Nature vs. Nurture: Why Being a First Generation American Can Be So Confusing

As an American citizen who was raised by Colombian born parents, I can honestly say that I feel so out of place sometimes. It is the classic nature vs nurture debate in all of its confusion. There have been various moments in my life where I realized that I wasn’t completely American and I wasn’t completely Colombian. I was confused.

Food is one of the big differences that I have with both cultures. Growing up in America I obviously had many American friends who did not know much about any other culture besides their own. I remember feeling insecure bringing lunch to school because they would stare and thought it looked gross. Sometimes they thought my lunch looked good and because they haven’t seen anything like it before they would still stare at my food. Either way, eating lunch at school felt like I was starring in the show Bizarre Foods. It never felt good, especially since they were foods that I didn’t think was weird. Not because I grew up eating them, but because it was mostly foods like lentils and rice. To this day I don’t know why some people thought it was weird. The same goes for whenever I would eat with my Colombian family. Preferring certain American foods over some Colombian dishes is baffling to them. An example of this would be eating breakfast. The typical Colombian breakfast would be coffee and arepa con huevo (a corn cake and an egg; it tastes better than it sounds). As much as I like arepa con huevo, sometimes I get a craving for Fruity Pebbles. Preferring to eat cereal that morning all of the sudden invites commentary on how I have become too “Americanized”. I was born and raised in America, so I don’t know why it’s a shock that some of my tastes in food can sometimes be different from theirs.

Language is another obvious difference. Growing up I learned English and Spanish at the same time. I am definitely better at English since I use it more than I use Spanish. Since I had to learn both languages at the same time sometimes I don’t remember words for certain things in the other language. One summer I went on a road trip and my job was to give directions. I kept forgetting the word “traffic light” and I could only remember it in Spanish which is “semáforo”. I actually find it hilarious because since I go back and forth between languages so often throughout the day I just end up speaking Spanglish. My friends who speak English and my family who speak Spanish obviously can’t relate to this whatsoever.

I can list off a bunch of things that differentiate me from both cultures, such as music preferences, the way I dress, and the way I celebrate holidays. Although there is a long list, there is one thing that I think is an immense difference, my values. Without getting too personal, I can say that my values do not align with the typical Colombian culture or the typical American culture. Some of the things I believe in can be the complete opposite of the beliefs of my family. Other things I believe in can oppose the beliefs of my American friends. This is because it is a mixture of what I have learned and experienced while growing up in America, but also being raised with a Colombian culture. I decided for myself what I wanted to believe in, what is right and wrong, and what is important and unimportant (some with the help from my parents). It’s safe to say that I can be the black sheep of my family and my friends at times. 


Most of my life I couldn’t help but notice that I was different from most people in the two worlds that I lived in. I could never completely relate to anyone and it took me awhile to see the benefits. Being different and standing out from others may not sound appealing at a young age, but since starting college I realized it is a total advantage. You have more experience and you have learned more from life lessons than most people do before entering college. You realize that it doesn’t matter if you can’t always relate or agree with the people you care about most because at the end of the day you respect and love one another. Most importantly, you become an open minded person because you have learned that there is not one right way to live life.


Photo credit: Cover photo, Gif 1, Gif 2, Gif 3, Gif 4