Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'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.

Expect more highlights tomorrow, as I'm still transcribing tape, but for now I'll share a brief highlight from Abrego, who arrived from El Salvador at age five, on one of the things that sets 1.5ers apart:

If you think really about the migration experience, and of course, it is going to vary by national origin and class and race, and all of these different things, but if you think about migration, particularly for Latinos, it's really about this struggle, this process of adapting. It's very difficult - learning a new language - and so children who are 1.5 experience more of that firsthand than children who are born here. They, depending on their age, may recall a lot of that process, and I think it probably becomes part of their identity in a very different way than for someone who was born years after their parents had arrived and didn’t have to experience a lot of that initial struggle that a lot of immigrants go through.

So I think it reinforces ideas about how this is a new place, we have to work hard, we have to live up, to make sure that our parents' sacrifices were worth it. There is a different kind of consciousness that people can talk about, because they can remember, in their childhood, these sacrifices.

Can you identify? We heard several good 1.5 stories the other night (and some good ones from the second generation, too), but there's room for more. Please feel free to share yours below.