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First Generation vs. Second Generation

When speaking of American people with respect to immigration, I had always assumed that “First Generation” meant the people who were born elsewhere and immigrated to this country. “Second Generation” in this sense means those who were born in the US from these “First Generation” parents.

But recently I started hearing people use them the other way around. They call those who were born in the US, “First Generation”, because they are the first generation to be born in this country. Which is correct?

  • December 18, 2005
  • Posted by Dyske
  • Filed in Usage

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I always think that the first generation are those who were born in the US. The descendant of the immigrants.

mariskova December 19, 2005, 1:01am

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That is correct. First Generation American means the first generation born here. No ambiguity at all, for a change.

Janeg December 19, 2005, 8:49am

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What does “first generation” imply? First generation of what? Isn’t it “first generation American”? If so, someone who immigrated and was naturalized to be an American citizen is the first to be the American in the family, in which case he/she is the “first generation.”

Also, if the first-born is first generation, in speaking of “generations” in an American family, what do you call the ones who immigrated here? Zero generation? After all, they are part of the “generations” in the family, aren’t they? Or, are you suggesting that they are not part of “generations” in the family tree at all?

Dyske December 19, 2005, 10:16am

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dyske, I think you missed the point a bit. The parents aren't zero generation Americans. They're not natural born Americans at all. "generations" doesn't refer to everyone in the family tree. It refers to the number of family generations born in America. I see you added the word "naturalized". Far more often, the parents aren't naturalized, in which case they're not Americans at all.

porsche December 19, 2005, 4:31pm

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Hi Porsche,

"Far more often, the parents aren't naturalized". This is simply not true. You cannot live in this country unless you are a naturalized citizen. I would say 99% of the immigrants who had children here were naturalized Americans. Otherwise, they would have to leave this country. You could possibly stay here forever on a Green Card, but once you have children, it would not make sense to do so. So the very first people in your family to be American citizens are the ones who immigrated to this country. They are the first Americans in the family. Why shouldn't they be the "first generation"?

Dyske December 19, 2005, 5:06pm

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OK, just to establish the fact that it IS ambiguous, here is the definition of "first-generation" from Merriam-Webster Unabridged:

1 : born in the U.S. -- used of an American of immigrant parentage
2 : FOREIGN-BORN -- used of a naturalized American

So, it appears that both usages are correct. Here are some usage examples I found on the web:

"First-generation Americans always have lived between two worlds, one foot in the old place and the other in the United States."

"As first-generation Americans, many Filipino parents encourage their children to assimilate into American society."

"My family is loaded with first-generation Americans, and not one of them, ever, has said they are Italian first, American second."

"Asian Americans: Oral Histories of First Generation Americans from China, the Philippines, Japan, India, the Pacific Islands, Vietnam, and Cambodia."

"The Oklahoma Historical Society is seeking information on ‘first generation’ Americans and about the experiences of immigrants residing in Oklahoma. First generation refers to the first family members born in the U. S. A."

"Based on Chickerings model, differences in self-esteem and identity development among first-generation American (FGA) college students and non first-generation American (NFGA) students were examined."

"On the one hand, we, as first generation Americans, are trying to adopt a new culture, a new way of life, a new way of expression, and to fit in to the environment around us."

"Coming to China has made me realize how difficult it is for the first-generation to establish an identity."

"Most of the children of the foreign-born first generation Americans are born in the U.S."

"Immigrants to the United States are usually called first-generation Americans, regardless of their citizenship status, and their children second-generation Americans."

Dyske December 19, 2005, 5:37pm

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99% you say? According to the US department of homeland security office of immigration statistics, the number of non-naturalized permanent residents (green card) in the US is almost twice as many as naturalized citizens. If you discount the large metropolitan areas, the number is more like 3 to 1. You can poke around at:

So I must stand behind my previous comment.

By the way, my mother-in-law has been living in the US on a green card since the 60's, raised a family, and has no intention of renouncing her UK citizenship or becoming an American citizen. She still pays income taxes, doesn't get to vote, but does avoid jury duty.

My grandparents on both sides emigrated to the US. None became citizens.

"First generation american" was not listed in my dictionary, but after having checked some more, I would also agree that there is ambiguity about the expression.

porsche December 20, 2005, 5:45pm

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The percentage of green card holders is a moot point, but that number does not surprise me. I would expect that. The majority of Green Card holders have no intension of becoming citizens because they prefer to be the citizens of their origins. They just want to work here. So, they would never be called “first generation” because they will never have “second generation” (their kids) in this country (and they are not American).

I would still argue that the vast majority of immigrants who have kids in this country are naturalized. I would say your relatives are rare cases. For immigrants (especially non-English-speaking) to have children in this country is a serious commitment. They have to be very serious about being part of this country. So, it would only make sense that they become naturalized citizens.

I can understand why British citizens would not bother becoming American citizens, since the whole family could potentially go back and forth. This would not be the case, if you were Chinese for instance. It would be very difficult for Chinese-American kids who were born in the US to go to China and live. The cultural difference is too great. So, the parents must take that into consideration when they have kids here. They have to assume that their kids would never go live in China, which means that you yourself would be committed to living here.

Also, there is a big difference between coming from a rich country like England and poorer countries China. Many Chinese people here, for instance, become citizens as soon as they can, so they can sponsor their relatives for Green Cards.

Dyske December 20, 2005, 6:25pm

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My parents are both from England. My father became a citizen as quickly as possible. My mother did after her mother died in the old country.

My wife's parents are from China. Both parents became citizens as quickly as possible.

We are both first genegraiton Canadians! - at least that is what we call ourselves.

runningdog December 21, 2005, 3:59am

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1. Citizenship is a non-issue here. Those who come here are the first generation to live here. Their children are the second generation to live here.

