Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with passion. Learn More

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?

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This term is not ambiguous just misunderstood it seems, there are actually 2 ways to be a "First Generation American", allow me to explain:

1. The more popular method of becoming one would be to be an immigrant who comes here legally and becomes a naturalized citizen, thus being the "First Generation" of their family line to be an "American".

2. The other way, which has become in recent decades more popular and accepted, for obvious political reasons, if people come here illegally and never seek citizenship or get deported, if they have a child, that child becomes the "First Generation" of their family to become an "American" because being born in America naturally makes you an American citizen, whereas the parents of that child are illegal aliens and they might be a generation before their child, they are not Americans in any legal sense.

Hydro Nova Jun-04-2020

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If I am a 4th generation American and my husband is a 1st generation American what generation are my kids? 5th or 2nd?

Generation Confusion Mar-15-2017

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Both of my parents were born in the UK, they had me whilst living in the US, I am thus first-generation American, they are immigrants. They can also be called first-generation migrants, but not first generation Americans as that term is reserved to describe one who was in fact born in the US to foreign born parents.

AnonymousPerson Nov-24-2016

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So if our parents are from other contry (mexico)& we are born in the U.S. (americans)then our kids will be Caucasian???

Victoria00 Jul-11-2016

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The term "First" or "Second Generation", omits the obvious, first or second generation "American". If we say that those who immigrated are the 1st, then by definition their children are 2nd. But that poses a problem, not everyone who immigrates becomes an "American" (11 million are not even legal residents). Although a bit confusing because many of them (I am one of them) do end up becoming American, for clarity, we need to start calling only those who are born here the First Generation.

Art Jun-29-2016

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Speaking of Generations and who was or what was the first Generation called brings me directly to the old school of defining Generations. Being a Christian, it must be said that God created the first Generation and it grew in names and in stature from then. How simple does it get from that perspective? Your thoughts?

Brian Bissonnette Jun-11-2016

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I consider myself 2nd generation but it is amusing (and irksome) when I'm corrected all the time by others who have several generations rooted here. I suspect it is partly a sociological phenomenon, especially when asked of Asians-Americans. Asians-Americans are still considered the most "foreign" of any of the ethnicities in the United States, unfortunately, so we are still "new" to the melting pot in many people's eyes. I get asked this on a frequent basis, perhaps it would be less so on the West Coast.

My parents were Chinese immigrants, naturalized citizens of the US now, and have been US citizens longer than they were citizens of their own country. I consider my parents 1st generation, and myself as 2nd generation.

rainrowan Jun-23-2015

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I don't know about other English speaking countries like England or Australia, but here in Canada the census defines a first-generation Canadian as "foreign born people over age 15" (the census has a similar definition in the US but the age might be different).

Note though that as long as one parent is foreign-born, you will be considered 2nd generation no matter how long the trail goes back for your other great-great etc grandparents. So,as @hsu_ag-member said, even if one parent can trace lineage back to the Mayflower, but the other parent is from say England, the kids are considered 2nd generation.

So in my own case, even though both my grandmothers were 2nd generation, I myself am only 2nd generation because my grandmothers married foreign-born as did my mom. My kids too will only be 2nd generation because I married someone born in Europe.

Note too, it doesn't matter if the parent is Canadian or American, the key is foreign-born. So if a 4th G American marries an American born in France who came back to the US at age 3, the kids are only 2nd G according to the government. I suspect that in our global age, there will be an increasing number of 2nd G people.

@Preston: I'm not positive, but most Asians use 1st G to mean the ones who came to the country, their kids are 2nd G.

Milotoby Jul-04-2013

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Haha, thanks to everyone who has commented on this for years. Am doing an English-Chinese translation now and came across the phrase first-generation American; your comments helped me (well, to a certain extent-now that I know it has two different meanings, not sure how I'll translate it!)

Preston Mar-20-2013

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For me, first generation is the first generation to be born in the country. We call immigrants fobs (FOB - Fresh-Off the Boat) back in y2k when we were still in high school.

@Tundra I would consider you as a 2nd generation.

SWingT Nov-08-2012

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My mother is an immigrant from Europe and my father is born in New Jersey. Does this make me a 1.5 generation American or a 2 generation American?

Tundra Nov-02-2012

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The traditional use of 'first generation' refers to those born in America. Immigrants weren't generated in America. They came here.

