I first heard the term “1.5 Generation” when I was working on a story last year about an undocumented student.
Tania Santiago moved to Redmond from Mexico City when she was 5 years old. From the very beginning, the circumstances of her arrival made her hyper-aware of where she came from and where she’d ended up.
While she was born in Mexico, she’s spent the majority of her life in the U.S. Logistically, it means she’s not entirely American.
But culturally, it means she’s not entirely Mexican.
As a result, she’d grown to identify herself as just that — something in between. She called herself a “1.5er.”
At its most basic definition, the term describes a population of immigrants who arrived in the US before adolescence.
According to data from Migration Information Source, there were 38.5 million foreign-born individuals living in the United States in 2009. The number includes naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary visa holders, and undocumented immigrants.
At the heart of the figure is a generation of children who exist between two nations, cultures, and identities — from all over the world.
“Some people [of the 1.5 generation] describe themselves to me as really having no identity; they neither belong here nor belong in another place,” says Kathie Friedman, associate professor of international studies at the UW’s Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies.
Friedman taught two courses on the demographic and conducted interviews of 1.5ers while researching Bosnian refugees. She says the definition was first formed in 1920 by sociologists Florian Znaniecki and W.I. Thomas, who referred to the “half-second generation,” as a group of foreign-born children undergoing adolescence in America. It’s since been used to describe the demographic throughout history, though the definition hasn’t really changed much.
The term refers to a specific age group, but Friedman says the group can’t be pinpointed to just one characteristic. Their experiences can be shaped by race, ethnicity, accent — even literal citizenship status, like in Santiago’s case.
This project captures a few stories from America’s Generation 1.5, in their own words.
Imana Gunawan, 19
An Huyhn, 22
Jessica Oscoy, 22
Mexico City, Mexico
Moses Chege, 18
Joon Yi, 21