Karin December 30, 2005, 11:28pm

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For Japanese Americans there are specific terms, taken from Japanese, to refer to the immigrants and their descendents: issei, nisei, sansei, yonsei, gosei, etc., referring respectively to the "first" generation, "second" generation, etc. In this case, and to all Japanese Americans, generally, the "first generation", or issei (equivalent terms) unambiguously refers to those who came to live here but were not born here.

I recognize that the term may not be unambiguous when used by people that have no knowledge of the issei, etc., terminology or when referring to other ethnic groups, but within any writings that I've seen about Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans that is targeted to those communities, "first generation" has always referred to the immigrants, not their children. I suspect the terminology is consistently used this way within the field of ethnic studies as a whole. Nevertheless, outside of that field, some ambiguity does appear to exist, but it seems to me to favor "first generation"="immigrant generation", and I suspect at some point in the future it will have swung sufficiently in that direction that it won't really be considered ambiguous anymore.

On a side note, with regard to Japanese Americans, there are two other terms of interest: kibei-nisei, which refers to children of the immigrant generation that were born in the U.S., but raised in Japan (and therefore speak Japanese as native speakers); and hapa, a term from Hawaii that refers to people that are half-Japanese American. According to, all of these terms, except for "hapa", are in American Heritage.

Anonymous January 2, 2006, 4:51pm

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As dyske pointed out, the term "first generation" is simply ambiguous; it's used both ways (to refer to immigrants and to refer to children of immigrants). I think the best way to avoid confusion is to refer to people as being "immigrants to America" (or "of the immigrant generation") or being "first generation American-born" (note that adding "American-born" disambiguates the phrase; it makes it clearly refer to the American-born *children* of immigrants).

Avrom January 5, 2006, 7:36pm

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If you read all the above comments, and you read the dictionary, it appears to be correct and OK to refer to BOTH sets as first generation. Why does everyone have a problem calling both first-generation?

Daniel January 24, 2006, 5:08pm

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Well, it does seem confusing for "Nth generation" to refer to two separate generations for each value of N. After all, the whole *point* of the phrase is to *distinguish* between different generations. That's why I recommended avoiding the phrase by itself in favor of something more explicit.

Avrom January 25, 2006, 12:15am

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i would like to clarify something from anonymous's post on january 2, about "hapa" referring to half japanese american. "hapa" means "half" in hawaiian, and in hawaii this word is often used in the context of "hapa haole" meaning "half foreigner/stranger" or "half white." historically, white people in hawaii were considered foreigners, while asians have been more integrated into hawaii's society. today in hawaii, hapa usually refers to someone half asian and half white, but i have heard the term used throughout much of the united states as a label celebrating all sorts of bi/multi-racial and bi/multi-ethnic makeups.

laurelmei January 30, 2006, 4:20pm

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"First generation" Americans are those who are the first generation of their family born in this country. "Second generation" are the children of the first generation.

For example, my great grandfather came to America from Greece. Therefore, my grandfather (who was born here) is a first generation American.

Molly January 31, 2006, 4:11pm

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Molly, check out dyske's posting below. According to the dictionary, both your grandfather and great-grandfather could be considered 1st generation. The expression is ambiguous.
Now, let's have some fun. Was the expression always ambiguous? If not, what was the original definition?:)

porsche January 31, 2006, 11:53pm

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The term is NOT ambiguous. First-generation refers to the people who leave the country in which they were born and move to a different country with intent on making a new life in the new country. If you are a non-immigrant in the US (tourist, student, etc.) they you are not any kind of generation. But if you are an immigrant (a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence) then you are first-generation regardless of whether you are undocumented, a legal permanent resident, or a naturalized citizen. Using the term "first generation" to describe the US-born children of immigrants is incorrect.

Suzanne February 22, 2006, 2:48pm

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I never doubted that "first generation" = "immigrant generation".

anonymous March 1, 2006, 5:42pm

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Suzanne, I'm afraid that the term IS ambiguous. From Webster's New World Dictionary, 2nd Ed. (just what I happen to have on hand at this moment):

First-Generation (adj.)
1 - designating a naturalized, foreign-born citizen of a country
2 - designating a native-born citizen of a country whose parents had immigrated into that country

If you had actually read the postings below you would have seen that Dykse has already posted this from a definitive source. I would think that would have ended the discussion.

So... how are you coming to the conclusion that the use of definition 2 is incorrect? Have you published your own internationally accepted dictionary that has superceded all others?

porsche March 2, 2006, 1:46pm

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This is a somewhat ridiculous issue as the above commnets 1-20 illustrate. My parents worked hard to immigrate here through Ellis Island, and even harder to attain US citizenship. They were the first generation in our family tree to become Americans. They were proud of it and rightly called themselves Americans of Italian descent.
My siblings and I became Americans as a result of our parents' efforts and were fortunate to be born here, but we were definitely the second generation in our lineage to become Americans. Calling ourselves first would be disrespectful to the sacrifices, achievement and vision of our parents.

Dick April 14, 2006, 4:23pm

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My parents were born elsewhere, I was born in the U.S., I consistently refer to myself as a first-generation American because I am the first generation to be born in America, even though both of my parents have had U.S. citizenship for decades. My parents don't consider this disrespectful on my part. If anything, they kind of like it, because it reinforces their original cultural persuasion. Mostly I don't think they care a whole lot. Point is, you can think of this issue from a cultural rather than institutional perspective. I.e., I would be the first generation in my family to have "an American head."

A O April 16, 2006, 1:13pm

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I found the following definition from Wikipedia:

The term 1.5 generation or 1.5G refers to people who immigrate to a new country before their early teens. They earn the label the 1.5 generation because they bring with them characteristics from their home country but continue their socialization in the new country. Their identity is thus a combination of new and old culture and tradition.

Depending on the age of immigration, the community into which they settle, and other factors, 1.5 generation individuals will identify with their countries of origin to varying degrees. However their identification will be watered down by their experiences growing up in the new country. 1.5G individuals are often bilingual and better assimilated into the local culture and society than people who immigrated as adults.