Skeeter Lewis Oct-26-2012

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Of course, first-generation Americans refers to immigrants. Otherwise, you'd be saying that immigrants can never be Americans. Second-generation are those born here. You know, like Obama.

Jim Hannon Oct-25-2012

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According to the U.S. Government, a citizen of the US but born somewhere else is "first generation" and born in the US to at least one parent who was not born in the US is "second generation".

Seems to me a definitive answer; not sure why so many people are so up in arms about it.

6th Gen Californian Jul-04-2012

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look you guys....... you can consider yourself 1st american "born" generation but when speaking off americans in general is the immigrant that decided to never look back and make a live in america. they might not be the first to be born here but as law writes,the immigrant is and will always be 1st generation american. I'm a history teacher and let me just say that even if your not a born citizen they are still first generation. there generation counts it is because of them that you are here,there the first to live in america before you. but.......and yes, there is a but. to become officially first generation by title. the first generation must become a naturalize citizen of america. if it makes you that angry cause you wanted to be the first. then you oviesly don't respect your family. but angry or not they are the first generation americans. you are the first generation to be born here not the first to live here. its more complicated than must go to the library and study more if you want to know why this is. of course if it makes you that angry that your mother and father are first. in that case your going to be very disappointed. you can advise and say all you wan.. but law is law and that is the law that was written in america by our founding fathers who's parents were immigrants of european decent. at least they use to have some respect for there upbringing.... bottom line is hit the library and become smatter and gain more knowledge before you put down a whole generation in public just because your felling selfish. it is what it is by law and by get over it

secretlove Jun-26-2012

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I have always called myself second generation. It made no sense to me to do otherwise. But that said, after thinking about it, I think it depends on the perspective you use and which nationality you are using as a reference point.

For instance, if your parents immigrated to the US and you are speaking about your connection to your homeland (say, Nigeria) you will call yourself a "second generation Nigerian". Your parents would be "first generation Nigerians" since they were born there.

On the other hand, you can refer to yourself as a "first generation Nigerian-American" (or hey, just an American) and be saying the same thing. I don't think your predessors would ever call themselves 2nd generation anything though, unless they were speaking about their own parents if they themselves were also immigrants (but to Nigeria). I think your parents in this case, as it concerned their connection between Nigeria and the land they immigrated to, would just refer to themselves as Nigerian-American immigrants.


Chi Chi Jun-22-2012

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Verified by the immigrant parents of a friend of yours does not make it any more definitive, unless your friend's parents are the ones in charge of the English language. But English doesn't work that way. Languages such as French are officially under the province of government. The French government gets to decide what is and what is not French. But English did not evolve that way and has nobody in charge. First, people were speaking it. Then people were writing and reading it. Then dictionaries came along to document how it was being used. Dictionaries don't dictate correct usage, but document it based on what's generally accepted. That would go by how phrases such as "First generation American" are used and understood in everyday language. If there's no consensus, there's no valid authority with the right to define it.


You are correct if we look at the word "generation" alone, and specifically look at the definition that would apply to families. Parents and children are a single step away in natural descent. There's no question that my parents, I, and my children, are of three different generations. There's also no question that my parents were Americans. But that doesn't clarify anything.

My mother is American and so were her parents, but none was born in the US. Thus, her parents may have been the first generation in her family to live in the US and become naturalized citizens. I don't know if they became naturalized before, after, or at the same time as my mother. If my mother was naturalized first, then she was of the first generation in her family to become US citizens, and her parents' generation would have been the second one to do so. If it was the other way around, it would mean that she became naturalized while having parents who were US citizens. Thus she would have been the second generation in her family to attain US citizenship, and the second generation in linear succession to do so. If they all got naturalized at the same time, then what? She'd still be the offspring of first generation Americans and would have equal claim to being the first generation in the family to have US citizenship.

And it still does nothing to address offspring of parents whose families have been citizens for a different number of generations. Under your definition, my children would unquestionably be fourth generation based on paternal lineage. But they'd be second generation based on maternal lineage. So what generation does that make them, and according to what rule?

H May-10-2012

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People who were born here and whose parents are foreign born are first generation Americans because I said so. To put it another way, all the other comments boil down to the same thing; they are a certain generation because people who posted comments said so, or so the posters think. When you have an expression that is in common and regular use, and is used regularly in more than one way, it means that the expression has several different definitions. Unfortunately, in the case of this phrase, the definitions conflict.

