Growing up 1.5
Philip Kasinitz, Professor of Sociology
Students of migration often don’t know what to make of people born in one society but who came of age in another. Such people clearly occupy a different social space than the “first generation immigrants” who migrated as adults. But neither are they in the same situation as the American born children of immigrants-- “the second generation.” Betwixt and between, neither here nor there, the people Ruben Rumbaut dubbed the “1.5 generation” have long been a cause for concern for social scientists -- and for their immigrant parents.
Anyone spending time in immigrant communities hears this. Immigrants watch anxiously as their children “become Americans.” This is usually something they want, but also, at some level, something they deeply fear. The dangers of the new land and of being between two cultures are the stuff of sermons in Korean Churches and Bengali Mosques, of discussions in Ecuadoran home town associations, of debate in Chinese newspapers. We see it in the nagging fears of people who are otherwise quite happy in their new society. One of Jumpa Lahiri’s fictional couples, for example, find themselves inexplicably afraid for their son in college: “So we drive to Cambridge to visit him or bring him home for the weekend so that he can eat rice with us with his hands and speak Bengali, things we sometimes worry he will no longer do after we die.” Other times the fear is more palpable. The West Indian Brooklynites interviewed by sociologist Mary Waters often told her that their greatest fear was “losing our kids to the streets.” By this they meant not only manifold dangers of the American ghetto, but also what being seen as “black” in racist America was doing to their children.
Of course every adolescent is in some sense an immigrant, naively exploring a new and sometimes dangerous land --the land of adulthood. But for the 1.5 generation, coming of age was complicated by migration, the need to master new languages, new geographies, new ways of seeing and behaving. The people who should have been their most important guides, their parents, were often at a loss as to how to help. More than most of us, the 1.5 generation knows that their parents’ ways can not be their ways. Indeed, in many immigrant families it is the children who must explain the new society to their bewildered parents.
And yet, for all of the tensions and problems this creates, being between two cultures puts one in a very creative space. No where is this more clear than in the arts. The 1.5 generation artist occupies a position that allows for selective combinations of different traditions, one that combines the insider’s understanding with the outsider’s critical or ironic distance. Looking at the art produced by the 1.5 generation, I suspect that we have not fully appreciated the advantage that “in between-ness” can be. This is not just evident in self consciously “cultural” activities but also in the everyday lives of people who grow up with a dual frame of reference. They cannot blindly repeat the received wisdom of their parents – a wisdom best suited to a very different time and place. Nor can they unreflectively take up the ways of the new society that they are only beginning to understand In a multitude of large and small situations they must choose between the ways of their parents, the ways of new society or, perhaps, to create something altogether new and different. They do not always choose wisely or well. But they are more aware than most of us that they have a choice. And seeing choices where others see prescriptions can be a very empowering thing.
New York, more than most places, has historically honored the sort of hybridity and innovation that comes easily to the 1.5 generation. At a time when we increasingly hear from those concerned about the “balkanization” of American Society, it is worth remembering that mid 20th Century New York became one of the world’s great centers of cultural creativity at least in part because so many of the children of immigrants were coming of age there And despite worries that New York would become a place apart from the rest of the nation, in the end the City’s immigrants and their children repaid the US with a broader and better vision of itself. It was 1.5 generation New Yorker who wrote “God Bless America”.
It is too early know whether something like this is happening today. History never quite repeats itself. But there is no denying the creative mixing of cultures that is already evident in the music, art, dance, and poetry now being produced in hyper-diverse cities like New York and Los Angeles. The greatest spur to creativity in these multi-cultural cities is not the continuation of immigrant traditions, nor the headlong rush into assimilation, but rather the innovation that occurs in moments and places where different world views come together, where no one way of doing things or seeing things can be taken for granted. No one sees this more clearly than the 1.5 generation. In a time of globalization, they may have a lot to teach us all.
Philip Kasinitz is Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His latest book (with John Mollenkopf, Mary Waters and Jennifer Holdaway) Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age, will published by the Harvard University Press in early 2008.
On Their Own Terms: Art in the New Second Generation
Patricia Fernández-Kelly, Professor of Sociology, Princeton University
Last year, in a review of Phillip Roth’s prolific contribution to American Literature, a renowned critic observed about the central character in Roth’s most famous novel that Alexander Portnoy’s onanistic hold to the flesh is “literally, in rebellion against the life that is being forced upon him... A fiercely comic shtick that is also a howl to the heavens.” Something similar may be said about the art of immigrant children whether born abroad or, like Roth, in the United States.
Although there are experiential differences among immigrant children, all share an obvious thing in common—foreign-born parents. Whether brought to American soil in their infancy or born in this country, their fate has been shaped by the memories, yearnings, hopes and anxieties of their elders. The passion to hold on to an authentic origin while adapting to mainstream expectations is therefore an imprint of life among 1.5 and second generation immigrants. Suspended between an ancestral past magnified by the tales of mothers and fathers but forced to confront the necessities of daily existence in a nation that demands forgetfulness, immigrant children cannot do other than to breed hybridity. It is by splicing and combining; cutting, pasting and innovating that they redefine cultural significance and continuity. They grasp the past while forging an independent future.
