As a school, we take pride in our commitment to diversity and inclusion, and as a result, a large percentage of our student body are first-generation Americans. In fact, roughly 36% of KO students said that they were first-generation Americans, according to surveys done by seniors Juanita Asapokhai and Madeline Pelletier.
But what exactly are first-generation Americans? The term “first-generation” can either refer to an immigrant, who has relocated and become a citizen, or a person who is the first in his or her family to be a naturally born citizen in a new country. Since its founding, the United States has garnered a reputation for being a land of new beginnings and opportunities, a quality that attracts people from many other foreign countries. Most commonly, immigrants come to the U.S. in hopes of a better future for their children.
Senior Yusuf Rashid said that his parents made the leap from Pakistan to the U.S. so their six children could have a better education and live more successful lives. He said he understands the difficult process of assimilation that both of his parents endured for him and his siblings. “I will always be grateful for the sacrifices my parents made by coming to the US,” said Yusuf. “They left very different lives back in Pakistan and embarked into a new chapter of their lives in a foreign land. For my father, it was hard for him to support a family while quitting his original veterinarian career and attending University while juggling multiple minimum pay jobs.”
The transition from a foreign country to the U.S. is very strenuous and risky, even with the country’s reputation for being a large cultural melting pot. After witnessing the Naturalization Ceremony at KO on Nov. 5th, senior Nick Choo, who was born in Singapore and then naturalized to the U.S. as a child, said that he reflected on the difficult processes that his parents went through. “I was thinking about it during the naturalization ceremony as it was something my parents went through to provide me and my siblings a better opportunity and life here in the U.S.,” Nick said. “It made me truly realize the hard work and sacrifices they put in for me. After seeing the faces of the people who were being naturalized, I [understood] just how important an American citizenship was.”
Despite the difficulties of cultural assimilation, Nick feels well connected to both his Korean heritage as well as American culture. Nick said that every year he tries to visit countries in Asia; so far, he has been to Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Mongolia, and China.
Similarly, to better connect to his heritage and spend time with family, Yusuf also said that he visits Pakistan for two to three months every year. In the U.S., Yusuf finds other ways to stay rooted in Pakistani culture such as speaking Urdu, the national language of Pakistan. “While I am in the US, I am still just as connected to my Pakistani culture,” Yusuf said. “I talk in Urdu with my family, I eat Pakistani food, I watch Pakistani news, I also have many Pakistani-American friends which at times, help me remember who I am.”
Even though Yusuf has a cross-cultural upbringing, he said he still feels like he belongs in the U.S. “Although at times it feels like my identity is split between two cultures, at the end of the day, I have learned to be content with my background and be proud that I am different,” Yusuf said. “Many people do not have the opportunity to experience more than one culture and if anything, see society through, two different perspectives.”
Overall, both Nick and Yusuf said they are proud of their heritage and are grateful for the sacrifices that their parents made for them, a sentiment which is shared by many other first-generation Americans nationwide.
“I love being a first-gen American as it allows me to see the world through more than one perspective,” Yusuf said. “I will forever be grateful for the sacrifices made for me by my parents coming to the U.S.”