First or Second Generation?

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Designating the first of a generation to become a citizen in a new country
Designating the first of a generation to be born in a country of parents who had immigrated
– a first-generation Canadian whose parents were born on a farm in Vietnam
Designating the first version of a type made available
– first-generation descrambler technology

1. Of or relating to a person or persons whose parents are immigrants.
2. Of or relating to a person or persons whose parents are citizens by birth and whose grandparents are immigrants.
3. Of, relating to, or being the second form or version available to users: a second-generation Web browser.

I had to look up a definition of myself.

First-generation. That’s what I’ve always called myself. But recently I questioned if I was misusing the term. I remember telling a new acquaintance that I was Polish American.

“Oh so your great-grandparents came over?” she said.
“No, my parents.” I responded.
“So your grandparents came on the boat.” She replied.
“No, my parents did. Well, mom via freight boat. Dad came on Pan Am two years later.” I said.
“So you’re Second Generation.” She concluded.

I became puzzled. Was I first-generation or second-generation? My parents arrived in the United States as adults in the mid1960s. My two older brothers and I were born in the United States and grew up bi-lingual and bi-cultural. Was I naively calling myself one thing, when I was actually another? I had to look it up. This was the first time I had to look something up about myself that I didn’t intrinsically know. Who was I telling people I was? And why was it becoming more important for me?

I guess up until that moment, I hadn’t noted the importance of defining it. I’ve always considered myself first-generation because my brothers and I were the first-generation born in the United States. That makes perfect sense to me. After some research I discovered that technically, my parents, my brothers and I can all refer to ourselves as first-generation. We all share the same definition. At the same time my siblings and I can also jump tracks and be called second-generation too. But who wants to be second in anything? I hereby, proclaim myself as first-generation.

It’s important for me to know so that I am conscious of how closely woven my parents’ past is to my present life. As a child, trying to understand the duality of cultures was like trying to look down at my own nose. The more I understand what defined my parents, the more I understand myself. During a writing workshop two years ago, a teacher assigned us the task of writing our life memoir in only six words.

I wrote: Could have been born in Poland.

Every once in a while that fact floors me.

Becoming Mom and Dad

I’m freezing bread. I just noticed today.

I jabbed a knife into the icy crest of some whole grain and recognized the routine of my parents. As soon as I heard the soft suction of the freezer door sealing shut, I panicked that I was eating lunch at 10:30am like my parents. I wasn’t. It was well after noon but here I was, frozen bread in hand. Who am I? I am thawing bread for a sandwich. I have disliked freezing food of any kind. Mostly because I don’t have the patience to thaw.  And yet, next to my ice cube trays I have two loaves of bread. Isn’t this a little too soon? The freezing. The bread. Becoming my parents? I’m not even 40 yet.

There are enough Rye breads in my mom’s freezer to build a dam levy. For lunch, she takes out the number of slices she needs, makes her and my dad a sandwich and puts the tea kettle on. One time I saw my Dad trying to gnaw into a piece. When I pointed out that it was STILL FROZEN, my mom’s response was “wait few minutes.” I looked at my dad and shrugged my shoulders. They eat bread so often that I wouldn’t think they need to freeze it. But my mom buys food at the Polish deli like she has the apocalypse on her mind or that she’ll be suddenly entertaining a dozen of unannounced guests, so I guess it has to stay preserved somehow.

They have a point. Becuase I hate it when on Sunday mornings I reach into the plastic bag and find a rock hard slice of stale bread. Secondly, I have repeatedly learned the expensive lesson that $5 organic English muffins can and will get moldy the day after I buy them. Sometimes I fear they are even molding in my car on the way home from the grocery store. Is that the powdery dust of the flour or the beginnings of penicillin? I started thinking that I ought to take into account the power of the freezer and ‘wait few minutes.’
I rarely have moldy bread in my garbage now.

Although I still don’t know how to prevent a baguette from turning into a baton.