American Life In The Eyes Of A First Generation Kid: Why You Should Be Proud Of Your Origins

by Jacklyn Kouefati

Oh, good ol’ America. It's known for many glorious things, including McDonald's, Playboy bunnies and of course, the brilliant colors of red, white and blue.

Unlike my parents, my two brothers and I were born and raised in America. My mother was born in Europe and came to America when she was 5 years old; while my father was born in the Middle East and came to this country when he was 9 years old.

This means that my brothers and I are actually the first generation Americans, which is pretty cool when you think about it.

Growing up with foreign parents wasn’t always easy, as there were simple tasks that they (mostly my father) simply couldn’t understand. My mother is really Americanized and if anything, has a slight New Jersey accent. But, I digress.

Most of my friends had American parents, which made going to their houses a true treat. I used to get teased as a kid in elementary school because all I wanted was a PB&J sandwich — like everyone else — but there was no white bread in my house, so my mother would make it with two pieces of pita bread. I can assure you that this doesn’t taste the same -- at all.

As I said before, there were just certain things my father did not understand, like sleepovers, for example. They’re pretty much an activity for American teenage girls, right? Well, when I would ask his him if I could have a sleepover with a friend, he would say, “Your brothers never had sleepovers at your age. Why do you want to have one?” It was truly sad.

Have your new friends ever just stared at your parents immediately after being introduced? Until someone explained the reasoning behind this to me, I had no idea why. Turns out that it was because of my father’s accent.

My first reaction was always to be defensive. “What do you mean you don’t understand him? I understand every word he says!” Well, that’s because he raised me. It never occurred to me that other people wouldn’t understand a family member of mine.

The DJ at every party I had growing up played some music I liked but also played music from my parents’ home countries. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know the words; they, along with my aunts and uncles, knew the music and since they were in attendance at my parties, their music was played. Yes, I wanted to hide in embarrassment when all of my friends had confused looks on their faces, but I couldn’t stop it.

Also, most American children play sports. Football, baseball, softball, cheerleading — whatever it may be, all of your American friends played a sport and probably more than one. Some of my cousins weren’t allowed to play any sports. It may sound crazy, but to their parents, it wasn’t. Their parents wanted the children to be home, not running around kicking/chasing/hitting some ball.

Luckily, I was allowed to play soccer and did so for 11 years.

If you were fortunate enough to play a sport, don’t expect your foreign parents to attend games, and if they do, don’t expect them to understand what the hell is happening. My parents didn’t attend any of my sports games, but it was fine, as it meant that I could go with my best friend.

Sometimes, though, my parents went to my brother’s football games and when they did, my mother would ask my father to film the game. I cannot quantify how much footage we have of the empty side of the football field because my father couldn’t find the ball or where the players were.

I was raised strictly Catholic and went to church every single Sunday. There was never an excuse. You could have the flu, some sort of athletic game or be missing a limb; it didn’t matter, you were going to church and that was that.

Once mass started, you better shut your mouth. My brothers and I learned this the hard way. All one of us had to do was utter one itty bitty giggle or one almost silent sigh to get “the look" -- you know, the “if you don’t stop I’m gonna kill you” look. The minute that look happened, you stopped whatever you were doing and stared at the altar, praying to God that your parents would forget what you just did that warranted “the look.”

Being the first generation in a family can be a little strange, but it certainly has its perks.

You are likely to experience a lot of firsts in your family, like being the first to graduate from college or the first to get a job that doesn’t involve manual labor. (Not that there’s anything wrong with manual labor; working behind a computer is just so much cleaner.)

I love my family. Even though some of our traditions may be different… and our food… and our accents, these things make my family special. Embrace your culture, whether it is from a different country or from America. It’s unique and makes you, you.

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