....this implies that the 1st generation is the immigrant generation.

CQ April 18, 2006, 1:14am

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A first-generation immigrant is either someone born in America whose parents immigrated, or a person who immigrated but attained U.S. citizenship.

Dyske is completely wrong when he states that "The majority of Green Card holders have no intension of becoming citizens because they prefer to be the citizens of their origins. They just want to work here."
This is simply not true; many immigrants permanently move to the U.S., but do not wish to become citizens. They work here, but did not just come here to work. Most do have families, and their children are U.S. citizens. It is not at all a rare occurence, but actually quite frequent, especially in cities and suburbs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with living here on a green card and having a family; if a person feels no need to become a U.S. citizen then they will not.
p.s. People who cannot even spell words correctly in English should not pretend to know exact stats about the immigrant population in the U.S. (ahem...Dyske)

anna April 29, 2006, 9:18pm

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Wow. I searched the internet for a definition of nth generation because a survey question asked me what generation I was. As I have read, the definition can apply to both foreign-born and native-born. This doesn't help me at all......

les May 1, 2006, 4:42pm

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off course the immigrants are first amercans!

snazecic May 18, 2006, 5:42pm

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From the Oxford English Dictionary (with history of the term):

b. first- (or second-, etc.) generation a., designating a member of the first (or second, etc.) generation of a family, spec. of descendants of immigrant parents, esp. in the United States; also, designating a naturalized immigrant (or a child, etc., of a naturalized immigrant). Also transf. and fig.

1896 S. A. BARNETT Let. Sept. in H. Barnett Canon Barnett (1918) II. 119 There are the usual Americans. One ‘first-generation man’, as he calls himself..has made a great fortune. 1946 J. O'HARA in 55 Short Stories from New Yorker (1952) 199 Francis had his place at the bar, at the far corner, and it was his so long as he was present. First-generation Jimmy and second-generation Jimmy had seen to that. 1951 M. MCLUHAN Mech. Bride 67/1 First-generation immigrants who quickly made good. Ibid. 67/2 The father is just such a second-generation type. 1953 E. COXHEAD Midlanders vi. 153 Herself a second-generation college girl, she now under-valued the freedoms the pioneers had won. 1956 Nature 10 Mar. 489/2 Second-generation inbreds... Fourth-generation inbreds... F1 hybrids between third-generation inbreds. 1960 Guardian 29 July 4/4 Deriabin, born in 1921, was a second generation Communist. 1960 Ibid. 5 Nov. 3/6 A second-generation Kenyan whose father was one of the pioneer settlers in the White Highlands. 1962 Chem. Engin. Progress Oct. 44 (caption) First generation (left) and improved (right) void-free laminates of phenolic resin and graphite fabric. 1968 L. BLACK Outbreak ix. 86 The number of notifications [of smallpox] will rise sharply, as second and third generation cases emerge from the incubation period.

sf guy May 21, 2006, 8:59pm

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Here's a way to figure out what the survey probably means. Do they have a separate "immigrant" choice (in addition to a "first generation" option? If so, they probably mean "child of immigrants" by "first generation"; if not, they probably mean "immigrant."

Unless there's some reason to belive they expect only native-born Americans to be filling out the poll.

Avrom May 24, 2006, 2:55pm

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Hey guys, the first generation immigrants are the people who were born abroad, and the second generation immigrants are their children who were born here. US Census definition.

Merdan May 25, 2006, 2:25pm

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It's a bit like the conundrum as to whether the "first floor" of a building is the ground floor or the first one above the ground floor. There are different cultures that reckon them differently. By the conventions of genetics, the "first generation" (F1) would be the first generation BORN within the realm of consideration -- new country, new hybrid, new breeding stable, what have you. This stems from the literal meaning of the verb "generate" which means "to produce". By this definition, immigrant parents would not be "first generation" because they were not "produced" within the realm of consideration (in this case, the U.S.).
There really isn't any compelling reason, though, for imposing biological conventions on social issues. The term remains inherently ambiguous.

Bismarck June 29, 2006, 9:57pm

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The definition also varies upon psychology, "first generation " implies the generation that immigrated to the U.S. and "second generation" refers to being born in the U.S. to parents who immigrated/emigrated from elsewhere. I've also heard the term 1.5 generation as CQ described above. The term is ambiguous, I'm sure you'd find that even if you asked those holding doctoral degrees.

Butterfly July 6, 2006, 10:45pm

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"You cannot live in this country unless you are a naturalized citizen. I would say 99% of the immigrants who had children here were naturalized Americans."

I agree with Dyske that the term '1st generation' is ambiguous. However, the statement above is decidedly incorrect. Moot point or no, it shouldn't have been used to support any argument.

Some clarity is derived when you notice who's using the term. People still in the homeland tend to consider emigrants as the 1st generation.

American citizens already here prior to immigrants' arrival wouldn't have cared to refer to them as anything approaching a '1st generation'.

The children of immigrants would tend to be motivated to consider their parents as part of the American tapestry.

Both groups might be expected to loathe doing anything that might be interpreted as diluting their hard-fought identity as Americans.

j.b. July 10, 2006, 3:58pm

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My parents were born in Turkey and immigrated to the USA in 1911. They are not first generation. My two brothers and I are since we were born in the States.

Would like to know if any of you have had problems as first generation Americans if you're parents only knew the "old country" way.

Diane August 3, 2006, 9:56pm

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I am vietnamese and came here with my parents when I was four years old. I've always considered myself to be of the immigrant generation and that my children would be first generation. I recently had this talk with 2 co-workers, one chinese and another korean. They both immigrated here like I did but consider themselves first generation and their childern second generation. I did a lookup on the web and was surprise to find out that both definitions seem to be correct. Anyways, from the above comments, this subject matter will always be AMBIGUOUS if used in this way. Kinda like the example above about Floor 1, etc. From now on, if somebody tells me that they are first generation, instead of correcting them, i would just find out if they immigrated here or not :-)

Jake August 7, 2006, 5:23pm

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This question has already been answered categorically and incontrovertibly nearly 8 months ago. I am amazed that it is still generating such discussion and dissent!

porsche August 8, 2006, 11:40am

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Am I considered first generation if only one of my parents is an immigrant? My mother came from Germany while my father was born in the US.

