My friend's parents are both from Colombia, but he was born here in the U.S., and I was wondering if there was a non-offensive term for somebody born of immigrants who is a native citizen.

  • 3
    First-generation American. – Dan Bron Dec 6 '16 at 5:15
  • Yes, since "United Statesian" cannot be used, the born-in-the-US child of Colombians would rather ironically be called a "First-generation American". – Hot Licks Dec 6 '16 at 13:23
  • In situations where others might be disposed to wonder, you can often just say American born and move on. What it lacks in specificity, it can make up for in understatedness. – Phil Sweet Dec 8 '16 at 5:03
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    I don't know what the standard is for Colombian Americans, but for Asian Americans he would definitely, unambiguously be second generation. His parents, who were the first in the US, would be first generation. – 1006a Dec 8 '16 at 5:12
  • It is in some ways telling that the standard way of phrasing this in the US is based on how many generations have been naturalised, while quite a few places in Europe would approach it instead based on how many generations ago the immigration occurred; i.e., your friend would be a second-generation immigrant many places in Europe. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 8 '16 at 9:03

As suggested in a comment "first-generation American" is the neutral expression you can use to refer to your friend who is born in the U.S.A. from Colombian parents. Note that the same expression can actually be used also to refer to their parents if they are resident in the United States:

  • The term first-generation, as it pertains to a person's nationality or residency in a country, can imply two possible meanings, depending on context:

  • 1) A native-born citizen or resident of a country whose parents are foreign born: e.g., "first-generation" American,

  • 2) A foreign born citizen or resident who has immigrated to a new country of residence: e.g., "first-generation" migrant.

  • This ambiguity is captured and corroborated in The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of "generation":

    • ...*designating a member of the first (or second, etc.) generation of a family to do something or live somewhere; spec. designating a naturalized immigrant or a descendant of immigrant parents, esp. in the United States.... (OED definition of "generation," section 6b., emphasis added)*

    • In the United States, among demographers and other social scientists, the term "first generation" is used to refer to foreign-born residents (excluding those born abroad of American parents).


  • Also the term "second-generation American" could apply, but the ambiguity, as in the case of first-generation" remains.


  • 1
    At least among Asian American, first generation refers exclusively to the immigrant parents themselves, as they are the first generation in America (and, if naturalized, the first generation to be American citizens). Children born in the US to immigrant parents are therefore second generation. Individuals who immigrated as children and grew up in the US (and this are socialized primarily in the US) are often referred to as gen 1.5. – 1006a Dec 8 '16 at 5:09

In my experience, in practice, the child of the immigrant is spoken of as "first generation," and the grandchild of the immigrant is spoken of as "second generation," and so on.

As it happens, I am a first generation American myself.

I won't provide a link to a definition, since it would just muddy the waters. Instead, here is an example blog, one among many, which use the term the way everyone I've ever spoken with about this does: http://thoughtcatalog.com/helina-daniel/2014/06/8-things-you-experience-as-a-first-generation-american/


Japanese Americans have an especially clear set of terms for how many generations removed from the old country a particular American of Japanese descent happens to be. According to the Wikipedia article on Japanese Americans, the generational names are as follows:

Issei (一世) The generation of people born in Japan who later immigrated to another country.

Nisei (二世) The generation of people born in North America, Latin America, Hawaii, or any country outside Japan either to at least one Issei or one non-immigrant Japanese parent.

Sansei (三世) The generation of people born in North America, Latin America, Hawaii, or any country outside Japan to at least one Nisei parent.

Yonsei (四世) The generation of people born in North America, Latin America, Hawaii, or any country outside Japan to at least one Sansei parent.

Gosei (五世) The generation of people born in North America, Latin America, Hawaii, or any country outside Japan to at least one Yonsei parent.

So for purposes of your question, if your friend's parents had been from Japan, rather than Colombia, your friend, being born in America, would be a Nisei.

As far as I know, however, most nationalities and ethnicities don't have such an elaborate naming system for immigrants to the United States (or elsewhere).

A term to avoid in describing a U.S.-born child of noncitizens is the pejorative anchor baby, which implies that the noncitizen mother gave birth to the child in the United States in order to claim residency rights through the child's automatic possession of U.S. citizenship by jus soli (birthright).

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