We have asked ourselves many times in our work and lives, “What does it mean to be American?” We drove across the country, lived in different cities, talked to many people, and when we looked in the mirror, we finally recognized the faces we were looking for. We are first generation Americans. We are the daughters of immigrants.

The beauty of this country is in the American dream. The American dream is a story of union. It is the eternally optimistic idea that no matter who you are or where you came from, this land, this place, will give your life and story the “happily ever after” that it deserves. Our identities are the products of the American mindset and the cultures that our parents passed down to us, through blood and tradition. Those traditions helped cultivate and inform not only our individual hopes and dreams, but also the greater goals of the nation.

“1stGen” is a photo series that concentrates on first generation Americans. These daughters of immigrants provide us with an inside look into our collective identity by recognizing the struggles and stories of brave immigrants, seeking a better life. As we take in the images of these women, we are celebrating the beauty of America and the ancestry emanating from each face. Supplementing the images are their stories, and their parents’ stories. Each person is an essential element, as we seek to understand their lives, their parents’ lives, and the value of our immigrant nation.

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Intro: Name, age, place of birth?

My name is Ethel Zarinana, I’m 26 and was born in Burbank, CA.

Where are your parents from and why did they come to America?

My parents are both from Mexico City and made the move to Los Angeles when my mom was pregnant with me. My dad was a trouble maker and grew up on the street, and my mom was an over achiever and grew up middle class. My mom always knew she wanted to live in the U.S. because she wanted to get away from the sexism and machismo that still thrives in Mexico to this day. Once I came into the picture, it was that final push for her to finally get out and make her way here.

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How did their choice to come here alter your life?

I wasn’t aware at how much my parents’ choice to live here had altered my life until recently. I actually just got back from living in the same house and neighborhood that my mom grew up in for almost half a year and all I did the entire time was imagine how different my life could’ve been. My health alone was affected so much in the few months I was there. I was getting constant migraines, breaking out in acne, and my eyes would hurt from the pollution. Living day-to-day here has been oversimplified for us. In Mexico, basic things like hot water, gas, trash and even just drinking water required extra effort that would infuriate any other American. These are only a handful of the many luxuries that I quickly came to appreciate having back home while living in Mexico. The extra work that daily living and basic survival requires impairs many children from getting an education. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. I don’t think I would’ve been able to maximize my potential like I was able to do here.

What have your parents contributed to the United States?

My parents, like most immigrants in this country, have helped build the foundation for all of the businesses they have worked for. They added 3 intelligent and loving offspring to the American population. My middle brother is working towards a career in law enforcement and my youngest brother is currently studying pre-law, both are careers that will also add to the foundation and structure of the community that we live in. But most of all, they have made this country a better place by touching the lives of others. Ever since I was little, I remember having people come in and out of our house when they were in need, even in times that we were struggling. My mom always told me that where there is food for 1 person you can feed 2. And all of this has been a ripple effect from a decision that my parents made, always knowing that it was bigger than them.

What do you currently do and what are you dreams for the future?

I am a freelance multimedia artist, and co-founder of ERAEM.COM. As a freelancer, I provide my services to small businesses and independent entrepreneurs that want to brand themselves with promo videos, photos, and web design. Through ERAEM.COM, I like to think that our work is thought-provoking, timeless and something that everyone can relate to and learn from. When people see our blog I hope they are reminded of the beautiful aspects of life and this world that we live in.

As far as the future, I have many, many dreams. I dream of running a full production company and print magazine, I want to continue traveling, I want to get into fabric and fashion design, I have an interest in event planning and I am also very crafty but I think I’ll save that for when I have kids or when I’m older and do it as a hobby. I guess you can say I have dedicated my life to making my immediate surroundings more aesthetically pleasing in any way that I can.

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What does it mean to be American?

Living in Los Angeles I’ve been exposed to a variety of people, cultures, ideas and traditions. First-generation Americans like me have grown up intertwining modern culture with elements of their parent’s culture and then integrating anything else that they want from their experience in this melting pot. Here you don’t have to fit in, even though that’s what we’ve always wanted since we were poked fun at for being different when we were younger. Once we embrace our uniqueness, we add to what makes America so diverse and groundbreaking. People want to know more about your culture and you learn about theirs, and just like that a domino effect begins and people are fusing cuisines, fashion, belief systems, medicine, and everything else under the sun. We grow up with a foundation of who we are but once we blossom into adulthood you can remix, recreate, and reinvent yourself however you want to. That’s why I think to be American is to be bigger than what you think you are.

What does your culture mean to you? What has it taught you?

My culture has given me a strong back bone. Being a first-generation Mexican-American I have been given shit for my differences since I could remember. Everything about me has been criticized — from the way I look, to the way I talk, to the things I eat, even how I treat people. Because of my culture I have been broken down and it wasn’t until I began to embrace it that I was able to build myself up stronger than ever. My culture has taught me to love myself, and to love and accept other people and their differences because we are all in this together. I am proud of everything I am, and because of my culture I now know that there is no greater obstacle than being happy with yourself, and if you can achieve that you can achieve anything.

Why are you the face of America?

I am the face of America because I am a living, breathing embodiment of the American Dream. My parents hoped to give me a better life than they had, and I am currently living it. I have become more than what I could’ve been because I was born here.

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