Sunday, April 22, 2007

Generation 1.5 (a different kind of generation gap)

For those who aren't sure and afraid to ask, I am second-generation Asian-American. Specifically, American-born Chinese (ABC). Both my parents were born in Guangzhou (Canton) in Guangdong province, which is the ancestral province to many of the first Chinese to settle in the United States.

As broadcasted across the media prominently last week, Seung-Hui Cho was identified as the lone gunman in the Virginia Tech University shooting. Cho was a Korean-American who came to United States with his family in 1992. What also has been noted not so prominently is that Cho was considered among Koreans-Americans as someone who was "Generation 1.5", a person who arrived in the United States during school age (Cho was 8).

Up until the Virginia Tech shooting, I'd only known of generations in whole numbers. Japanese have specific names of generations (Issei, Nisei, Sansei, and Yonsei). I think "Generation 1.5" is a far more accurate description of those who arrive at school age. Because they didn't arrive as adults, many successfully integrate into American society and we often forget their birthplace wasn't in the United States.

But as I think about friends and family, Generation 1.5 probably has the largest gap of how much integration immigrants have in American society. The younger the age, the more integrated the person becomes. For example, my mom arrived in her teens, but Cantonese (Toisan) is still her first language. My cousin David arrived at the age of 4 and speaks limited Cantonese.

The lack of integration for Generation 1.5'ers is what can make life difficult. Culture and lifestyle at home versus school or work can be vastly different. It's difficult to know where you do or don't fit in. And this is where I think Seung-Hui Cho failed miserably. Fortunately, the vast majority who suffer as he did don't go on shooting rampages and kill innocent people.

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