How should I properly characterize my California lineage?
February 7, 2017 5:30 PM   Subscribe

Am I a sixth-generation Californian, a first-generation Californian, or something else? Since my great-great-great grandparents came to San Francisco from Ireland in the 1850s, all of my ancestors and myself have been born in California, except for my parents. Is there a term for how my California lineage should be characterized?

I've always been proud of my home state and how California has usually been at the progressive political vanguard for the rest of the country. I love it's technological and cultural influence, as well as its diversity. But mostly I am so thrilled about how California delivered a blistering smackdown to Trump in the election. I've never felt more at home here. Thus, my question.

With that in mind, here's one branch of my family tree:

I'd like to know if I'm a sixth-generation Californian, a first-generation Californian, or something else. Why? I've always been proud of my home state and how California has usually been at the progressive political vanguard for the rest of the country. I love it's technological and cultural influence, as well as its diversity. But mostly I am so thrilled about how California delivered a blistering smackdown to Trump in the election. I've never felt more at home here.

With that in mind, here's one branch of my family tree:

1st gen.: 1850s -- my great great great grandparents came to San Francisco, CA from Ireland.
2nd gen.: 1859 -- my great great grandfather was born in San Francisco, CA to the people indicated above in "1st gen."
3rd gen.: 1902 -- my great grandmother was born in Los Angeles, CA to my great great grandfather indicated in "2nd gen." above and his wife
4th gen.: 1926 -- my grandmother was born in Los Angeles, CA to my great grandmother indicated in "3rd gen." and her husband.
5th gen.: 1956. THIS IS THE ISSUE. My dad was born out of state to my grandmother indicated in "4th gen." and her husband. When he was 12 he moved to California, where he lived until he was 28. Since then, he has lived out of state. He fathered me with my mother who was also born out of state. But my mother moved to California when she was 5 years old and has lived here ever since then.
6th gen.: 1977 -- I was born in Southern California.

So how would I characterize my Calif. lineage? Does the fact that my parents were born out of state mean that I must say I'm a first-generation Californian? Although my mom is not a native Californian, since she has lived almost all of her life here can I count her as a Californian and thus call myself 6th generation (even though she is not in the blood lineage shown above)? My dad is in that blood lineage, but he only spent 16 years in California. Is that enough to call him a Californian (although a one-time Californian? This fifth generation is the problematic one. Every other generation is definitively Californian. Am I a sixth-generation or first generation Californian, or is there another more accurate term?

I bet you're saying "Who cares?" and you may be right. But this is part of my identity. I do not want to dishonestly or inaccurately mischaracterize myself as a 6th generation Californian if it's not true. But I have so much authentic family history in my native state that I love for almost the entire duration of its statehood that it would be a shame to me for my parents not being born here to sort of thwart my California lineage.

Thanks for your thoughts!
posted by fenwaydirtdog to Human Relations (14 answers total)
 
"Generations" in an immigration/residency sense doesn't actually have a particularly clear meaning in any case. You might be a first generation or a second generation, or a 5th generation or a 6th generation depending on how you count.

This is the kind of problem you write around. Take it as an opportunity to talk up your love for California, and don't worry about choosing the precise right number from a range of marginally correct choices:

"My family goes back 6 generations in California. My grandparents on both sides moved out of state temporarily, but leaving California was such an obviously bad idea that they all came back, and I was born here."
posted by jacquilynne at 5:38 PM on February 7, 2017 [6 favorites]


I would proudly claim six generations, especially since your parents were born to and raised by Californians and spent most of their formative years in California.
posted by metahawk at 5:39 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


I apologize for the paragraph that was included twice. Oops.
posted by fenwaydirtdog at 5:40 PM on February 7, 2017


Once in a blue moon "where are your parents from" comes up and you could say "Funnily enough, they're the only ones in six generations not born in California". But in most circumstances, if you tell me you're a "sixth generation Californian", I'm going to be mentally rolling my eyes. It's true that your parents and grandparents remember a very different San Francisco and a very different California and that's sometimes relevant, but it doesn't make you more Californian than anyone else. (I find it particularly grating because a significant number of people born in California have parents born outside the United States, never mind California. If "sixth generation" is somehow "better" than "first generation", where does that leave them?)
posted by hoyland at 5:53 PM on February 7, 2017 [15 favorites]


Most people will not care whether or not your entire family line was born in California, unless you're trying to join the Native Daughters of the Golden West (my mom is bummed she can't because she was born in New Mexico even though she has been in California since age 2). Hell, I'm a third generation Taurus and while this amuses me, it's probably not that important to anyone else who isn't into astrology.

Anyway...I think the answer is what jacquilynne said: "My family goes back 6 generations in California."
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:00 PM on February 7, 2017


I'd say "I'm Irish-American; My great-great-great grandfather immigrated to San Francisco from Ireland in the 1850s".

Nice lineage!
posted by mulcahy at 6:32 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


I agree with hoyland above.

