First-Gen Immigrant Students at Lockport


Written by Samantha Bradley, Features Editor

What is a first-generation immigrant? Someone who has at least one parent from a foreign country would be considered a first-gen immigrant.

Many first-gen immigrants grow up in homes where English is their second language. They might have to help guide their parents through a new country and take on the role of a translator.

You can’t tell if someone is a first generation immigrant just by looking at them, but asking them about their stories can tell you a whole lot about what it is like to be first-gen.

One Lockport student, who wished to remain anonymous, shared the story of her parents moving from Lithuania when they were twenty-eight years old. They weren’t planning on moving away, but surprisingly won a lottery to move to the United States and took the opportunity. They knew no prior English before moving here, and had a very hard time learning it. This student says she “loves being a first-generation immigrant and it has only positively affected her life.” She gets to travel to Lithuania each summer to visit family and speak a second language. Although her parents do need help with filling out documents and things like that, they both have successful lives and careers as immigrants in America.

Ingrid Garcia, whose parents moved from Mexico, says she has learned many lessons from her parents’ experiences. Ingrid’s grandmother sent her dad to live with a family member in America so he could go to American high school. Her mom moved with her family in her early 20’s to escape violence going on nearby. Ingrid’s dad knew no English going into American high school, but he was able to learn basic English over time. Her mom had a very hard time learning English, and still has very little understanding, so she needs Ingrid to help translate for her. Ingrid shared that helping translate for her mom since she was little helped give her confidence, stronger communication skills, and made her feel smarter since she is able to switch between languages. She feels frustrated by how her mom is treated as less intelligent by society because she speaks little English, when really, Ingrid says, she is just as smart as anyone else. Ingrid wants people to know that the gift of knowing another language is beautiful and can connect you with the world.

Samantha Reese’s mom moved from Mexico when she was ten years old because her grandmother married someone in the US military. She only knew Spanish when she moved and had to quickly learn English. Since she didn’t speak the predominant language at her school, she was often bullied and had a difficult time making friends. Today, Samantha’s mom is independent in America. Her grandmother still needs help with tasks such as finding words and describing things. Which Samantha says, can be frustrating, but she also takes it lightly and finds the humor in translating through a language gap. Samantha says because of her mom, Spanish was much easier for her to learn. Now Samantha has friends in Mexico she is able to communicate with. She is also grateful for the rare opportunity she was given to learn about a culture not from a book or movie, but from experience.

The stories of these three Lockport students only touch the surface of the vast stories and lessons countless our first-generation immigrant students have learned at home. Experiencing another language and culture at home is a beautiful experience and deserves to be celebrated!