John August 15, 2006, 11:20pm

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Why are people so emphatic about knowing the truth when it is clearly ambiguous as this discussion proves?

Masterdoggish August 19, 2006, 3:08pm

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i took asian american studies classes when i was in college and i was taught that i am a first generation filipino-american. my parents were born in the philippines, but immigrated here almost 40 years ago. They were just recently naturalized. I refer to them as filipinos (not filipino-americans), but when i want to be more specific i say they are naturalized americans (implying they were born elsewhere). Question: What if a canadian born citizen visits the US and has a child here? The child is definitely american but the mother is not. The mother's citizenship, if she chooses to apply for it, is dependent on the BIRTH of the child.

alex September 14, 2006, 3:48am

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bizmark, I don't think we are imposing biological conventions on social issues. I think we are imposing biological conventions on biological issues. Namely, BIRTH.

alex September 14, 2006, 3:52am

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i am an immigration attorney and third-generation japanese american (i.e. grandparents immigrated, parents born here) and i find that many immigrants use the terms interchangeably and could care less about this distinction. for example, i have greek friends who loathe being called anything but "greeks living in the usa" despite having been born here in the usa and having never lived in greece. in contrast, i have other friends who bristle at being labled anything other than "american" and do not want that status qualified in any manner whatsoever.

in melting pots like new york, l.a., etc., the question, "what are you?" often begets a declaration of ethnicity followed by an explanation of one's family immigration history. so, my conclusion is that both are correct and it really comes down to a matter of preference.

*note that i did not use a hypen between japanese and american (another "issue" among ethnic groups in america)

masato September 18, 2006, 11:53am

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Hi. Everyone. I am actually confused about this subject. My parents immigrated here from Vietnam, and I was the first one to be born in the US. SO, I get confused when my teacher asks me am I first or second generation. Can somebody help me with that! I want to be able to answer that question in class! Thanks!!

LoLo September 21, 2006, 1:07am

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I like bismarck's comments...I think the confusion comes because I bet if you check old English terms, the question was: how long has your family been upon this land? And for the first 100 years or so it was a question Americans asked one another re: how far they were removed from the "mother country" and it had to do explicitly with BIRTH. After all, why make the distinction? Well, if you are born here, this is probably all you know, especially in a world without airplanes, etc., and that described a different individual than a.) those left behind; and b.) those who came here mid-life (pioneers/pilgrims). First generation described someone who didn't have a choice: they were born here because of decisions their parents made.
Later, when much more immigration occurred from other countries after there was a requirement to be "naturalized" or otherwise accepted, it makes sense that they would have different standards for defining the terms...

cj September 21, 2006, 4:14am

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postscript: it just occurs to me: why should the numbering of your generation depend upon who you happen to be in the company of when you arrive? If you arrive in the U.S. as a sixteen-year-old with your grandparents and your parents, and if the grandparents get naturalized (or not, depending upon definitions above) are you then considered "third generation"? Seems kind of funny to me. Back to how definitions evolve: what were they trying to determine/measure back when they created the distinction? How did the options or answers change over time? Thankfully we are all free to interpret and question this, and definitions can morph (as I believe Websters did by adding definition #2 over time).

cj September 21, 2006, 4:25am

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Ok...not the answer I was looking for..but heres some more information. My parents are the first one from my family to move to the US in 1983. I was then born in 1985. Now, that would make me what generation? :) Someone help me here. Thanks!!

LoLo September 25, 2006, 8:34pm

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LoLo - if you scroll to the top and read to the bottom, you will know how to answer your question. If you want it summed up then here it is...

According to both Webster's dictionary and most of the opinions posted, It seems that you may label yourself either "First Generation" or "Second Generation" if you choose to do so. This means that your parents can label themselves "First Generation" or "First Generation Immigrants" or "Immigrants".

Before doing a search on these Labels and terms like you have, I always thought the I was an immigrant and that my children will be "First Generation". But, reading this blob has enlightened me to the various "correct" interpretations of these Labels and whether one should depend of these Labels at all. So I believe the proper thing to tell your classmates would be to say that you are both "First Generation" and "Second Generation" depending on who's asking.

Jake September 26, 2006, 4:27pm

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so i'm pretty sure that first-generation americans /first-generation citizens are people whose parents were born in another country and they are the first person in their family to be born as a citizen of the country (i.e. of the United States). then first-generation immigrants would be the parents in this case, who are the first people to move to the new country (they live in the country now, but they were born elsewhere). for example, my parents are first-generation immigrants who were born in Kurdistan, and immigrated to the United States (and became naturalized citizens). i was born in the United States and thus i am a first-generation American.

she October 7, 2006, 7:46pm

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Just to help those of you out who are filling out surveys and applications:

All language is inherently ambiguous, and is only good insofar as an idea from one person can be communicated to another. In other words, if I have my own language, but never use it to communicate with other people, the words don't have a "meaning," though they may have a definition.

I should be clear that this only applies to those who want to fill out surveys and applications, and not the broader dispute about "meaning" in general conversation; those of you seeking to determine meaning on a survey or application have a much narrower task: how do I, without being misleading, inform my prospective employer, or surveyor, of my status? If the survey/application asks you what generation you are, then they presumably have some definition of "first-generation" in mind; they certainly aren't using the terms as "generally accepted," as I think the bulk of this thread has demonstrated, such a meaning does not exist.

In the end, there's only one way to inform the surveyor of your status: either choose a generation, and explain in a "comments" section, or ask the person or persons responsible for the survey how they define the terms. Otherwise, you may mean to say one thing, and communicate something entirely different.

