge-builders, cultural interpreters, outsiders, all of the above.


A generation 'in the interstices...of two societies and cultures'

Photo by K W Reinsch/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Of all the descriptions I've been reading lately of the 1.5 generation, immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children or adolescents, there's one that especially resonates as I prepare for a related panel tonight, applying to a far broader group than those it originally described.

In a 1988 study of young Southeast Asian refugees in San Diego, conducted then for the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, sociologists Rubén Rumbaut and Kenji Ima described what they alternately termed the "one-and-a-half generation" and the 1.5 generation. Substitute the word "immigrants" for "refugees" and what they wrote can apply to anyone who has grown up as a young immigrant, adapting to a new life chosen not by them, but their parents. The description:

These respondents are members of what we'll call the "1.5" generation: that is, they are neither part of the "first" generation of their parents, the responsible adults who were formed in the homeland, who made the fateful decision to leave it and to flee as refugees to an uncertain exile in the United States, and who are this defined by the consequences of that decision and by the need to justify it; nor are these youths part of the "second" generation of children who are born in the U.S., and for whom the "homeland" mainly exists as a representation consisting of parental memories and memorabilia, even though their ethnicity may remain well defined.

Rather, the refugee youths in our study constitute a distinctive cohort; they are those young people who were born in their countries of origin but formed in the U.S. (that is, they are completing their education in the U.S. during the key formative periods of adolescence and early adulthood); they were not the main protagonists of the decision to leave and hence are less beholden to their parents' attitudes (e.g., they may be "freer" and more "objective" to forge a new modus vivendi in the U.S. with less of the pressure for self-justification required of the "first" generation); and they are in many ways marginal to both the new and old worlds, for while they straddle both worlds they are in some profound sense fully part of neither of them.

Though they differ greatly from each other in cultural and social class origins, and in many other respects as well, they generally share a common psychohistorical location in terms of their age and their migration status/role, and in terms of developing bicultural strategies of response and adjustment to that unique position which they occupy as "1.5ers" - in the interstices, as it were, of two societies and cultures, between the first and second generation, and between being "refugees" and being "ethnics" (or hyphenated "Americans").


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:


Posts of the week: The Trayvon Martin case, how being bilingual makes you smarter, media diversity, generation 1.5 and more

Photo by Reigh LeBlanc/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The tragic shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and how race factored into it has dominated the headlines this week. But there's also been good news (being bilingual can make you smarter!) and an unexpected call for media diversity from, of all places, Los Angeles City Hall. Without further ado, a few of the week's highlights:


Your brain on a second language: Bilingualism and brain power More evidence that speaking a second language boosts brain power. According to research, the mental focus it takes to switch from communicating in one language to another is a "workout" for the brain that improves cognitive and problem-solving skills, and can even delay the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms.


With shooter's ethnicity, race becomes an even bigger part of the Trayvon Martin story A recent development in the case involving the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old black boy shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, was that the shooter, George Zimmerman, is half Latino. There were some interesting reactions to this online, including from some non-Latino whites who had felt scapegoated.