So you can't look for which one is correct. They are both correct, but neither is meaningful. Dictionaries, Wikipedia and other sources do not make any of this clearer because there's no definitive answer.

If there were a definitive answer, there would be one and only one way to answer this question: What generation am I, what generation are my children, and what generation are my parents? (I'm talking about me specifically.) My father was born in the US to immigrant parents. My mother and her parents were immigrants. I was born in the US (to one immigrant parent and one US born parent, for those keeping track) and my wife is an immigrant. Thus my children also have one US born parent and one immigrant parent, but have no idea if their US born parent is first generation, second generation, or third generation. They can be considered anywhere from first to fourth generation depending on which person you ask. Can anybody answer the question without saying (implicitly or explicitly) "because I said so?" If it's not because you said so, it means you have a definitive source that shows why your explanation is correct and why others are wrong.

H May-10-2012

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The people who emmigrated to the US (or anywhere) first, are the first generation. Their children are the second generation, etc.

roskybosky May-10-2012

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@Juno- you would all be called first generation immigrants. If you really want, you can call the youngest, perhaps a child under X years old the 1.5 generation. My family and I immigrated to Canada together 35 years ago when I was a toddler. We all are first generation immigrants but since I grew up here and assimilated into the Canadian culture, lifestyle and upbringing, I consider myself 1.5 generation. I still am able to speak Chinese to my parents and grandparents. My children were born here, thus, according to webster's dictionary or wikipedia are second generation.

Babycakes Apr-24-2012

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What happens if a family of three generations immigrate to the US, and all become US citizen? Which generation would be called first, or second? Or none at all, because none of them were born in the US.

Who would like a crack at this?

Juno Apr-21-2012

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Oh god, this is ridiculous.
First generation IMMIGRANT refers to the first generation in the family to immigrate.
(Well you would know this if you read any academic journals regarding immigration)
First generation AMERICAN refers to the generation first born in America.

chel Apr-03-2012

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I think I am second generation. I came over to America when I was 5 from Brazil. I only spent my babyhood over there and have lived my formative childhood years and adult years here. All my life experiences have been similar to second generation. My parents worked every immigrant job from sweatshops to construction, didnt learn fluent english but can get by, bought a house and naturalized. I was born here but I came over very little. How little is little enough to be considered second generation? I have been told I am second since I am the child that was brough up here by immigrants. I feel second since I didnt come over on my own accord but I am definately not third. I can speak english and portugese fluently and I was raised to be American and I have zero desire in returning to Brazil. I have also naturalized. But I think I would be 1.5 generations or second? My life is very similar to second generation people. I went to college and married my husband who is an Irish descent American and have a very suburban life. I dont feel very American however Im not an immigrant like my parents. I also have very little Latin personality traits or leanings and only speak portuguese with my family, in the house. Wouldnt I be more second than first generation?

Julia Oliveira Ramsey Mar-25-2012

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i think first generation are those born here and the term immigrants actually refers to those who were born in another country and immigrated here. the second generation are those who are the children of the first generation.

raeven Mar-24-2012

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First generation: one who immigrates after the age of 18
Generation 1.5: one who immigrates before the age of 18
Second generation: one who is born here

These definitions are provided by an immigrant friend of mine, verified by her FIRST GENERATION parents.

Lyric Mar-13-2012

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1st Generation Immigrant is someone who is the first of their generation to immigrate. A 1st Generation American would be the first of their generation to be born in the US.

Holly1 Mar-08-2012

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My parents are Native American, both born in 1937; my grand parents were all born between in their native tribal areas around 1906 to 1913.

My question is: since native American Indians did not become U.S. American citizens until 1924, what generation American does that make me? Some say I've always been American, but that does not seem correct to me, since my ancestors were Siksika-Pakuni/Blackfeet here, and the American institution moved across the Continent and came to them.

My guess is since my grandparents were alive when the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act came into effect, that would make them First-Generation American; my parents born after the fact would be second-generation; me being third-generation...