Evan October 28, 2006, 12:10pm

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My mother asked me this question, wanting to know if she's 3rd or 4th generation. I asked some of the members of our genealogy society, and no one was sure. After reading all of this, I'm still not sure! I am, however, incllined towards 'the first generation born here' simply because so many immigrants were families: parents and children - which otherwise would mean that both the parents and those children would be '1st generation', while any children born subsequently would be '2nd generation' - which would split siblings.

All of my 2nd great-grandparents were immigrants; but in several cases (on my father's side), they came with their parents (my 3rd gg parents). What does that make me?

I think it would be clearest to refer to:
the 'immigrant generation(s)' and
the 'first American-born generation' etc.

Marj November 5, 2006, 7:04pm

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I can't believe this is topic was going on for more then a year. It doesn't matter if you have green card or citizen or not, but if you, as who was born in US, wouln't be here if you weren't for your parents. The way I see it is simple then what it is. I was adpoted by American family. If i were to have kids, they WILL BE 2ND GEN. I'm the 1st Gen in America. I can't belieive comment by AO back in Apr-16-06 that AO would be the first generation in he/she family because he/she was to born in America for the first time and saying "to have an American head." So question is where his/her parents comes in place?? As you some people mentioned "zero generation" There is no such this as zero Generation.

Tae Hee November 9, 2006, 6:10pm

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The word generation comes from the Greek word genea which means birth.

Therefore, the first generation is the one that is born in the country.

My gransparents were born in Greece, my parents are first generation Americans. I am a second generation American.

If I move to Italy and have a chile there it will be first generation Italian. I will still be second generation American and an immigrant in italy.

Nick November 12, 2006, 1:41pm

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The ambiguity comes from what word follows (or is implied to follow) the phrase "first generation." Clearest is "first generation U.S. citizen" which obviously means the first generation to include a U.S. citizen. So if my father immigrated from Japan to the U.S. but did not become an American citizen, and I was born in the U.S. (U.S. born children of immigrants are U.S. citizens), then I am the first generation U.S. citizen. However, if my father became a U.S. citizen (took the test, oath, met requirements, etc.), then he is the first generation U.S. citizen and I am the second generation U.S. citizen.

I have always understood the phrase "first generation" to imply "first generation U.S. citizen." However, I believe the Japanese immigrants (and probably many others) mean "first generation to relocate to the U.S." So, by that utilization, in the above example, my father would be the "first generation to relocate to the U.S." (or Issei) even if he didn't become a U.S. citizen.

I note that the phrase "first generation" is also used in other contexts. E.g. "first generation University of California" refers the first generation with a person who graduated from the University of California.

Elizabeth December 4, 2006, 2:19am

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I forgot to add, all of the dictionary definitions I have seen refer to "first generation" as "first generation U.S. citizen.

Elizabeth December 4, 2006, 2:28am

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I know the term is ambiguous now. I can rest.

Everyone, it's only a matter of preference. There is no use arguing. Before you reply to this read the dictionary definition above!

My friend was born in another country and immigrated to the U.S. when he was only a year old. If he were to have children, I could say that his children were first or second generation. I would just choose whichever sounds cooler.

What I'm trying to say is that it doesn't matter. We could be technical about it, but if we keep providing our evidence on why we think it should be this way, we'll never finish this discussion.

English is a pain....

tina December 30, 2006, 10:06pm

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I meant the Webster dictionary definition. I just read your entry, Elizabeth.

Someone mentioned something interesting. He said that he was a Japanese American (without the hyphen). Does it mean something different with the hyphen?

What I mean to say is, is being an African-American different from being an African American?

tina December 30, 2006, 10:10pm

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I just read the other billion definitions and I realize that I must be blind for not noticing them before. Gosh, I'm confused all over again, and I think the only solution for me is merely to use my preference.

tina (again) December 30, 2006, 10:12pm

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Wow, I can't believe this post is still active after more than a year, especially when the term is officially ambiguous. Here's another interesting ambiguity. Let's say it's Wednesday and I say we're going to do something next week. It's pretty clear that I mean sometime on or after the coming Sunday (or Monday, depending on your point of view). "This week" is the week we are in, "next week" is the following week. Now, what if I say "next WEEKEND"? Some people will interpret it to mean this coming weekend, and others will interpret it to mean the weekend after this coming weekend. I think the ambiguity stems from the fact that Wednesday isn't part of a weekend. Ifr you aren't in a current time period then it's unclear what is meant by the "next" time period. This coming weekend really isn't "this weekend" unless you are actually IN the weekend already (or is it?:)

porsche December 31, 2006, 3:35pm

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I have the same question "John" asked previously. If only one of my parents were born outside the US, immigrated here and married a US citizen..what generation does that make me?

drfranka February 28, 2007, 6:55am

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My name is Gebissa I was born in Ethiopia, live and work in Germany I have two children in US born right now they live in germany too we are planning to move in state but we don`t have a permant resedent how could we get that on behalf of our child?

Aderadebele March 14, 2007, 4:58am

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No one has discussed who is first generation if both parent and child immigrate at the same time.

Could they both be first generation?

Would the child still be second generation?

Or are the child's children the first generation?

(this is if the parent and child are both citizens)

Anonymous April 9, 2007, 7:24pm

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No one has discussed who is first generation if both parent and child immigrate at the same time.

Could they both be first generation?

Would the child still be second generation?

Or are the child's children the first generation?

(this is if the parent and child are both citizens)

Monkey April 9, 2007, 7:24pm

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Ok, say my grandfather was born in italy. His son, my father, was born there, too, but moves to the US and becomes a citizen. I am born in the US. Now, my grandmother dies and my grandfather marries a much younger woman who was born in the US, but they still live in Italy. Now, let's say my grandfather dies, my step-grandmother and I fall in love, and we get married and live in the US. What generation does that make me? And more importantly, am I now my own grandfather?