But if you are determined to characterize yourself in this way, I think you have to ask yourself who the audience is, and in what context - and this will tell you how precise you ought to be. If you are talking to friends, anything more than "my great-something-grandfather came here in 185x and we've mostly been here ever since" would sound really self-aggrandizing. If you are running for office and making it part of your official bio, err on the side of caution and use precisely correct words. If you are talking to yourself, call yourself whatever you want.
posted by sheldman at 6:32 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


You may call yourself a sixth generation Californian.

Sincerely, a seventh generation Californian*

*although I moved to a swing state because I thought it would be fun. It is not.
posted by Drosera at 7:12 PM on February 7, 2017 [5 favorites]


"My family has lived in California for generations." If anyone is interested in knowing more than that, they will ask for details.
posted by juliplease at 7:27 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


When talking to yourself and within your family, I would call yourself a sixth-generation Californian. When talking to other people about ancestors, I would say, "My family has lived in California for a long time. I grew up in L.A. How about you?"

I totally get the impulse to emphasize in a state full of immigrants that your family is really from around here (I grew up in Colorado where all of your fellow-Californians seem to be moving), because your understanding and experience of your home state will be different than someone who moved there last year. Nevertheless, I would examine your own motives a bit. What are the circumstances that you are envisioning yourself informing people that you're a sixth-generation Californian? What are you hoping the outcome of that revelation will be? How will you feel if the people around you don't react the way you're hoping they will? For example, rolling their eyes like hoyland up-thread instead of taking your opinion more seriously? Or just telling you jokingly, "Yeah, fenwaydirtdog, we know. You mention your native Californian status like every other word."
posted by colfax at 1:51 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


A suggestion sentence: "My family has been living in [Location] for [#] centuries." This is what I usually use if it comes up; it's fairly straightforward.

I noticed that one of the things you've mentioned is that your family has been living in California for almost the duration of its history as a state in the U.S. I think I need to also note that saying that you're a 6th generation Californian may not have the effect you're thinking of.

California has a very, very long history. Before it's admission to the U.S. parts of it were an independent republic, it was part of Mexico, it was part of the Spanish colonial empire, it has been the home of various Native American nations for 10 thousand years, etc.

This will sound blunt and I do not mean to be hurtful, but I think it is very important to be clear:

As I understand it, your question is about finding a way to communicate your status/family history as a Californian to others. Because this is about communication I want you to know what your question communicates to someone like me.

Your family has not been living in California for very long at all. When I first saw your question I thought your family history might be more like mine. I put an example sentence at the top of this answer for something you might say. When I say it it goes: "My family has been living in the area currently known as Northern Mexico and Southern Texas for about 5 centuries." It's not like we were the first people here. Not at all.

The reasons you give for identifying so strongly as Californian, and appreciating what California is doing right now, have nothing to do with having a long family history in California. They have to do with what people are doing right now and recently. These are the same reasons why people have been coming to California to make a home there and still are today - because it can be a home. A safe home where they are respected and (ideally) not (as) persecuted or oppressed. In this respect you are Californian in the same way that today's 1st generation Californians are. This is a good thing, not a bad thing. I think you're lucky to have a state and a home you can be proud of right now.
posted by Verba Volant at 11:16 AM on February 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


I respect and enjoy how Ask Metafilter does not pull any punches when it detects excessive self-absorption, or suspects the motivations of the questioner, so I do appreciate these comments. Maybe I’m guilty as charged. But maybe I just love my home state, a love that has just been enhanced by California’s overwhelming rebuke to Trump in the November election (a blistering 30% margin of defeat to Trump from the state in which 12% of Americans live). These are frightening times for myself and many people in my country and the world and I am heartened that we are the epicenter of the Trump resistance (see yesterday’s article from the Washington Post: "California and President Trump are going to war with each other”). I recognize that many people have been here much longer than my family has and I respect that tremendously. But if California is at war with Donald Trump, I’ll boldly declare my California roots and suffer the eye-rolling of those who want me to be quiet! :-)
posted by fenwaydirtdog at 2:11 PM on February 8, 2017


From the perspective of a fourth-generation Bay Arean, I think there are nuances to this question that may not resonate for non-locals. California in general (and the Bay Area in particular, which I think is also true of LA) has lots of people who moved here, both from within the US and from elsewhere. People move in, people move out — we're used to having new neighbors and to missing old ones who've left. There's so much movement that sometimes it seems like everybody you know moved here from somewhere else. I remember back during the dot-com boom, on the rare occasions that I met somebody else and found out that they grew up here too I had to resist the urge to embrace them, it was so unusual. "Did you grow up here or are you a transplant?" may well not be xenophobic, depending on who's saying it and how.

Giving you the benefit of the doubt that this isn't something you're leading conversation with, and that it's coming up as you chat with someone about families and backgrounds and that kind of thing, I'd suggest phrasing along the lines suggested above: "My great-great-grandpa was born in SF and the family has pretty much been here since then, aside from my grandparents' brief and ill-advised foray elsewhere. What were they thinking?"
posted by Lexica at 8:29 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Hmm, wouldn't you be a fifth generation Californian? You would start counting from the first person born in the state- your great great grandfather. His parents were Irish immigrants to California, not Californians.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:04 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


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