Second Generation Americans Seek Cultural Balance
By AURITRI HOSSAIN and LISBETH JUELA TENEMAZA
No, you can’t wear that. No, you can’t say that. Don’t act that way. I only accept 100’s. Don’t embarrass me in front of our family. You must be obedient. Speak to me in our language. Ever heard that?
If you’re a second generation American—an American-born child of immigrants—you’ve probably heard all of the above and a lot more when it comes to dealing with American and foreign culture.
Being a second generation American can be tough, especially for students. A lot of the issues are rooted in problems like language barriers and cultural differences among peers and sometimes between the American-born child and their immigrant parents.
Being born in America means you learn another language that may be fairly new to your parents. It also means being exposed to other forms of thinking. For example, some cultures around the world explicitly value male children over girls. However, in western cultures, there is a belief that both genders should be treated equally, more or less. This is hard enough on its own, but when you add another culture and another language, it can get messy and feel overwhelming.
“Being born to immigrant parents is hard because of the blend of cultures,” said Sabreena Parvez ’20. “You keep the culture you grew up with but also add on American culture so you ‘fit in.’ The blend is hard, and finding the balance is even harder.”
When you have two cultures, that balance can be difficult, especially when people treat you like one or the other, and hardly ever both.
“To people from my country, I’m American,” Ingrid Jimenez ’19 said. “To people in America, I’m Mexican.”
Not knowing whether you’re “good enough” for either can be a big issue. Online, many have called out celebrities such as Gina Rodriguez for not being ‘latina enough.’ This is a problem that not only celebrities face. This criticism could also come from your friends and family.
“I don’t speak the most perfect Spanish, and a lot of people tease me about it,” said Laura Rosas ’20. “People assume that the number one characteristic about being Hispanic is speaking Spanish, but that’s not all there is to it. My Spanish may not be perfect, but I’m still Mexican-American.”
Sometimes second-generation Americans struggle with language barriers between them and their own family.
When speaking to her parents, Shahida Islam ’19 tends to speak “broken Bangla,” she says. Although her parents are capable of understanding her, it can be difficult for her to understand others.
“I don’t understand what anyone is saying when I go to family events,” said Islam.
Religion and fashion are other common friction points second-generation Americans face.
Limits to dressing the way you want and choosing your religion are often held down strictly by parents, and it may sometimes feel like you’re suffocating. This may be why many are reluctant to follow in their parents’ sometimes forceful footsteps.
“I asked for ripped jeans, but my mom said no,” said Samreen Mahmud ’20. “My mom said that, as I grow older, I’d have to cover up more.”
In many Muslim households, wearing clothing with even the tiniest bit of skin exposure is unacceptable, and it can be frustrating seeing what you wear versus what your friends wear.
In many cases, it isn’t only about being raised by parents who might not be able to speak English or with strict religious beliefs. There are also stereotypes that come with being from an immigrant family.
Principal Michael McDonnell knows how it feels to be picked on for being an Irish immigrant’s child. It was the stereotypes that really got to him: the “heavy drinking Irish” and the “knuckleheads.” Many other students nowadays have similar stories.
One stereotype with South Asian parents is that they expect their kids to become either doctors or lawyers. There’s some truth to this one.
“Brown [South Asian] parents always think you have to do the basic careers like being a doctor,” said Fairoz Avin ’20. “But kids will live life in regret always trying to please their parents.”
Another struggle, minor but annoying, is having to correct people on how to say your name, especially if it’s foreign.
“It gets kind of annoying when substitutes butcher my name,” said Nailah Khan ’20. “It’s always either Nay-lah or Ny-liah.”
Ms. Meghan Thomas, a guidance counselor, deals with a lot of children who struggle with their cultural background. “Around 30% of what kids come to me about is rooted in culture,” she said.
These issues can include mental health or going off to college. Many parents don’t want their kids to move or go to a college far away. Although this can be frustrating for students, Ms. Thomas usually tells them to try to understand where their parents are coming from and know that she understands their frustration.
Rest assured that Midwood is a safe place to discover a balance between your cultures. As Mr. Richard Franzese, the assistant principal of security, pointed out, Midwood hires a diverse group a staff. That way, if there is a language barrier, it makes it easier to find someone who can help.
So remember Hornets, your culture makes you you, but don’t be timid about trying new things.