I know this does not matter, but it did cross my mind when I came across this site and wanted to know what all these people meant when they said they were 4-generation, 6-generation and so on. Kind of like, what is meant by twice removed, when explaining cousins, what does that mean, removed from what and or whom?

thanks :O)P

Ahki of Emerald City, WA Mar-05-2012

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OH! Who is the Original Second Generation? Cain and Able ..... Adam and Eve are first generation, where it started on Earth, in the Garden of Eden. Best example of First Generation that I know of. Then furture generations spread. But, who married Cain and Able? Sister? Another Question for another time.

user107000 Mar-05-2012

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First generation is where it began. If it began in the US, parents and siblings who arrived as immigrants and were subsequently naturalized citizens, constitute First Generation - where it began. Children of this first generaton are Second Generation. The First Generation is where it all started from. Some who claim first generation do not like this. But facts are facts. After 1 there is 2,3,4.... etc. It doesn't start with 0. My parents and I are First Generation as immigrants. My siblings born in the US and my Children are second generation. Sister does not like this fact, my daughter uinderstands

user107000 Mar-05-2012

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What I'm trying to figure out is "what generation does a person need to be, to be considered a yankee?". I wonder how long this discussion will continue considering the generation question has gone on for seven years .

deadhd12 Feb-28-2012

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I side with the first naturalized person being the first generation. The first people to do something would be the first-generation in my mind.

If we scooped a bunch of people to go live on another planet, they would be the first generation of people to live there.

Obviously a confusing term but a long and at times amusing thread (particularly the time travel comment)...

As a "7th generation" Australian child growing up in Australia my dad would refer to some of my friends who were the children of Italian immigrants as "second generation"... given it was confusing way back then as a kid, I have been paying attention to the usage of this phrase for about 35 years :). And based on all these years of listening to the usage of this term I'd say 80% of the people who have used it used it this way (the same as the US census... immigrants are first generation, first born are second generation... so if we were to cast votes, maybe that would satisfy everyone? doubt it).

If the whole family, grandparents, parents and young kids move from their mother country... all bets are off :) But I would tend to think the foreign-born young kids would be 1st generation, and the first-born children would be "second generation" citizens of their new country. Thus cementing "second generation" as the first generation born in the new country. Just to make it completely lucid.

As for why some people don't want to be naturalized, there are many, many good reasons not to become a US citizen... such as the IRS. But ultimately I think a lot of people like to move around without giving up their cultural identity... and basically want to enjoy a life without borders, which really are artificial impediments to human exploration and freedom.

In the end it doesn't really matter, you are who you are and we are all children in the eyes of the universe.

OzMan Jan-06-2012

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What would you say I am....
My parents of Indian descent, were born in India, under the British rule. Both received British passports when they travelled and after marriage lived all their lives outside of India.
I was born and brought up in Africa, under the British rule. I possess a British passport and have birth right in the country I was born in Africa (I would need to give up all other nationality).
I have married and my family have moved to Canada - I now also have Canadian citizenship.

Mary J Nov-28-2011

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"1st generation" refers to the foreign-born immigrants. "2nd generation" refers to the first native-born generation.

This is the official bureaucratic definition and they're fairly straightforward.

The thinking that just because someone is foreign-born, they cannot be considered American has tones of jingoism. And the idea that someone must be citizen to be an American ignores the fact that immigrants and women were long barred from citizenship. You're American the moment you settle on these shores - you're not a citizen, but you're living in the culture, land, and ideals of the USA. It can't be helped.

skim172 Nov-20-2011

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good day i just wanna ask something. my great grand father was a us citizen
and my grand father is the only soon but he died..never been to us. is there any chances that his/her children apply for immigration program? thank you and more power

dred Nov-07-2011

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P.S.S. ^ All of the above would also apply the same to "missionary kids", "brats", "foreign service brats", etc. basically, any Third-Culture Kid. Right now, there is an interesting discussion going on with this here on the whole "TCK vs. 1.5 Gen-ers" here:

Lt. Hawkeye Oct-29-2011

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^ Oh, and not only that, but the Asian-American military brats born in Asia on a US military installation...they can move in and out of the states as well since rotations for living on a military base happen every 3-5 years. So the whole "coming to America" thing is just nuts. We were born in Asia, but moved to America when we were 3 years old (note when I'm giving these example, I mean for these rotations to apply to all, not just me since I stayed in Japan for several years before moving here to the states), then moved out a few years later...came back at 6 years old...then moved out at the age of 10...came back at 14 years old and hated how the American high school kids in the stateside were radically different from the American high school kids at the overseas US military bases...then came back to America again after our dads retired from the military and started life anew as a civilian now trying to find our way into this new life called "college" (or in the case of those that were stationed at the RAF bases..."uni").