Devotion to the parental legacy and the search for genuineness are key elements in the aesthetics of 1.5 artists. Immigrants and exiles face dislocation, loss of personal and collective identities, and often hostility in their adopted country. To restore balance and comfort they fall back on symbolic repertories like religion and art whose connection is more than haphazard. Faith and aesthetics rely on universal signs that transcend language barriers and insular practices. They entail the promise of unity beyond temporal, racial or ethnic divides. They enable youngsters to be different while blending in. In that sense they are as visceral as a song or a prayer
What is the role of art in immigrant adaptation? How does music, dance, and the figurative arts define and are defined by the quest for distinctiveness? How do first- and second-generation expressions differ and what do those differences reveal about modes of social incorporation, types of reception, and structures of opportunity in the host country?
The importance of those questions is clear but there have been few attempts at broaching them. This is puzzling given the richness of artistic manifestations among immigrants. It may be a testimony to the supremacy of market-economics thinking that there are many more treatises about immigrant employment and exploitation than about the way immigrants use art to combat oppressive conditions in the labor market.
As part of the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Survey (CILS), the most extensive investigation of the New Second Generation in the United States, I have been conducting research on the art of 1.5- and second-generation Cubans in the U.S. In their case, artistic creation often entails a reinvention of the county of origin and the casting of a culture of nostalgia that strengthens co-ethnic bonds. At the same time Cubans rely on American forms to mark their belonging in the adopted country. Put somewhat differently, the art of first- and second generation Cubans—like equivalent manifestations by immigrants from other places—asserts distinctiveness even as it uses empathy to establish roots in areas of destination. It is in this sense that music and painting become a universal language creating bridges between newcomers and their host environment.
Second, immigrant children and the children of immigrants face circumstances dissimilar from those confronted by their forebears and, as a result, their artistic tastes diverge from those of the first generation. Having grown up in America they do not possess their parents’ close bond to or deep understanding of the motherland. Some feel an impulse to re-learn old traditions to preserve cultural purity. Others embrace the mores and aesthetics of youth groups in the new nation. The two trends are not mutually exclusive—they merge giving way to vital and surprising new manifestations. Both tendencies can vary in terms of class with more affluent populations seeking elements of cultural integrity in the art of sending countries and more humble groups resorting either to forms that mix ethnic and American modalities or adopting distinctly American styles.
Especially informative in that respect is the popularity of Hip-Hop and Graffiti among members of the New Second Generation. When they appropriate expressions born from African-American suffering and endurance, 1.5 youngsters symbolically join multitudes throughout the nation and the world to convey rebellion and power. Immigrant art thus becomes an instrument for vindicating tarnished identities and rejecting the homogenizing pressures of the larger society.
Finally, in the New Century a new relationship is being forged between changing structures of opportunity and aesthetics. I use the term expressive entrepreneurship to designate the tendency of 1.5 and second-generation immigrants to use art as a means to circumvent the job market. Whether they are affluent or not, immigrant children take for granted a measure of prosperity. Their parents toiled hard to provide them with more than the basics. Children measure success in accordance with the normative standards of the host society. As a result, independence, wealth, and even fame feature prominently in their dreams. Their aim is to craft meaningful lives where employment is but a means to an end. Expressive entrepreneurship is part of that quest. It takes urgent proportions among working-class immigrants who face limited opportunities in the post-industrial age. At a time, when desirable jobs require high levels of education and formal skills that many do not have or cannot afford, immigrant youngsters are turning to the arts as a path to advancement.
In other words, among the realities of the New Millennium is an old one: art is not just a pastime for the affluent classes. It is also an instrument for survival, advancement, and vindication. Art makes immigrant children visible.
The Creative Power of the 1.5 Generation
Pyong Gap Min, Professor of Sociology, Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
Scholars of post-1965 immigrants have created a new term “1.5 generation” to refer to people who were born in their home countries and immigrated to the U.S. during their adolescence. They have treated the 1.5 generation separately from the first, immigrant generation and the U.S.-born second generation because this in-between generation came to this country early enough to assimilate into mainstream culture and institutions but lived in their home countries long enough to learn their mother tongue and basic cultural values and beliefs. As a result, 1.5-generation people, usually fluently bilingual and bicultural, can bridge the immigrant generation and the native-born second generation. They belong neither to the immigrant nor to the second generation, but they can communicate with both effectively. The 1.5 generation can understand the language barrier and other difficulties immigrants encounter in the U.S. because they also experienced similar difficulties upon arriving here at an early age.
Scholars specializing in immigration have generally included foreign-born people who came to the U.S. at the age of 12 or before in the 1.5 generation. But if the bicultural perspective is considered as the defining characteristic of the 1.5 generation, I believe the age range at immigration should be expanded to 13-17 or to even older ages, while those who immigrated at 5 or before should be included in the second generation.