OK, still too easy? Say, I go up in a spaceship travelling faster than the speed of light. I come back to Earth, but I've gone back in time. I stop my father from coming to the US...

Anonymous April 10, 2007, 10:33am

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The Greek word 'genea' means birth. But the applicable Webster's definition of the English word 'generation' is "a body of living beings constituting a single step in the line of descent from an ancestor". So, the word meerly distinguishs my grandparents, my parents and myself as unique links in the chain of geanology.

The question is, what action is "first" qualifying (to be born, to imigrate, to acquire citizenship). I think that it is the first generation "to permantly reside" in the US. When we talk about generations, birth and citizenship are secondary. We are more interested in the level of assimilation into the local culture, language, and community. The immigrant generation deserves credit for being "the first" to struggle with assimilating and socializing into the new country. They are the FIRST GENERATION!!!

Jesus April 30, 2007, 2:25pm

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I finally hear something that sounds more logical than what any of the others have mentioned. I agree with what Nick (11/12/06) says...and this is how I am gathering thise:

My mother was born in Mexico and of all her 11 siblings were too. My mother was the first to have a child that was born in California (that would be me), so I am a 1st generation American.

I also was the first to have a child in California for my generation (my son SO), so he would then be the first of the 2nd generation American.

My cousin (of my generation) had a daughter (who would be of the 2nd generation) recently had a child here in California. Her child is now the first born of the 3rd generation...?


YA May 1, 2007, 3:57pm

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I always considered myself first generation American, as I was born in the US and both my parents were immigrants. My father eventually naturalized, my mother did not.

I noticed that a number of the immigrants claiming to be first generation Americans mentioned that their parents brought them to this country as children. What do they call their parents? They didn't say.

Adding to the confusion of course is the fact that my parents came from the Caribbean. People in Central and South America consider themselves Americans too. They call residents of the US North Americans or Yankees. Frank Lloyd Wright coined the term Usonian. It hasn't caught on yet.

jzcurious May 31, 2007, 12:13am

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Guys, Porches clarified the whole problem about one and a half years ago...
Anyway, let's say my father and my half sister -from my mom's side- both born in France, have a little girl over there and then move to the US. 15 years later my half brother -from my dad's side, of a previous marriage which wasn't with my mom- falls in love with my half sister kills our dad and have a baby with her. They then move to Puerto Rico to conceive their second baby to then move to Dominican Republic where my Half sister -who's a bit of a slut- gives birth to their hermaphrodite child. In the mean time my mom has gone out of jail and goes meet her daughter and grand children to fall in love with my half brother. They kill my half sister under the influence of mushroom and conceive a baby in a plan while flying over the us and crash in Canada. The fetus manages to stick into a humidified piece of fabric from my mom's seat and somehow end up in a river and gets eaten by a water snake
that will somehow give birth to my little brother/nephew in the French speaking part of Guyana... now is this baby First generation French? third generation African -never know-? Second generation American? Puerto Rican -no need of generation with Puerto Rican anyway they all more or less live here-? Third generation Dominican? A fucking bastard? 1st/ second generation Snakelander?

Sujes June 17, 2007, 11:57pm

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Hey Tae Hee,

Whether or not you believe it, that is what we say in my family. Chill out.

AO June 18, 2007, 6:46pm

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generation??? i dunno...
because that's my assignment...
hehehehe... Smile!!!!

chi July 17, 2007, 4:24am

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"The word generation comes from the Greek word genea which means birth.

Therefore, the first generation is the one that is born in the country."

Etymological fallacy

John July 17, 2007, 6:36am

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Nice post, John.

porsche July 18, 2007, 10:49am

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I have a green card, and I have every intention of becoming a citizen. But I need the green card FIRST, dumbass.

Dyskeisstupid August 7, 2007, 12:23pm

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Porsche--I doubt you will see this because this entire thread is nearly a year old, but I had to laugh out loud at your staement that the question being debated here was "answered categorically and incontrovertibly nearly 8 months ago"--inqrguably, if it is still being debated however long after the thread began, then it was NOT "answered categorically and incontrovertibly nearly 8 months ago"! Perhaps in your mind, but clearly not supported by consensus!

amazed August 9, 2007, 2:18pm

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I used this thread as a reference in a rewrite of the Wikipedia article on "first-generation immigrant" ( after becoming curious about the term myself, and realizing that the original Wikipedia article completely ignored the ambiguity.

There's not much use chiming in, since this is an old thread there's simply no denying that there's ambiguity on the subject; we should all just be conscious to not use generation labeling with respect to immigrants at all.

I think j.b.'s comment was rather insightful, although I'll add the complicating caveat that many times, an American-born child to immigrants may very well use the term "first-generation" in reference to himself to exaggerate their ties to their parents' culture, for any of a myriad of reasons.

VJ September 18, 2007, 1:07pm

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Actually, Amazed, the fact that there is still a heated debate means that there IS NO consensus, which, um, is exactly what I said isn't it?? that the term is ambiguous!!

Furthermore, an ongoing debate in this forum doesn't mean that there isn't consensus in society. Just look it up in the dictionary. Even there, it says that it's ambiguous. The consensus is that there is no consensus! (How can something so simple become so complicated?)

porsche September 20, 2007, 9:38am

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I don't think the dictionary definition Porche listed above is ambiguous:

1 - designating a naturalized, foreign-born citizen of a country
2 - designating a native-born citizen of a country whose parents had immigrated into that country

The key here is the word citizen. I was born in the US and my parents had not yet become citizens. I was a first generation American citizen. When my parents became citizens, they became the first generation of Americans and I became the second. My generational status changed when they became citizens.

The oldest generation to become a citizen of that country is a first generation citizen, whether through naturalization or birth.

