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Second Generation

Second Generation

Secretary of State Colin Powell speaking to graduates of the City College of New York, c. 2000’s.

Although many immigrants have trouble learning English and never fully adapt to America, their American born children are more familiar with American culture and more adept at English. Some want to blend into mainstream American culture, while others retain a distinct ethnic identity. 

Growing up, the children of immigrants are influenced both by the culture of their parents and by American culture.  They synthesize the two and create something new.   In the early 20th century, settlement houses like the Lenox Neighborhood House, provided social services and helped the children of immigrants “become Americans.”  Arab-American girls in Dearborn, Michigan, today wear National Basketball Association jerseys along with the hijab, revealing how traditional and mainstream cultures coexist.

Second Generation

A Palestinian teenager roller blading in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 1999.

Second-generation children often come into conflict with their immigrant parents because they adopt more of American culture and break away from the traditions of their parents.  In recent years, immigrant communities have stayed in closer communication with their homelands through cable and satellite television, frequent airplane flights and the Internet.  While this makes it possible for the second generation to retain a stronger ethnic identity, at the same time, television, movies, and the Internet create a powerful homogenizing force, pulling the children of immigrants into American mass culture.


Some of the second generation has climbed the ladder of success in a wide variety of fields.  One of the best known children of immigrants is Colin Powell, a son of Jamaican immigrants who took advantage of the opportunities provided to him by the City College of New York and the U.S. Armed Forces to build a distinguished career of public service, rising to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. Secretary of State.

Second Generation

Children of Korean immigrants playing street hockey in East Lansing, Mich., c. 2000.