In a world where dozens of podcasts are occupying space in our libraries, one podcast is hoping to stand out by providing the experiences and narratives of first-generation Americans.
1stGens is the brainchild of Perrine DeShield and Skye Wilson. Perrine and Skye created 1stGens to highlight the parallels between their experiences as Liberian-Americans to other first-generation Americans.
When asked what motivated them to start the podcast, Perrine says that it first came to her while getting into other podcasts, encouraged by Skye, whom she calls the "podcast expert" and says she's listened to over 100. "We both have broadcast backgrounds," said Perrine. "I was kind of really missing the void of broadcasting. After listening to Serial, I was reminded of how great storytelling was."
She says she thought there was a space that 1stGens could fill in the podcast realm and Skye was the perfect person to do one with. "We always talk. We’re cousins. We share a lot of similarities and we share a lot of similarities in finding out our identity. I was literally driving and listening to a podcast and asked my friend is there a podcast about being a first-generation American and there wasn’t. I saw a void there and wanted to fill in that void."
Skye, on the other hand, was a bit skeptical at first. "At first I was hesitant. I thought the podcast market was oversaturated, but it is so much out there." But come to find out, she just underestimated its impact. "I didn’t even realize how novel this idea would be for others to listen to. I talked to my friends who aren’t first gens who said this was a great idea and realized something that is normal for us isn’t normal for everyone else," she said.
Both Skye and Perrine shared stories of when they first realized that they were first-generation Americans. By being black in America, African-Americans have to reckon with the identity of being black, but children of immigrants have to deal with dual identities. Skye's first experience came in kindergarten. "I remember being in kindergarten and saying the Pledge of Allegiance and coming home and telling my mother, and she told me not to do that anymore and explained our heritage as Liberians to me."
Perrine's realization didn't come a few years later after her father passed and she switched elementary schools to one where her mother taught at during the fourth grade. "I was about 9 and remember the kids making fun of my mom’s accent. They are like 'she’s Jamaican' and this was coming from predominantly black kids. I’m like, 'No, she’s African, I’m African.' I think my mom experienced a lot of discrimination and prejudice being an immigrant, and I got to see that as well first hand as a child," she said. "Once I saw how kids my age reacted to her, it really clicked in for me that my mother is an immigrant and different, and this allowed me to come to terms and be more real about my heritage and background."
The main thing Perrine and Skye want non-first-generation Americans to take away from their podcast? America is not so black and white.
"I want people to know that we have more similarities than differences. Skye and I have so many friends who are first gens from different places and countries, and our parents had similar goals for us to fulfill the American dream and opportunities that they didn’t have for them. Whether you’re Puerto Rican or from Bosnia or India or Siera Leone, we all have a similar upbringing," said Perrine. She said you don't have to be a first-generation American to relate to the podcast because the stories depicted anyone can relate to. "Everyone can relate to the story of feeling out of place and finding out who they are. It's not just for first-generation Americans, it's for anyone feeling different and trying to find themselves."
Skye wants the podcast to challenge our thoughts of an "American" or "immigrant" identity. "Just because someone doesn’t have an accent doesn't mean there isn’t a story behind their heritage there. Whenever I meet immigrants, sometimes they question me and sometimes Americans question me. I think it’s easy for folks to conceptualize an immigrant story or an American story. It’s a lot harder for folks to conceptualize that first gens may have a different story from the American who has been here a few generations."
In the podcast's second season the cousins are planning to travel to Liberia, something that they didn't plan when they began the podcast. "The more and more we got deeper and reconnecting more and more with our heritage and its importance, we thought, ‘man we need to go back to Liberia. We need to be able to not only gain our own experience of Liberia but share the stories of the young people in Liberia that have been in a country that's had numerous civil wars and has a deep and conflicted history that is also deeply connected to America,'" she said, noting that sharing the experiences of people in Liberia will show how relevant their experiences are to us and how they can be correlated to people in America.
A presidential election is coming up this October, which they say means a lot for the country. "From infrastructure to agriculture, we hope that with so much going on in the world with progress and technology, that these people are able to make their voices heard. We want to relate the stories of Liberians back to Americans in season 2 but also stay true to the root of 1stGens," said Perrine.
Skye said she's excited to get on the ground and bring these stories to the forefront. "It’s not really something talked about in American media pretty much ever. It’s going to be good for me to feel that we're bringing that to the forefront in our own little way. I also hope that folks will get to know us better. Through this trip, I think we’ll get to know ourselves better and hopefully, we can share these relocations to folks. Everyone has roots they aren’t connected to and hopefully, it encourages conversation and dialogue."