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A Generation of Hyphenated Americans

A Generation of Hyphenated Americans


This is the final part of the Hispanic Heritage Month Series. Today, I share the collective wisdom of what it’s like to straddle two cultures (or more). My diverse and amazing friends provided personal insights about the nuances of their hyphenated identities. As interracial coupling is set to continue rising in the US, this hyphenated phenomenon could become the norm. Below, Mexican, Israeli, Saudi Arabian, Korean and Dominican halves are explored.


  • Feeling too Mexican for the US, but too American for Mexico.
  • No ser ni de aquí ni de alla, not belonging here nor there. Rather, belonging in the middle, in between borders. Taking a bit of one and the other to inhabit an entirely new ‘place.’
  • Taking the best of two worlds to forge your own identity.
  • Being fluid and flexible enough to inhabit both of these halves separately and the two of them at once.
  • Mastering the art of constantly changing ratios. One day embracing 60% of your Mexicanness and 40% Americanness, the next day, a combo of 35% Mex and 65% Am.
  • Having the painful realization that I was different from my White classmates and friends – through language, food and family dynamics.
  • Failing to understand why my parents wouldn’t let me have sleepovers with my White friends as a child.
  • Visiting Mexico as a kid and loving my heritage but being unable to explain this special part about my life to my White friends.

The struggle is too real


  • Envying people who come from a singular background and know what their “home” is. I've seen myself as having one foot in each country – not quite an immigrant, but also not really a local.
  • Living in the States, I was treated as the Israeli girl, the Jew, the 'other', and in Israel I'm treated as the American immigrant. I now get upset with anyone who feels they get to decide where I come from and who I am.
  • Once I moved to Canada and started calling Toronto home nobody batted an eye, no one protested, no one tried to correct me. That sense of a clear-cut identity was thrilling. It’s an identity I’ve gotten to establish without the the blurred lines of local-versus-immigrant.
  • Being a halfie has a lot of richness to it. My parents embody two cultures that starkly contrast and complement each other in many different ways.
  • Having a great ability to pick up languages quickly, adapt to new environments, and find common grounds with people I’ve never met.
  • Being a halfie may be a confusing one, but it’s also rich with diversity and an array of experiences. I credit my halfie background for molding me into the complex person I am today.


  • Leaving behind a life of luxury and comfort in Saudi Arabia for Wisconsin at the age of 13.
  • Enduring ignorance and prejudice upon first moving to the US, post 9-11 attacks. Having classmates refuse to sit next to me during lunch, the only Muslim girl wearing a hijab.
  • Finding a way to finally fit in by joining extracurricular activities and sports.
  • Finding the courage to embrace a more American lifestyle (sans hijab) yet retaining aspects of my Muslim background.
  • Struggling to maintain a relationship with a father that deems my lifestyle inappropriate for a Muslim woman.
  • Having it be normal when airport security scrutinizes my passport and asks a lot more questions due to my Arab last name.
  • Facing the challenges of dating a non-Muslim person, from teaching (and constantly reminding/explaining) my partner about my culture and customs, to knowing that if I marry outside of my religion, I could risk losing relationships with certain family members.


  • Getting to know myself and finding out things I like from my cultural background and making it fit into my lifestyle.
  • Finding commonality with friends from different backgrounds to help me feel grounded. What we share as differences is what we all have in common.
  • Finding out who I am and feeling confident in my own skin instead of trying to fit into an existing mold.
  • People throwing jokes at me for being ‘the token Asian’ or ‘white-washed’ since the majority of my friends growing up were White.
  • Learning how to embrace being different and value individualism and uniqueness.
  • Not having Asian-American representation in Hollywood. A lack of people on TV (and elsewhere) that look like and act like me, that come from a similar background as my own and share my life experiences.
  • Having casting directors request I speak in an Asian accent, tell me that I’m “pretty for an Asian girl”, and suggest I get headshots wearing glasses to look more ‘nerdy’.
  • [While living in Korea] The social norms of conformity and the emphasis of vanity really grinds my gears and it’s difficult for me to relate with a lot of people here, even though essentially I come from these very people.
  • Surprising someone every day because I’m not who they they originally thought I was, or should be.
  • Perhaps this hyphenated Asian-American or Korean-American thing is hard for some to completely understand, unless you are one yourself, or grew up in a melting-pot society.
  • As much as I appreciate my Korean heritage and am proud of what my older relatives have had to go through, I resent certain narrow-minded mentalities and beliefs.
  • Relating to Trevor Noah’s book Born a Crime when he writes, “Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.” No matter how Korean I am on the outside, as soon as I open my mouth and speak, Koreans know automatically that I do not belong…
  • I’ve appreciated my life as a Korean-American because I get to experience and understand two different cultures in both perspectives.
  • I wouldn’t change my hyphenated identity because I have grown to love and be proud of both my Korean and American sides equally.
  • As for the struggle of choosing whether to root for Team South Korea or Team USA in the Olympics, my solution is to always go for whoever’s winning.


  • Dominican-American. This is an identity that I am still trying to understand and define at 25 years young. There are so many aspects of this identity including immigration, bilingualism, music, family values and individualism. But what does it mean to me?
  • It means growing up and listening to both The Bee Gees and Fernando Villalona during Saturday morning cleaning sessions with my mother.
  • Slightly loud passionate conversations between friends while observant strangers wonder if we’re arguing.
  • Working as an unqualified translator for several family members.
  • Bringing Island flavors and rhythms to snowy New England. 
  • Being proud of my Dominican energy that goes beyond the color spectrum.
  • Eating pernil (roasted pork shoulder) instead of turkey during Thanksgiving.
  • Thinking in Spanglish, speaking in English but loving in Spanish.
  • It means that I never truly “fit in” in one world. And that’s okay, because I am able to see and experience the best of two.

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