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Coen, S.J. Penn, H. (2013). Analyzing the Children of Immigrants. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 61(6):1203-1210.

(2013). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 61(6):1203-1210

Panel Reports

Analyzing the Children of Immigrants

Stanley J. Coen and Harry Penn

Stanley Coen introduced the panel recalling the enthralled night he spent as a first-year medical student reading Alfred Kazin's A Walker in the City (1951). Kazin wrote: “I realized how little my parents thought of their own lives. It was not for myself alone that I was expected to shine, but for them to redeem the constant anxiety of their existence. I was the first American child, their offering to the strange new God; I was to be the monument of their liberation from the shame of being what they were” (p. 21). Coen felt that Kazin was telling Coen's own story as well. Richard Rodriguez said so, too, on the Jim Lehrer NewsHour two months after Kazin's death in 1998, though he didn't grow up speaking Yiddish in Brooklyn but Spanish in the Central Valley of California. Irving Howe, Kazin's contemporary, had a similar story to tell: “I attended my first day of Kindergarten as if it were a visit to a new country. The teacher asked the children to identify various common objects. When my turn came she held up a fork and without hesitation … already trying to distinguish myself … I called it by its Yiddish name: ‘a goopel.’ The whole class burst out laughing at me with that special cruelty of children.” Feeling “terribly humiliated … I told my parents that I had made up my mind never to speak Yiddish to them again, though I would not give any reasons. It was a shock for them, the first in a series of conflicts between immigrant and America” (quoted in Sorin 2002, pp. 1-2).

Coen spoke of his own experience as the son of immigrants, attempting to fit into a new and alien culture without much help from adults who could understand his plight. He described his shame, awkwardness, otherness, difference, as if he were still living in a shtetl in Poland or Russia, like his parents, rather than in New York.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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