The “In-betweens”

By Mary Nga Nguyen

If you live in Canada, chances are you have heard of the first and second immigrant generations. While the concepts of these generations are straightforward, recent literature has begun to create further categories such as the 1.5 and 2.5 generations. These generations are being called the “in-betweens” because they do not fit into the already existing generations. To be a 1.5 generationer you would have been born outside of Canada, and immigrated to Canada before the age of 15. A 2.5 generationer is an individual who was born in Canada with one non-Canadian born parent, and one Canadian born. These generations differ from the first and second generation because the 1.5 generation has a combination of the first generation experience, such as living in their native country then immigrating to a new country, and like the second generation experience, growing up with culture clashes. The 2.5 generation also differs because these individuals have the benefit of one Canadian parent as opposed to two migrant parents, and these individuals are often biracial children.

With the varying generations, there have been concerns whether there would be problems with children getting in touch with their cultural heritage. Lan Nguyen-Syniak does not believe this to be a problem. If you ask Lan’s two daughters what their ethnicity is, they would reply that they are Vietnamese, causing people to do a double-take because of their Caucasian features. Lan, being a 1.5 generationer, believes that it is important for her to socialize her daughters to understand her heritage because it is a significant part of her identity. At the age of 9, Lan escaped Vietnam on a narrow boat with her mother and younger brother. While at sea they encountered pirates, but were fortunate to escape unharmed. Her boat was later recovered and the passengers were placed in a refugee camp in Hong Kong where she resided until she was reunited with her father in Canada. When she arrived in Kamloops, British Columbia, Lam remembers everything around her being “strange” and “weird”. Eventually, after becoming accustomed to life in Canada, Lan went on to receive a post-secondary education. She later moved to Calgary where she met her husband who is of Ukrainian descent. Despite sometimes being mistaken as her daughter’s nanny, Lan keeps a positive outlook that she will be able to teach her daughters the basics in Vietnamese culture. She has begun to do this step-by-step first by introducing her daughters to traditional foods and festivities, greeting family members by proper kinship terms, and enrolling them in Vietnamese language school. In the future, Lan intends to bring her daughters to Vietnam to show them where and how she grew up, and she is a firm believer that teaching children about their cultural heritage is up to the parents.

Maiya Brady also agrees that ethnic socialization stems from the parents. Born in Vancouver, Maiya is a 2.5 generationer who has an Indonesian born mother, and a Canadian born father. However, Maiya is different than most 2.5 generationers as she has spent a considerable amount of time in both Indonesia and in Canada - not as a visitor or a tourist, but as a resident in each location. When asked about her experience as a 2.5 generationer, Maiya acknowledges that she was fortunate to have lived in two different countries learning the cultural norms in both her parent’s cultures. Maiya believes this has been an advantage because most 2.5 generationers who live in Canada never really know much about their ethnic parent’s culture besides what a tourist would. Despite this advantage, Maiya confesses some difficulties dealing with other kids in school, such as explaining her ethnicity as half-Indonesian and half-Canadian each time she returns to Canada. She finds however, defining her ethnicity is not the issue, but rather defending her parents’ relationship as “real” is. What she means by this is that there are sometimes assumptions that her parents are in a “mail-order bride”[1] relationship. Maiya believes that this assumption that Caucasian men go to Asia to find wives is an ignorant stereotype, especially in a multicultural society such as Canada. In light of all this, Maiya’s advice to other 2.5 generationers is to keep an open mind and to not be embarrassed about one’s identity. She suggests seeking out one’s culture, and looking at it beyond the exterior, however one shouldn’t do it unless it is what they want.

The 1.5 generation and the 2.5 generation, will continue to grow in Canada. It is already predicted by Statistics Canada that by 2031 between 25%-28% of the Canadian population will be “foreign born” – of which 55% could be from Asia alone. With this figure, there is also a prediction that the 2.0 and 2.5 generation will make up 47% of the visible minority population, adding more to Canada’s already existing diversity.