Growing up as a Polish first generation kid, there were a lot of things that I went through that most of my “American” friends did not experience nor understand. There’s a big cultural difference between first gen and the American born and raised kids such as upbringing, language boundaries, food differences, and other struggles. However, growing up this way definitely made me appreciate my family more and stay true to my roots! Here are a few things that only first gen kids would understand growing up this way.
1. Respect Towards Adults
Not that non first gen kids don’t do this, but growing up, I was always taught to treat adults with the upmost respect. This included calling them always “Mr. or Mrs.” and never by their first name. Talking rudely or giving attitude was also a death sentence. Comparing American friends who throw tantrums and yell at their parents, I would just imagine what my mother would do to me if I even tried to do something like that…the stare would be enough!
Getting those weird stares during lunch from the other kids when you would have the weird food from home vs. a pizza was always fun. When inviting your friends over you always had to explain what each food creation was and had to assure them they would like it. Your parents yelling at you when you brought home McDonald’s instead of eating your homemade Polish food at home. You get the picture!
3. Translating…Literally Everything
Another thing American kids don’t understand is the hardships faced by first gen kids when being the translator for your family. Being bilingual can be very beneficial but can also be a pain in the but when having to translate everything that is being said on TV to your parents. When you’re having friends over, your family usually tries to communicate to them by using their hands and broken English so of course this is where you come in to help with the language boundary!
4. A Whole Lot Of “Firsts”
Since your parents most likely went to school in their country, you basically have to figure out the college thing on your own. Everything from school systems, college applications, finding a job etc. all of it is super foreign to your family so unfortunately you have to learn the process yourself. The cool thing is that you will likely be the first in your family to achieve really big things like completing college in America!
5. Hearing That Hardship Story From Your Parents
Another thing that most first gen kids can relate to is hearing how lucky and privileged you are over and over again from your parents. Anything you complain about will pretty much lead to the same hardship story from them about how they had to hike mountains to school, deal with communism, or work since they were 12 back in their home country. Granted there is a lot to be thankful for due to the fact that they decided to immigrate to America!
6. Big Expectations
…And because they had it so hard back in their country and you have it so easy in America, you can bet that your parents expect a hell lot more from you compared to your American friends. This can be getting the best grades at school, getting that perfect job, the perfect boyfriend etc. You know that it is because they want you to have a better life than they did right?
7. Culturally Similar Friends and Significant Others
“You’re Polish? I’m Polish too!” It is always so satisfying finding friends who come from the same background as you. You can relate to so much more than your other friends because of the same situations you go through. Plus you can always secretly communicate in your other language. Finding that significant other that has the same cultural background can make life a lot easier on you and family as well for obvious cultural reasons…as if it already wasn’t expected of you to marry someone like that.
8. “Say Something In Your Language!”
You lost count of the number times when you mentioned you are [ insert nationality] and someone asked you to say something in your language…and then they try to pronounce the word or phrase unsuccessfully.
9. “You Have An Accent”
It is always a fun time hearing from your family that you have an American accent when you try to speak their language…well no duh I was born here! Then your American friends on the other hand claim you have a foreign accent come out when you speak English.
10. Closeness To Family
One of the biggest things that most first gen kids can relate to is how close you are to family. Usually family is a big thing to you and no matter what, you tend to stick together through thick and thin. Mom always wants to make sure you are okay when going out (and sometimes texts/calls a bit too much), but you always know that your fam has your back when you need it!