Immigrant Terms and New Americans: Are you first, second or “1.5” generation?

California coast from airplane web

Above the California coast and the blue Pacific ocean

Are you “first-generation” or “second-generation”?

If your family immigrated to the United States, you have most likely been asked this question.  Or if you speak with a clear American accent, you may be asked “So…when did your parents immigrate to the U.S.?”.

The term “first-generation” usually mean the first among the family who immigrated to the new country.

For example, here in Monterey County and the Salinas Valley, I’ve met many “second-generation” Filipino-Americans.  Their parents (the first-generation) immigrated to the U.S. as adults and settled here.

Steinbeck Exhibit Wall 4Note: See my post about the “Filipino Voices” exhibit at the National Steinbeck Center and the Asian Cultural Experience website to get a sense of the history of Filipinos and the Asian-American community in this part of California.

The 1 point 5 GenerationDid you know there is also a name for another category of  immigrants… the “1.5 generation”?

My younger sister and I fit this category, because we immigrated to the U.S. when I was 16, and when she was 14.

My older sister was already an adult and married when she immigrated to the U.S from the Philippines a year ahead of us, so she is considered a “first-generation” immigrant, and her daughter Stephanie is a 2nd generation Filipino-American (though she identifies as an “American” with 1/2 Filipino ancestry).


My older sister — the “first-generation” immigrant — pictured at right was 19 and married when she immigrated to the United States. She had already lived in two U.S. states by the time I took this photo in New Jersey, with my then 15-year old younger sister at left (the “1.5-generation” immigrant). Both are now American citizens. Photo taken the fall of 1980 with my first SLR camera, a Minolta, at the time when you actually had to buy a roll of black and white “film”.

The definition for the “1.5 generation” fits my younger sister and I very well. A Wikipedia article on immigrant generations defines 1.5G as:

…people who immigrate to a new country before or during their early teens. They earn the label the “1.5 generation” because they bring with them characteristics from their home country but continue their assimilation and socialization in the new country, thus being “halfway” between the 1st generation and the 2nd generation.

Their identity is thus a combination of new and old culture and tradition. Sociologist Ruben Rumbaut was among the first to use the term to examine outcomes among those arriving in the United States before adolescence.[2]

Depending on the age of immigration, the community into which they settle, extent of education in their native country, and other factors, 1.5 generation individuals will identify with their countries of origin to varying degrees. However, their identification will be affected by their experiences growing up in the new country.

1.5G individuals are often bilingual and find it easier to be assimilated into the local culture and society than people who immigrated as adults.

Many 1.5 generation individuals are bi-cultural, combining both cultures – culture from the country of origin with the culture of the new country.

For more information on this immigrant term, see the blog post by Leslie Berenstein Rojas “Gen 1.5: Where an immigrant generation fits in with information from UCLA anthropologist Kyeyoung Park.

Country Road and Fence Monterey web

Country road – North Monterey County, California

Are you or your parents 1st or 2nd generation…or does the term “1.5” fit you?

If you have Filipino ancestry and live in the U.S, do you consider yourself a Filipino-American, or refer to yourself as an American?

8 thoughts on “Immigrant Terms and New Americans: Are you first, second or “1.5” generation?

  1. Do you have a word for “first”, “second”, “third generation”, etc? In Japanese, we use Issei, Nisei, Sansei… I’m sort of in between: my mom was born in Japan and my dad is a Nisei, or second generation. I have no Japanese accent whatsoever, yet I’ve been asked, “Where are you from?” You’d think I’d have learned by now, but I never think they are are asking me about my ethnic background. I always answer, “Oh, I’m from the Monterey area”, haha! Then they ask again: “No – where are you FROM?” Ohhhh….The Land of My Honorable Ancestors… I don’t take this as an insult – I find it pretty interesting – usually the people who are asking are curious (or their son/nephew/grandson is dating/married to an Asian woman). In fact, it’s usually other Asians (first generation?) who ask me point-blank: “Are you Korean? Chinese? Japanese?”

    I have several Filipino-American friends – one was born in the Philippines. I’ll have to ask him, “Where are you FROM?” Just kidding. I’ll have to ask how he sees himself.

    Great post!

    • I love your comment, Jane!

      I’ve asked the “where are you from” question too, but yes what I really meant to ask is “what is your background or ancestry” (yes, the honorable ancestors). The answer is exactly as you put it, and depends on what generation. I usually say “I’m originally from the Philippines, and now live in….”

      It really shouldn’t matter anymore, right — and it is funny to see your comment about Asians asking you point blank…most Filipinos do not think about it as an insulting question, they are probably just curious.

      In the Philippines, it is common to ask this…where are you from “Taga-saan ka / kayo?” question. It is a form of connecting to one another. It use to annoy me when I was younger — especially that there are over 100 million Filipinos now — but then I realized they are wanting to see if we have common relatives, family names, etc., and now I enjoy these interactions.

      It’s great that you have those words in Japanese for the generations…as far as I know, we do not have specific words for this in our language. You’ll have to tell me how your Fil/Am friend sees himself.

      Thanks for the great comment 🙂

    • My mother is German and has lived here for 45 years now. Of course she still has an accent and it drives her bonkers when as soon as she opens her mouth, she is asked “Where are you from?” She’ll say Colorado (her former state) just to throw them off.

      • I think that is funny — she must have a strong personality :).

        I loved living in Germany — it is so beautiful, and friends we made at the little village where we lived (Dudeldorf — near the U.S. Air Force base of Spangdahlem and Bittburg) were wonderful to us.

        I have a post relating Filipinos and Germans, if you can believe that is possible 🙂 It is at

  2. I was born in Germany to a German mother and a US Army Dad. So because I’ve always had US citizenship, i guess the question doesn’t apply to me. I’m glad you cleared up the 1st generation question which sometimes gets confusing.

    • My daughter was born in Germany, too! Except it was I, who was in the U.S. Air Force at the time. She got her first passport at the U.S. Embassy (I think in Frankfurt)…with her little baby photo, to have for immigration when we moved back to the U.S.

      I was unclear about the whole 1st generation/2nd-generation thing as well…and then surprised that there was the “1.5-generation” label that applied to me and my younger sister :).

  3. Very clear-cut post, very clear on how you defined the generations and the in-between generation, Lola. I suppose I am a second generation migrant…sort of.

    My parents migrated to Australia from Malaysia many years ago to start a new life in Western world. A few years after they arrived, I was born. When I was six I move to Malaysia and only returned to Australia during high school – and by that time I had forgotten what Aussie culture was all about and spoke like a typical Malaysian. I had to re-learn how to get along with Caucasian Australians (which took a few years) and basically get over culture shock in Australia.

    There are many times, though, when I find myself questioning whether I’m more Australian or more Malaysian. And the more I question, the more I realise that both these sides of me will always be within me. For instance, when I’m speaking to my mum, there will always be some Cantonese involved. When I’m at work, I speak good English and be easy-going.

    So I’d say I fit the 1.5 generation more 🙂

  4. Pingback: Asian Festival at Salinas Chinatown: Celebrating Chinese, Japanese, Filipino culture and preserving history | Lola Jane's World

Now that you are here, I would love to know what you think...comments are always appreciated.