In his book The Marginal Man (1937), Everett Stonequist asserted that Americans of European origin belonged neither to their home country nor to the host society and that therefore they are “marginal men” who suffer from serious psychological problems. His assertion may have some elements of truth because in the1930s the U.S. government enforced the policy of Anglo Conformity that forced immigrants and their children to get rid of their home language and ethnic cultural traditions as soon as possible. The socio-cultural milieu at that time forced the 1.5 generation to repress their bilingual and bicultural potentials. Nevertheless, Stonequist’s observation seems to be an inaccurate description of the characteristics of the 1.5 generation even in his own time. It fails to see the enormous creative power of many 1.5-generation white Americans who made important contributions in literature, the arts, and academic fields in part by using their bicultural perspectives.
The U.S. government changed the policy governing minority groups and immigrants from Anglo Conformity to multiculturalism in the late 1960s. The multicultural curriculum has gradually added courses relating to the history, language, and culture of minority and immigrant groups. As a result, the children of immigrants who are both fluent in English and have retained their ethnic language and culture can take advantage of their bilingual and bicultural assets in school performance. Given this, it is not surprising that bilingual students or students with a strong ethnic identity do better in school than those who are English monolingual or weak in ethnic identity. These findings strongly suggest that 1.5-generation students who came to this country at an early age usually have advantages over both immigrant and native-born students in academic achievements.
Multiculturalism, along with globalization, also gives the 1.5 generation equipped with bilingual and bicultural skills advantages in the job market. I know many 1.5-generation scholars of Asian ancestry who are successful in Asian American or Asian area studies. No doubt, their bilingual and bicultural abilities and their linkages with Asian immigrant communities and Asian countries have facilitated their research activities. The job market advantages of the 1.5 generation are not limited to the academic field. Several years ago, a 1.5-generation Korean-American woman who completed a college education at Yale University majoring in music was struggling to find a meaningful job. Visiting my office, she expressed her interest in pursuing a Ph.D. program in Asian American studies. But a few weeks later she called me, telling me that she found a position in a major bank in Manhattan. By virtue of her Korean language skills, she found a position in the bank’s Asian department. Some 1.5-generation Korean and Chinese Americans who found positions in finance companies in Manhattan have moved to their company branches located in Hong Kong and Seoul with extra incentive packages. Their bilingual ability and knowledge of Asian countries have helped them serve in Asian branches.
Through a rigorous ethnic education at home, some native-born second-generation Americans can be as fluent in their mother tongue and as well versed in ethnic culture as the 1.5 generation. But 1.5-generation adults possess unique things that native-born American adults do not. These are their experiences in their home country and their memories of life there during their early years. When they left their home country before ten, their memories may take the form of “snapshot images,” as Mary Yu Danico pointed out in her book The 1.5 Generation (2004). If they came to this country as teenagers, they can have clearer memories. But, whether vague or clear, these memories of traditional customs, foods, dresses, holidays, rural scenes, traditional arts, and their own experiences in the home country can be important sources for their artistic imaginations.
For example, Seung Lee, a Korean-born abstract expressionist painter and professor at Long Island University, left his homeland at 15. At 47, he has a vague memory of his poverty-stricken childhood in a Korean village. But, he said, his memory of cottages, farmers, cows, and playing with his friends on the hills around the village gave him ideas for his paintings. Jena Kim, another 1.5-generation Korean artist who lives in Queens and is now in her early thirties, said that screen paintings of the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910) indirectly influenced her landscape paintings. But both 1.5ers emphasize that their artworks are oriented toward general American viewers rather than Korean or Korean-American viewers. Nam June Paik was a famous Korean-born New York-based video artist who died of stroke on January 2006. He left Korea at the age of 16 and lived in Hong Kong, Japan and Germany before he settled in New York City in 1964. Although his video artworks reflect his international frame of mind, South Korea, his birth country, has probably had the most significant effects on him. He used Korean and Chinese characters as well as English in his video works. He inserted arirang, the most popular Korean folk song, in his famous TV Bra for Living Sculpture. In another famous work, Something Pacific, Paik introduced a statue of a sitting Buddha in a close circuit television.
Helped by transnational ties facilitated by technological advances and globalization, Korean American artists in New York City have had exhibitions of their artworks in Seoul as well as here. By virtue of their bilingual skills and of Korean images reflected in their work, 1.5-generation Korean artists have advantages over second-generation artists in exhibiting their artworks in Korea. Seung Lee has had exhibitions of his paintings in Seoul over the past five consecutive years, while the young Korean artist Jena Kim began exhibiting in her home country just last year. Of course, Nam June Paik’s video works have been exhibited in Korea numerous times. Frequent exhibitions of their artworks in Korea and their visits to Korea for the exhibitions have further strengthened these 1.5-generation Korean artists’ linkages to the homeland, this time a post-industrial Korea, which is radically different from the one they left behind two, three or four decades ago. Lee said that contemporary Seoul is so similar to New York City in urban culture that he has been thus far unable to develop any idea from his present-day experiences in Korea for his paintings. But he emphasized that his frequent visits to Seoul helped him develop social networks with a group of artists in Korea. He has also invited many artists from Seoul for exhibitions in New York City. He predicts that his networks with artists in Korea will be strengthened in the future. Thus he is likely to work increasingly as a transnational artist between New York City and Seoul. Many other Korean and non-Korean 1.5-generation artists will gradually expand their transnational artistic activities between their host and home cities.