I think I'd rather just go with being called a "1st generation military brat" since I and my brother are the first in our family to be brats.

Lt. Hawkeye Oct-29-2011

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I had to fill out a survey a few weeks ago in regards to this and about differences between Asian kids' values vs. their parents. One of the questions was asking me what generation I was, and I couldn't decided between 1st and 2nd generation. I say this because I think this whole generation thing applies very poorly to US military brats (I'm a navy brat btw) who are more likely to be born on an overseas US military installation than on the homeland, and yet act more American than their parents (if their parents were immigrants who joined the US military). My parents were born in the Philippines, I was born in the Philippines, and my brother was born in Misawa Air Base in Japan. Yet my brother and I act more Americanized than our parents because we grew up in an environment that embraced the whole "Third Culture Kid" mentality.

So technically, despite me and my brother disagreeing with some of the more stiff values & traditions of our parents who were born & raised in the Philippines, I guess my bro & and I are still considered 1-generation even though the places we were born in Asia were places that had American GI communities? Well, what if my future kids were say...born at Rammstein Air Base or at RAF Lackenheath, yet act more culturally assimilated into American culture than I am when it comes to the whole Asian/American divide? And say, if my future kids also decide to join the military as well and give birth to children at say...Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan or Osan Air Base in Korea, then are those children considered first-generation as well despite being even more far removed from Asian values than their parents/my future children? I hate how this stupid generation classification doesn't take into account military brats, because the Asian military brats are some of the most Americanized I have ever encountered.

Lt. Hawkeye Oct-29-2011

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please take a look at this US Census definition:

'First generation' refers to those who are foreign born; 'second generation' refers to those with at least one foreign-born parent; 'third-and-higher generation' includes those with two U.S. native parents. Note: Numbers in thousands. Universe is the civilian noninstitutionalized population of the United States, plus armed forces living off post or with their families on post. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2007.

available at:

sinus Oct-04-2011

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If I were to go by the definition given above, "What I'm about to suggest will not be backed up by any dictionary, but I think of it as more a matter of cultural assimilation. If you see a parent ask their kid a question in their native tongue, they're first generation. If the kid answers in English, they're second generation."

I was 1st generation then changed into 2nd generation. I spoke fluently as a child, but grew self conscious of my pronunciation and my sister's teasing me, so I stopped speaking in Italian. Obviously you can't just hop a generation! My understanding since I was a child is that my parents are naturalized citizens and I am 1st generation American. I wish it went by how I felt because I would have dual citizenship right now. :-)

loe Sep-06-2011

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What I'm about to suggest will not be backed up by any dictionary, but I think of it as more a matter of cultural assimilation. If you see a parent ask their kid a question in their native tongue, they're first generation. If the kid answers in English, they're second generation.

porsche Jul-06-2011

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Plain and simple. I'm a First Generation American -- an immigrant who became a naturalized citizen. My children would be considered Second Generation Americans.

However, if you're Second Generation American, it doesn't necessarily mean your parents were naturalized citizens. They were the first ones HERE. And they gave birth to you HERE.

anonymous4 Jul-04-2011

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univac computer

hamza latif Jun-24-2011

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As a comment to what Mariskova and Dyske wrote, I would say that there might be a difference when you would say "First Generation American" vs. "First Generation Immigrant", since the first generation doesn't necessarily have to become citizens of the country where they immigrated. However, the generation who actually immigrated, should therefore be called "First Generation Immigrants", because the second generation aren't actually immigrants.

anonymous4 Jun-24-2011

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As a 1.5-er, I have found that there lacks a space where I can share my stories, so I have created a social networking site where I hope to hear from other 1.5-ers on what their experiences were growing up.

Igloo734 Jun-19-2011

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What an absolute bundle of rubbish... These descriptions are not legal definitions and are meaningless since they are used interchangeably. Children, when the teacher asks you, "Timmy, of which generation are you?" Simply ask them to please clarify their question. Otherwise you run the risk of the resulting discussion running on for the entire length of your childhood!

Ace Rimmer Jun-16-2011

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Puerto Rican are100% American by birth.

Ernesto Padilla Jun-08-2011

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PS - I like the idea of people taking pride in having chosen where they want to live and expressing that as them being of that country now, i.e. a first generation in the new country.

