Are First-Generation Americans Foreign?

By Martin Garcia 

Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” is the perfect representation of millennials. I speak of this show because there is one specific episode that resonated with me more than anything I had ever seen on television before. Episode Two of this series approaches the nuances of being a first-generation American citizen and how they (as newcomers to this Western world) navigate life. I only speak of this specific episode is because it was a moment in television where I felt like I was being accurately represented and understood. This episode made me think of all the sacrifices my parents had to make so that I could live the life I have today. It gave me a deeper appreciation for my parents.

Born and raised in Northern Virginia, I have had a drastically different upbringing compared to my parents. Growing up, my father’s family lived in an abandoned movie theater on the small island of Bohol in the Philippines. My dad was a paperboy delivering newspapers for less than minimum wage. And here I am growing up in Northern Virginia, with everything I could have ever wanted. However, I wanted more. I wanted reciprocated love that I saw in my friends’ households. In (most) Asian cultures, parents are stereotyped to give “tough” love to their children. This tough love is defined by priorities, where school is the top priority and everything else comes second. I would compare this to my white friends who I had met at private school. Their parents would wear their love on their sleeves. Kisses, hugs, “I love you” – a type of affection my parents had never shown me growing up. But, like I said, all the sacrifices they had to make exemplifies unconditional love coming from my parents. They might not openly show it, but it’s clear that they love me. As I’ve seen them navigating American culture, they’ve indoctrinated that display of love I saw with my white friends as a child. While a good thing, my psyche was conjuring up more complex life questions.

As time went on, I would start to ask myself questions like, “Who do I associate with, my traditional Filipino parents, or my friends’ white, American parents?” I think this is the question that all first-generation Americans have to answer. We have the ability to go one way or the other and fully define ourselves. I’ve met Asian-Americans who have wildly indoctrinated Westernized (albeit Southern) culture of prep and proper with predominately white friends. On the other extreme, I’ve seen Asian-Americans with themselves (and only) themselves. Neither of these extremes are ideal – you don’t want to fully discount your heritage, but also you don’t want to fully close yourself off from the rest of the world. There needs to be a middle ground. And that’s what I struggled with growing up in a world that is foreign to my parents, but essentially home for me. If I’m being honest, this is something that I still struggle with today. Amidst this struggle, day by day, I’m learning more about myself, the world around me, and my part in it.

Racism is alive and well in the United States of America. Fortunately, in the life I’ve lived in Northern Virginia, I have only had a handful of racial slurs spoken towards me. However, that does not mean it still does not hurt and offend me. I’ve met many people who defend their actions, saying that they are “just words” and that it’s a joke. This isn’t all about being politically correct. It is truly about being a respectable human. Some jokes just need to be left unsaid, and I try to let the people around me know that. I don’t want this ignorance spreading among my peers. Here is my two cents: if you hear or read racism, intervene. People speaking up will stop the circular acceptance of racism. It is uncomfortable at first, but isn’t it also uncomfortable having feelings of angst and resentment repressed in your psyche?

I want to thank Aziz Ansari for showing the world what being foreign in America really means. He really hit the hypothetical nail on the hypothetical head. If you haven’t seen his show, at least watch Episode Two. It basically sums up my thoughts, but with more eloquence, wit, and humor – as Aziz always has a knack of doing.

Martin Garcia is a Filipino-American residing in Northern Virginia as an IT Consultant for the U.S. Government.


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