Javid November 8, 2007, 10:27pm

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To be the first or not to be the first generation? Unconsciously we are arguing over inclusion and exclusion. Those who don't consider their immigrants parents as first generation are simply excluding and not honoring their parent's life/existance in America, by the same token, those who considerer their foreign-born parents as first generation, recognize that if it wasn't for them they wouldn't be here in the first place.
There is no generation without parents.

john November 9, 2007, 12:37pm

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I think some people are thinking way too deeply into this label.

My mother was born in Cuba. My father, in the Dominican Republic. Both came to the U.S. as kids but they don't call themselves first generation Americans. My sister and I are the first generation Americans in my family, along with some cousins, because we were born here and have grown up here, surrounded by American culture. It is in no way disrespecting the fact that our parents grew up here. They are still Americans.

karina November 15, 2007, 7:12pm

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Sorry Javid, I have to disagree. Certainly your parents can now consider themselves 1st generation Americans according to definition 1. As their child, you can also consider yourself a 2nd generation American. But. you can also STILL consider yourself a 1st generation American according to definition 2. You are STILL a native-born citizen of a country (the US) whose parents have immigrated into that country. Your parents' citizenship is irrelevant. They immigrated to the United States. Immigrate simply means to come to a country to live, usually, permanently. Your parents weren't born in the US, right? Becoming citizens didn't somehow cause them to actually be born in the US, right? A naturalized citizen doesn't cease being an immigrant when they become a citizen. By definition, if you live somewhere and aren't native-born, then you are an immigrant. That's what the word means. So, you can certainly feel free to consider yourself a 1st or 2nd generation American, whichever you choose.

porsche November 16, 2007, 1:27am

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Sorry Porsche, I have to disagree with your disagreement. :)

First of all, you're assuming that the two definitions have a logical "AND" relationship when related to an individual, and I'm arguing that they have a logical "OR" relationship when related to an individual. Specifically, I argue that both statements hold true when talking about different people, but both cannot hold true for the same person. Here is why...

First, second, third, etc. are ordinal numbers used to rank things. In a ranking system there can only be one first, one second, one third etc. Otherwise it would be a rating system and you shouldn't use ordinal numbers to describe ratings.

"First-generation" and "second-generation" are adjectives that modify a word (hence the hyphen). What is missing from much of the discussion in these comments is the word after the hyphen. You have to clarify what you're talking about when you use the modifiers first-generation and second-generation for the discussion to make sense. In my earlier post, I was only talking about first-generation and second-generation **citizens**.

Only one generation can be a "first-generation citizen" to a country. If somebody immigrates here and then become citizens, they are the first generation of citizens. If they never become citizens, then their children are the first generation of citizens. If they become citizens after there children are born, then they become first and their children become second. There is absolutely no ambiguity if we are talking about citizenship.

When we are talking about "first-generation immigrant", I would argue that the discussion is pointless. Generally there is only one generation of immigrants, so there is no need for a modifier. The immigrants children that are born in the country are not immigrants because they did not immigrate. For countries like the US, the children are citizens. Other countries might not grant citizenship to children just because they are not born in the country. I don't know what these people would be called, but they are definitely not "second-generation immigrants". There is probably a better word for these Non-Citizen Children of Immigrants (maybe NCCI's... or somebody should neologize a better one).

When we are talking about "first-generation American", I would argue that you have to look at citizenship to consider somebody American, so I would make the same argument as I did for first-generation citizen.

Javid November 16, 2007, 8:39pm

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Wow, how stupid are people?

It's called context.

Seriously? December 5, 2007, 12:04pm

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"First-generation" alone means NEITHER people born in other countried and moved to the US NOR people born in the US of immigrant parents

"first-generation" means FIRST-GENERATION, it's an adjective that takes on no specific meaning on its own. period.

The term can be used in various context such as "first-generation American" "first-generation immigrant" "first-generation college goer" or even "first-generation of youth greatly impacted by the creation of the internet"

First-Generation AMERICAN means: People who were born in US, but their parents are immigrants.

First-Generation IMMIGRANT means: People who are living in a country other than the country they were born in.

Second-Generation IMMIGRANT: People who were born in the country they live in, but their parents are immigrants.

The kids of those second generation immigrants would therefore be called "third generation IMMIGRANT", and so on

No ambiguity at all

agreedw/above January 15, 2008, 11:30am

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to "agreedw/above", I think you kinda missed the boat on this one. The original question starts with: "When speaking of American people with respect to immigration...", so yes, we are all discussing "first-generation" specifically regarding immigration. We are NOT discussing first-generation college-goers, or first-generation prototypes, or first-generation automobiles, or anything else first-generation. That's the topic, ok?

Next, clearly there are differing opinions on this, just read the comments above. I would think it's pretty clear that the term is ambiguous in the immigration context; even according to the dictionary, so I have to disagree with all of your definitions.

Last, your definitions of first/second/third-generation immigrant are, well, bizarre at best. Nobody says that. There's no such thing as a second or third-generation immigrant. If you're second or third-generation, then you're a natural-born citizen, not any kind of immigrant at all, duh.

Anonymous January 16, 2008, 10:03am

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crazy this thread started in dec 2005, n continued until 2008

Anonymous February 17, 2008, 10:56pm

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My question is how is a generation figured out. If the father is an american, 4th generation, and the mother is from the Phillipines, they have a baby girl born in the USA, does the generation count come from the mother or the father. In other words, would the girl child be a 5th generation because of her father, or a first generation because of her mother. Thank you.

nomo February 17, 2008, 10:59pm

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I came to the US 10 years ago with a 2 year old daughter. My second daughter was born after 2 years. According to one of the definitions offered, my older daughter is an immigrant generation, and my younger daughter is a first generation american. It doesn't make much sense to me.

Pogodi February 20, 2008, 10:55am

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Pogodi, why doesn't it make sense? That's precisely the reason the terms exist, so that you can differentiate between your daughters' immigration or citizenship status (as well as yours).