Jay Conne May-16-2011

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I've read most of this thread and it does a thorough job of documenting the ambiguity. So further thrashing on this not helpful.

If a term is ambiguous, simply meaning people use it in conflicting ways, the responsible thing to do is to define your terms when you speak or write. Period. Changing the culture to eliminate the ambiguity is a long term effort that may or may not be worth the trouble.

To bring in a different context, consider the political categories of liberal, conservative, progressive, etc. I find more diversity in each group of self-identified people that between them. My solution is to ask people:
- what do they want to conserve and why?
- what do they want to liberate from what and why?
- what do they consider progress vs backward and why?

In each case I want to cut through the slop and find substance.
Often I find small minded people who can't reason beyond labeling - and I walk away.

Likewise with insisting on one definition of a term when a dictionary or experience demonstrates ambiguous usage. I is our responsibility to own disambiguating the potentially ambiguous. Many words have multiple definitions in the dictionary. My job is to indicate which one I'm referring to in my use of the term - and perhaps just for this conversation and context.

Does that help get this discussion grounded?

Jay Conne May-16-2011

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Random thoughts:

Ok, I don't think the question is whether the term is ambiguous anymore...that seems to be established. But this state of affairs does not sit well. Some resolution would be useful. If you are just talking to someone it is easy enough to ask them to clarify but what if it is just written or an interview on TV? Or what if it is a class situation as one person was asking about. What if the teacher asks, gets an answer, and then just assumes they are on the same page and does not ask for a clarification, then anyone listening would not know which it was either.

Here's how we could do it: instead of the whole "born here" thing I think it is more important were you were raised. If you were the first generation raised here then call that first generation if you have parents or grandparent who came here just call them generation zero or immigrants. It is kinda strange how immigrant can sound negative in a land of immigrants. If for instance someone asked “Are you or your parents immigrants?” It is hard to not take it negatively.

You can say in response to "Are you first generation or second?" with “I am the proud child/son/daughter of immigrants,” or “I immigrated in 1988” or whatever year, or “my parents came-here/immigrated in 1972” or whatever or if you want to be less specific you can say “…in the 1970’s.” You don't actually have to say 1st or 2nd; the important thing is to communicate clearly. They still may ask “Were you born here?,” if you tried the first suggestion. You can choose to answer that or not. If you grew up here, I would just say that. The other stuff, that’s none of their business unless they are officials or something. It’s like asking your birthday.

The whole generation thing is not applicable if your parents are different generations in my opinion. Or if it is, it would be based on the earliest ancestor in America not the most recent or the average or the male line or what have you unless the earliest is native. If they are and they are the only one and generations ago it would be silly to call yourself Native American. And it would be quite a chuckle elicitor if you looked Korean and spoke Korean and said you were Native American. And it would be a real head scratchier if you said I am Korean but my family has been here for thousands of years.

In genealogy circles 1st generation is usually the first generation to have or raise children here, or whatever place we are talking about. So if they drug their parents or grandparents here the son or daughter who actually had a family here would be 1st generation.

First generator? First generated? What about that? First progenitor? Too bad you can’t use “colonist” or “pioneer” they sound nice but it only applies to the first settlers from abroad. The options go downhill from there.

Well, that doesn’t seem to clarify much of anything. I stupidly thought I might get somewhere.

Hey what about “Yes” as the answer to “Are you first or second generation?”?
Don’t know why punctuation seems to be such a nightmare. Sorry, if I damaged all the grammarians’ retinas.

mindbreaker May-04-2011

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After all these years, the thread is still active. Some were sure it was unambiguous, and now the consensus seems to be that it's ambiguous. But I still have no clue what generation I am, my children are, or my parents or grandparents are.

My wife was born in Vietnam. I was born in NYC. My children are children of an immigrant parent, making them first, or second generation according to some of what this thread says. My father was born in the US. My mom comes from France. Both of my parents are children of immigrants.

So my children have an immigrant parent, I have an immigrant parent, and my father has immigrant parents. My children have an American born father and an American born grandfather, and I have an American born father.

My conclusion is that my father is a first generation American and a second generation American. His parents were first generation or not any generation. I am first generation, and second and third generation. My children are first, second, third, and fourth generation.

