First generation students retain cultures

Aaron Lyons

As a child, when Adam Zucker ’13 was being a little rambunctious his parents would tell him “dai” pronounced “die.” Zucker’s parents are from Israel and were telling him to stop in their native language of Hebrew, but this scolding often generated strange looks from surrounding people.

Zucker is among many Harvard-Westlake students whose parents are not originally from the United States.

“My mother likes to say that I was born in America but made in Israel,” Zucker said.

Blake Nosratian’s ’13  parents both left Iran during the revolution of 1979.  His mother was smuggled to Pakistan and then lived in Germany and Italy before eventually obtaining a green card and immigrating to America.  His father spent a short period of time in Israel before moving to America. Nosratian sees having immigrant parents as almost entirely beneficial.

“I like being a hyphenated American,” Nosratian said.  “It’s like having the best of both worlds. The only trouble I’ve ever had is trying to reconcile the American ways outside my home with the very eastern traditions inside my home.”

“I think the more cultures someone is exposed to, the more tolerant and accepting they are as a person,” Bronty O’Leary ’13, whose parents are both from Australia, said. “I believe that if there are multiple cultures involved in the upbringing of a child they have enriched their lives in some way.”

Australian barbeque on Sundays, a traditional dice game called Pass the Pig and eating vegemite on toast are among some of the Australian traditions O’Leary and her family have maintained since moving from Australia.

After having lived in America 20 years, Zucker’s parents have come to understand American culture, for the most part, although there are some things that never worked their way into their lives.

“My family never really understood or cared about football and the Super Bowl or baseball, and when it comes to food, we value our hummus above all else,” said Zucker.

Solange Etessami’s  ’13 parents also emigrated from Iran. She agrees that there have been benefits to having immigrant parents because it has enabled her to retain elements of the Persian culture that often seem to fall away over the generations. She also realizes that she has faced some difficulties that friends with non-immigrant parents haven’t experienced.

“Words like the common app, APs, supplements etc. were all somewhat foreign to my parents,” Etessami said. “I definitely had to be responsible for a lot of things on my own. My parents really aren’t familiar with the schools that are out there so we could both be clueless together.”

Like Etessami, Seana Moon White’s ’13 parents were also “clueless” with regard to the college process, but according to White, so was she.

“We learned and went through it together,” White said.

Because White’s mother  is from Korea but grew up in Australia and her father is from London there was never a language barrier. With regard to slang and idioms, however, she “gets lost.”

Despite potential cultural barriers and the occasional mistakes in the nuances of  American English, students appreciate not only the foreign exposure their parents are able to open them up to but also the United States as a country that allows this to happen.

“It really shows what a special country we have where two Iranian-Jewish immigrants can rise up and be productive members of society, just like those born here,” Etessami said. “It may have been windier road, but they reached just about the same destination in the end.”