Of course, there is still the ambiguity. Some would call you and your older daughter immigrants, and your younger daughter, first generation. Others would call you and your older daughter first generation, and your younger daughter, second generation. Still others might call you an immigrant (if you do not become a citizen), your first daughter, first generation (if she does), and your second daughter, second generation. The possibilites are almost endless.

Anonymous February 21, 2008, 8:24am

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Why can't we just accept it the way it is instead of trying to make it more difficult than it already is. Let's just move on... to more important issues, perhaps.

prodocjoe March 8, 2008, 11:17pm

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Okay im going to say that i believe that my parents, (from china) are first generation because they are the first to settle in a foreign country. and I am the second generation. Though I was the first to be born here, I am the second to live here.
Thats what I think it means, and that's what I'm sticking with.
Dictionary says both usage of the definitions are correct, much majority of using "First generation" in sentences and examples, they use the same definition i use.

David Tang March 25, 2008, 10:59pm

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My Father was born in Portugal.He became a natualized citizen. My mother was born in Fall River Massachusetts. Both my brother and sister were born in Portugal and they also are natualized citizens. I was born in Providence, Rhode Island. How do I explain to my brother and sister what generation they are?

rjm51 April 10, 2008, 8:06am

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It's been a while since I've checked in on the forum here and when I did recently, I was pretty shocked to see this thread still alive a kicking.

"Anonymous | Feb-17-08 10:56PM

crazy this thread started in dec 2005, n continued until 2008"

I say: let's see if we can make it to 2009!!

And this just shows how unwilling to compromise people can be, even over such silly issues. My sister and I were born in the US to foreign-born parents. That makes us first generation Americans. Period. In my family, that is how it works. That won't change, even if this thread goes on until 3008. You (the royal "you") and your family may take a completely different perspective on what it means to be an American (or any other nationality) and that's awesome. Quit whining.

AO April 10, 2008, 10:44am

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I think these folks will always be the first generation, everyone
after are immigrants, unless they were born on this land or from parents who were born here.
Say you and your wife are going to have a bundle of joy soon and low and behold it pops out during a trip to let's say Japan.
This child will still be considered from the parent's homeland.

Yes, thinking about it now, someone a very long time ago,years ago, many,many moons ago should have worded alot of these things or issues or whatever better,
because there is not alot of reasons for arguement except possibly one at the root... Hate

Chris April 22, 2008, 2:07am

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If a mother was born in a foreign country, and the father was born and is a US citizen, they then have a female child. Is the child 1st generation even if the father is 4th generation?

nomo April 30, 2008, 11:36am

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In the sociological literature on immigration, "first generation" are the immigrants themseves, who can become naturalized citizens. "Second generation" are the sons and daughters of immigrants. They have at least one immigrant parent.

Frank May 25, 2008, 8:20am

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In Finland children, born in Finland, of immigrant parents are also called immigrants (at least according to the Finnish national core curriculum.) Therefore here in Finland the term "first generation immigrant" is used as opposed to first generation Finnish. In this sense the first generation are those who moved country.

Jen May 27, 2008, 3:39am

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Were not the Pilgrims who sailed from England First Generation Americans?

Ron August 13, 2008, 11:26pm

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So, if a family (Grandparents, Parents, and Children) comes to America, are they all first generation?

Anony-mous October 30, 2008, 7:44pm

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Wow, it is amazing that this has been a topic with such controversy for years. If you are in doubt, just say, “First generation born here.” That would clear up any confusion. Now, on a practical note, the first generation born here should be distinguished from subsequent generations because we are usually raised with “old world” values/norms/social rules. Our parents, upon arriving at Ellis Island, didn’t flip a switch and morph into Americans. They raised us the way they were raised. Even second generations have more of the old world, but I guess that depends on the family ties of the first.

giesthaus November 6, 2008, 6:03am

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Wow, after talking to several people about what generation I am and getting confused with each new person that I talked to, (I originally thought of it as, if you are born here then you're first generation regardless of citizenship and etc) I scoured the Internet for a while looking for the correct definition, and I eventually found this thread. I have to say that it has been extremely entertaining reading all of these comments. haha
Nonetheless, it has helped me to understand that the term is essentially ambiguous and that the only way to make it unambiguous is to like many of the posts above wrote, be specific.
However, there is one question that I have found that everyone has, I think, intentionally avoided and that question is Nola's post from Apr-30-08 11:36AM. I have read through pretty much the entire thread to see whether or not someone has answered this question and no one has, for I am in somewhat the same situation as Nola:
My mother is an immigrant from China that came here and married my father, who is also Chinese, but was born in the U.S.
Now my question is what would that make me?
I would like to hear an opinion on this. I usually refer to myself as 1.5, usually just for a laugh though.

dirt_rider3000 December 25, 2008, 3:40am

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Great topic...this is tough for all of in this position. It brings a little more clarity...but not much ;-)! My father is from the Philippines, I was born here in the states (Oregon) I've always considered myself a 2nd generation Asian American! After reading this...I'm going to stick with that! Thanks!

justinlim11 February 5, 2009, 1:50am

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WOW! This is such an interesting read. I guess I'm confused now also. But, I have to agree with someone that said that applying 1st or 2nd generation sometimes splits siblings even though the siblings acculturation experience is the same. So having said that, here's mine. I was born in MX and moved here with my parents when I was 4. Both of my brothers were born here in the US. So they're 1st generation??? Now, I married a Pakistani man who moved here in his late teens. I'm wondering what my daughter would be considered...I've always thought of myself as 1.5...
Keep it going....

anasotosiddiqi March 25, 2009, 1:54pm

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If anyone is still reading this, I'm working on a project producing content for first/second generation college grads who live in big cities--those born here whose parents were born overseas. I'm interesting in talking to anyone who falls into this category. Find my Facebook profile for Tara Haelle and message me. Thanks!

thaelle June 30, 2009, 7:36pm

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Yes     No