Panel Details Lives Lived Out in One and a Half Portions


Between the immigrant and the assimilated is the one and a halfer, the ones caught between their parent's homeland dreams and the stronger and stronger pull to leave that behind.

There's growing talk and research about this 1.5 immigrant generation. My colleague Leslie Berestein Rojas recently moderated an intense talk about the topic at KPCC.

Story continues below

She opened the event by talking about her perceptions of home country as a young child. She believed the Southern California she grew up in was Cuba. Everyone around her spoke Cuban accented Spanish, the talk was usually about the home country's politics, she ate Cuban food, and listened culture and music that surrounded her was Cuban. Then at some point the film turned from color to black and white, or the other way around, I'll have to ask her. She realized she didn't live in Cuba.

The three people on the panel talked of the Korean, Salvadoran, and Filipino versions of this experience.

A 1.5 immigrant is one who comes to this country roughly between the ages of five and eight years old. By that age many of the formative experiences, such as language acquisition and first years of school and making friends, have taken place in the home country. Panelist Leisy Abrego, a UCLA researcher, is a 1.5 generation poster child even though her experience is a bit different. She was born in the U.S. to Salvadoran immigrants and was sent to El Salvador so her mother could work several jobs in L.A. Abrego returned to the U.S. years later a strong Salvadoran on her way to find her American identity.

For Cal Poly Pomona professor Mary Yu Danico language is what keeps her connected as a one and a halfer to her parents' Korean culture. Danico was told she spoke Korean with a Japanese accent and found out it was because her mother, while ethnically Korean, was born in Japan. Her father preferred speaking English to Danico. So the lines between Korean language, culture, and Danico's mother overlapped in many ways. So when Danico's mother died about a year ago Danico worried what would happen to her Koreaness. Would it die on the vine now that her mother was gone?

During the question and answer portion I told the panel that I really disliked translating real estate documents for my parents when I was nine years old. Abrego responded that many 1.5 generation kids are put into unusual positions of responsibility. On the one hand, she said, it builds a child's communications skills. On the other hand, being put in these positions of adult responsibility robs a bit of the childhood.

Abrego and other researchers are delving deeper into the world of one and a halfers, worlds lived out in multiple languages, in multiple nations, on U.S. soil.

Poet and KPCC Reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading