#FocusImmigration: The First Generation American’s Two Worlds

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Published April 9, 2019
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The Montclarion
The Medina family celebrates the Peruvian Independence Day on July 28, 1999. Photo courtesy of Cecilia Medina

A lot of focus is on immigrants, but don’t forget the children of these immigrants who also struggle with learning things by themselves and trying to adapt to not one but two cultures.

I am a proud child of immigrant parents. Both of them migrated from Peru. They came to America in order to get married, to start a family and, like most immigrants, to have a better life. They raised my sister and I in a Latino household where they tried to incorporate everything they could teach us about their own roots. However, we were raised in America, and they knew nothing about American culture.

My two worlds collided during my first day of kindergarten when teachers realized English wasn’t my first language, so half of the Latino class had to take English as a Second Language (ESL) class. At home, my family could roll their Rs but teachers changed the pronunciation of my name because they couldn’t say it. At home, I was eating ethnic food but at school, I was introduced to mac and cheese and chicken nuggets.

I and other Latinos did a kiss-on-the-cheek when greeting the whole room but then I got to middle school social gatherings and realized no one was greeting me with a kiss. I also celebrate the Peruvian Independence Day from morning to night, but not the Fourth of July like some of my friends did. Then I started to wonder why my classmates were going to slumber parties, but in my house, I had a bed and had no reason to sleep in someone else’s house.

Once I started getting interested in hobbies and sports, I couldn’t be like my other classmates because I needed my parents’ permission. It wasn’t possible at the time because my parents were undocumented. But not having documentation did not stop my parents from giving me and my sister every opportunity we could possibly have.

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Martin Medina and Cecilia Medina hold hands at a family party in 1993.
Photo courtesy of Cecilia Medina

Education was and still is the most important thing my parents enforce on my sister and me and why they came to this country. There was no question as to whether or not I was going to college – it was mandatory.

There’s also “immigration parent guilt” that many first generations face. Our parents come to America and work in whatever job they can get so we can go to college and get a career – if not, then their migration was for nothing.

While other families who send their kids off to college understand how to fill out FAFSA and get loans, I had no one to help me. The registrar office was tired of seeing me every day during my freshman year in their office pleading for help. I am now a senior about to graduate in May, but when I walk and get my diploma, it will also be my parents getting it because they never received a college education.

Education isn’t the only thing hammered in my brain. Being and staying bilingual is also a priority. I can easily change from Spanish to English in an instant. However, this comes with getting laughed at from my family when I say a word incorrectly or speak Spanglish.

Sometimes it’s even difficult when I forget my English words and have to play charades with my friends until they understand what I am trying to say. Funny enough, I work with ESL students now. I understand their struggle trying to think in both languages.

My two worlds still continue today. There’s a struggle to find a balance of being American or Peruvian enough. My passport begs to differ, but I’m both.

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