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Joined: April 7, 2011  (email not validated)
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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, 1:49pm

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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, 12:02pm

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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 April 7, 2011, 5:04pm

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