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Portraits of A Generation:

Children of Immigrants 


2012-present


Originally published in the New York Times Sunday Review.
Check it out here!

There are around 20 million adult, American-born children of immigrants living in the United States. I am one of them. I am the daughter of two immigrant mothers from Peru and Argentina. My roots are not directly below me, beneath this ground that I stand on, but instead reach to many parts of the world. I grew up in San Francisco, moving constantly from house to house, sometimes in homes filled with other families. I quickly learned to adapt. I became a traveler, just as my mothers are, and just as many immigrants are travelers whose wandering feet and thoughts are never still.

Technically, I am an American, but that label doesn’t quite seem to fit. For much of my childhood I felt tension between the culture I was immersed in at school and the culture that my mothers kept alive within our home, the one I returned to each night. I ate milanesas and lomo saltado, while my friends at school had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and spoke about their excitement for a holiday I never celebrated, Thanksgiving. I spoke Spanish until I felt too different from others. When I began primarily speaking English, people were shocked whenever they heard a pale girl say, “yo soy latina.” That’s when I started to feel neither South American nor North American. I was stuck in an uncomfortable in-between, a place from which I am still trying to free myself.

In discussions about children of immigrants, scholars often deal with statistics, but rarely with the actual individuals who have their own voices and ideas of identification. We are more than numbers, more than the reports that analyze our educational attainment and economic standing.

This continuing portrait series is inspired by conversations I’ve had with children of immigrants over the past two years. The people I met talked about their childhoods and how they defined American culture. They reflected on self-identification and the imbalance of cultural identity. And they looked at how the label "children of immigrants" affects the members of that community.

“A lot of the time, being a child of immigrants means constantly having to defend your place as an ‘American,’” said Alex Santana, a Spanish- and Dominican-American. By deconstructing our cultural identities, our childhoods, and the ways in which some people misrepresent us, we are reclaiming our individuality.

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"Something that I haven’t been able to call my own lately is my last name, just because I feel like I haven’t earned it. I feel like religion was lost on me because I ate meat and could never speak my parents’ native language, and that was always hard growing up with. I was kind of the black sheep of the family."
— Akshai Ajit, 21, Indian-American

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"Funny enough, most of the kids I grew up around were of Russian descent. And oddly enough, I felt a much bigger disconnect with them than I did with any of my American friends. Growing up, I always felt like the Russian kids didn’t have as much respect for their heritage as I did. I found much more solace being the Russian one among my Puerto Rican, Italian, Polish, Ghanaian and American friends. The amalgamation of cultures and backgrounds made for such a richer experience."
— Sasha Kazachkova, 19, Russian-American

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"When others ask, ‘Where are you from?’ I tend to respond with ‘New Jersey.’ Usually, they are never satisfied with that answer because for them, it does not explain why I have the last name I have, why my hair is so conspicuously curly, why my skin is brown, and why I am able to speak Spanish."
— Alex Santana, 21, Spanish- and Dominican-American

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"Growing up was definitely a mix of two worlds, Indian and American. At times, I have felt caught in the middle of the two, but it’s one of those things that you learn to find your way through ... It definitely takes mental fortitude to know where you stand and what you want to stand by. I can now stand for more than one thing."
— Taher Hassonjee, 22, Indian-American

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"I think that where you are at the present is the most important, but at the same time it’s essential to not let go of where you’ve been. You should not have to let go of your roots to be a part of American society."
— Avnee, 22, British- and Indian-American

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Studio Portraits

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