I could make a case for any of these generations based on specific definitions in this thread. Or I could come to the opposite conclusion. If I take the term "parents" (plural) as a literal requirement, then my children and I can't claim to have (two) parents who were immigrants, and can't claim to have (two) parents who were born in the US. That would mean that none of the above apply and I'm not any generation American, and neither are my kids. If any of the definitions apply to a parent (singular), it's not apparent.

Does it make sense to say my children are first generation on their mother's side? Are they fourth generation Americans who happen to be children of an immigrant parent, and raised in a home with a cultural background that comes from abroad?

All I know is that my children are the third generation in my family born in the US to an immigrant parent and the second generation born to a US born parent. So should I add 2.5 generation to the list? That leaves five answers for my children. If you thought two was bad, five is worse. The good news is that if I average all five, I still get 2.5 so I can add that to the list again, call it the mode, and go with it.

As far as college goes, my grandfather could not afford to finish it. So my kids will be the fourth generation to attend college in the US, and the third to graduate.

Haggy Apr-07-2011

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I was born in puerto rico my kids were born in new york they are first generation puerto rican americans. do to the fact that puerto rico is not part of the main land. the same goes for people that come from hawaii and there a state of the united states

marcelino jimenez Mar-20-2011

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I'm a sociology major at UCLA. When I was taking a class on Chinese Immigration, we defined first generation as people who were born elsewhere and moved to American in their adulthood. Second generation are those who are born and raised here in America. 1.5 generation are those that were born elsewhere and moved here before the age of 12.

hongho Feb-17-2011

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Merriam Webster's latest mode to the contrary, words and terms do have fixed meanings.

A foreigner living in America, whether he is an illegal alien, a legal resident alien, or a naturalized citizen in "the immigrant".

A child born in the US to an immigrant is a "first generation American".

In genealogy, those of us who have colonial ancestors refer to the person who moved to the colonies as "the immigrant" and count our generations from the first generation born in the colonies. For example: My immigrant ancestor moved to Jamestown in 1607. I am a 12th generation American, even though the US didn't come into being until much later.

novahart Nov-29-2010

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I found this blog by wondering the same question. Both sides have some good points.

For me though (so far), the ones who immigrated here are the "original" generation, and the first ones born here are the first generation. They were "generated" here.

I was born in Canada. I was conceived, born, and raised here.
My dad's parents moved here from England, and dad was born and raised here in Canada.
My mum's parents: sired and raised my mother in Scotland. My mother moved here when she was an adult and married my father here...

Uh, oh!!

So, paternally I'm second generation English Canadian. Maternally, I'm first generation Scottish Canadian! (or if you look at it the other way, for the debate here....etc. etc...). I didn't mean to make it more confusing, I just discovered this now!

I guess it comes down to a matter of one's own perception as to what generation they are. Perhaps what's best (and what's been mentioned before) is saying "First generation born here".

gfgower Aug-28-2010

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should have written "third generation born in this country". See how easy it is to leave it at the implied level?

joannealexander Aug-17-2010

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Amazing thread. I admit I always thought first generation meant one thing but did occasionally see it used differently, and honestly, just thought it was a misunderstanding.

It seems to me that there is an answer that several writers touched on, but never really developed. Follow me on this:

There are situations in English where words are implied, but left out. Example: "Close the door." (Implies YOU shut the door, but YOU is implied.)

Thus, first generation American is implying something- either first generation American citizen or first generation born in America. In my family, the second one was the term meant (and often actually voiced, as in "you are third generation American" (great grandparents immigrated from Germany and my grandmother born in America).

However if you mean "citizen" then the other definition obviously applies. Interestingly, it appears that different cultures or languages may influence which implied meaning is felt to be correct. An example is the Japanese words and concepts explained early on, vs. the Greek understanding of the opposite meaning.

