Immigrants power America. For over a century, their sacrifices have paved the road of economic success and cultural inclusion in the United States.
Over the last few decades, the seeds planted by immigrant parents have been harvested by their children. While met with their own unique challenges, second-generation immigrants have furthered their parents’ legacy in remarkable ways.
Following a comparison of the lives of immigrant parents and their children, we will explore the lives of second-generation immigrants through three key perspectives: their sense of identity, their role in business, and their involvement in politics.
Key Differences Between First and Second-Generation Immigrants
According to the Pew Research Center, second-generation immigrants represent about 10% of the adult population. As their presence in the United States grows, so does their standard of living.
Over 67% of second-generation Hispanics claim their quality of life is superior to that of their parents at the same stage of life. Over 75% of second-generation Asian Americans say the same.
These larger statistics are driven by growth in three fundamental categories: education, income, and homeownership.
Second-generation immigrants are more highly educated than immigrant adults (and the overall U.S. population). In fact, 36% of second-generation immigrants have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 29 percent of immigrants and 31 percent of all American adults.
Second-generation immigrants have a median household income of $58,100 a year. That’s over 25% higher than the median income of foreign-born adults, who average $45,800.
Compared to first-generation immigrant adults, second-generation immigrants are far more likely to be homeowners. According to Pew Research, the homeownership rate for second-generation immigrants is 64%, compared to 51% for first-generation immigrant adults.
Statistically, second-generation immigrants are fulfilling and surpassing the dreams of their parents. But how do these numbers reflect in the culture at large? And what is the actual experience of being a second-generation immigrant in 2021?
Identity: How Second-Generation Embrace America
While they have greater opportunities than first-generation immigrants, second-generation immigrants face unique challenges. Despite being born in the United States, second-generation immigrants stand with their feet in two different worlds.
Thanks to their parents, they know the language, traditions, and customs of their home culture. Yet, because they were born in the United States, they often feel more committed to advancing in America than preserving their connection to their homeland.
This struggle for identity can be especially fierce between immigrant parents and their children.
As the BBC described in a recent profile on a Bengali immigrant family, “what represents personal progress for the second generation can feel, for the first [generation], like a further untethering from the homeland they left.”
While this cultural conflict can strain families, many second-generation immigrants appear to enthusiastically embrace their lives in the United States. In 2013, Pew Research Center found that 60% of second-generation immigrants consider themselves “typical Americans.” In fact, nearly 37% of second-generation Hispanics claim to most frequently describe themselves as American.
Instead of believing they are “stuck” between two worlds, many second-generation immigrants believe that they have the very best of both worlds. They have witnessed their parents’ struggle, benefited from the opportunities bestowed them, and developed deeper emotional intelligence along the way.
As Sadiya Ansari, a Pakistani-Canadian journalist, recently described,
“As a child, I saw my immigrant parents subjected to many other small cruelties, like being treated differently from me because of their accents… It was a window into another world, an experience other than my own, and it cultivated a gift that has shaped me in profound ways: empathy. “
This empathy and understanding has become a hallmark trait of second-generation immigrants.
Business: Second-Generation Immigrants In The Workforce
Equipped with a multicultural perspective, it’s no wonder second-generation immigrants are so dominant in business.
As a leading benchmark of corporate success, the Fortune 500 ranks America’s businesses by annual revenue. Unsurprisingly, second-generation immigrants comprise an increasingly large share of the Fortune 500.
According to the Center for American Entrepreneurship, nearly 25% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by second-generation immigrants. As of 2017, companies owned by first and second-generation immigrants employed over 12 million workers and produced over $5.3 trillion in global revenue.
According to a 2019 report by The New American Economy, these trends are expected to continue as first and second-generation immigrants approach a 50% share of the Fortune 500.
Politics: Second-Generation Immigrants in Government
In addition to advancing in business, second-generation immigrants are also blazing political trails.
In many regards, Vice President Kamala Harris is the face of second-generation immigrants in America. The daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, Harris’ political ascendency marks a watershed moment in American history.
While her election received the most attention in 2020, several other second-generation immigrants won political races across the United States.
Kesha Ram, the daughter of an Indian immigrant father, became the first woman of color in the Vermont state Senate. Iman Jodeh, daughter of Palestinian refugees, became the first Muslim lawmaker in Colorado.
As America’s demography becomes increasingly multicultural, the children of immigrants will play an increasingly visible role in American politics.
According to Say Bhoiwani, Founder of New American Leaders, “They’re redefining and helping us reimagine what an American leader looks like. They are reflecting the full breadth of the American experience.”
It’s clear the positive influence of second-generation immigrants has only just begun.
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