And yes, language is fun....

joannealexander Aug-17-2010

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Regarding this thread I've always considered first generation to refer to the first generation residing as citizens in this country. There is no other logiocal definition. Now as to what to call ourselves based upon our origins, the only correct reference would be 'Star Children' since we all evolved from the dust of the Universe. Once we all realize that fact our perspectives of each other should be enhanced and we will all be better off sharing this world of ours.

felixgiordano Jul-12-2010

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Warren, we call people like you British (or British American if you prefer). The people who whipped the British and formed the United States were mostly British themselves. Oh, and while we're at it, if you were Native American, then we really should call you Asian American, since your ancestors would have come to the US from there, ten or twenty thousand years ago. As a matter of fact, all of us should really be called African Americans, since that's where we all started. As for what generation, I'm sure you can figure that out yourself.

porsche May-20-2010

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What are we called who did not immigtate from a foreign country to the United States, but were here when this country became the United States of America. My ancestors are the soldiers who took control of the colonies by whipping the British and then making this country The United States of America. I am not related to anyone who came from a foreign country to The U.S.

wglennbmk May-20-2010

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According to the Census Bureau "if either parent is foreign born, children are second generation." Interesting. So if one parent can trace lineage to the Mayflower but the other parent is foreign born, the children are second generation.

As far as assimilation, from my experience most second generation Americans think of themselves as assimilated. Almost all immigrants want to assimilate, although many have difficulties. Their children do not. It would take a special effort to prevent assimilation of one's native born children, especially with today's mass culture.

hsu_ag-member May-14-2010

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William Wang: Technically (according to the Census Bureau) your father and you are both "first generation," as strange as that seems (father and son of the same generation). Perhaps, you are "1.5 generation." Obviously there is much ambiguity here and some of the distinctions presented here get blown apart by such situations. For example, for my entire childhood my father was a "resident alien" (the official term at the time for a Green Card holder). Later when I was an adult he became a naturalized citizen. So I was first generation until my father was naturalized at which time I became second generation. Interesting. According to the my interpretation of the Census Bureau definition, I was always second generation. My father was not an American (so "no generation") until he was naturalized at which time he became first generation, so during my childhood there was no first generation.

hsu_ag-member May-14-2010

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My dad came to America on 1991 and then 10 years later rest of my family came. My dad and I both were born in China. He has green card now, and I became U.S citizen about 2 months ago. So my question is "Is both my dad and I consider first generation Americans or is my kids will be?

wangwi9009 Apr-04-2010

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It's very simple. The first immigrants who came here, even if the group included grandparents, parents and your older brother, are your "immigrant ancestors" and the first persons born here are "first generation Americans."

David5 Mar-10-2010

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What happens if I marry an immigrant but she does not get naturalized? What if she does get naturalized? What affect is there on the status of the child if only one parent becomes naturalized? Does this change their status?

Also, I learned in sociology, that it takes three generations to become assimilated. Can you expand on this information? Also does that mean it is the fourth generation that becomes assimilated. And, what is the difference between assimilation and naturalization?

My wife, a soon to be U.S. citizen, tells me that there is a significant decrease in U.S. assimilation AND naturalization. People stop at the green card (permanent resident) and do not go further. This does two things. Decreases loyalty to the U.S. while reaping her benefits and increases disloyalty. What do you think?

Also, the term may be ambiguous, but it does appear to be the general rule with an exception here and there.

By the way, I am happy with your information you provided on December 4, 2006 at 2:19 am. I feel more American and patriotic knowing that I am a second generation immigrant because both of my parents were naturalized. Now I can listen to rock n roll in public. JK

peter3 Jul-14-2009

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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 Jun-30-2009

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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 Mar-25-2009

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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 Feb-05-2009

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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.

Tom1 Dec-25-2008

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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.

Charles3 Nov-06-2008

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

Anony-mous Oct-30-2008

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

Ron4 Aug-13-2008

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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.

Jen1 May-27-2008

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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.

Frank2 May-25-2008

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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 Apr-30-2008

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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

bubbha Apr-22-2008

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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 Apr-10-2008

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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 Apr-10-2008

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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 Mar-25-2008

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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 Mar-08-2008

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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.

anonymous4 Feb-21-2008

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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 Feb-20-2008

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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 Feb-17-2008

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

anonymous4 Feb-17-2008

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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.

anonymous4 Jan-16-2008

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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

agreedwabove Jan-15-2008

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Wow, how stupid are people?

It's called context.

Seriously Dec-05-2007

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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.

Javid1 Nov-16-2007

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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 Nov-16-2007

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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.

karina1 Nov-15-2007

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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.

John4 Nov-09-2007

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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.

Javid1 Nov-08-2007

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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 Sep-20-2007

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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 Sep-18-2007

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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 Aug-09-2007

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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 Aug-07-2007

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Nice post, John.

porsche Jul-18-2007

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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

John4 Jul-17-2007

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

chi Jul-17-2007

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