As a first-generation Latina of immigrant parents, my destiny was written out for me before I was born.
I’m expected to graduate from college and simultaneously be the best in my class because I was often told to stand out from the rest, despite the lack of accessibility to resources that I faced in comparison to my white counterparts.
Whether it’s because of financial restrictions or lack of academic guidance, only 15% of first-generation U.S. Latino students have obtained a bachelor’s degree, according to Pew Research.
No pressure, of course. It’s not like my parents moved to a new country and completely invested in their newborn daughter to be their main source of financial freedom after all. Except they did, and I’ve been forced to hold onto the weight of that expectation for the past 20 years.
I had to act as if these expectations weren’t daunting because I couldn’t afford to let the overwhelming feelings of anxiety consume me, not when I was on a set path to greatness. After all, my Mexican parents left their homes, crossed the border, assimilated into the culture and worked excruciatingly long hours to be able to provide me with a life filled with better opportunities than what they were offered.
How could I complain?
However, as school became increasingly difficult and I realized that there was no one to help guide me, I couldn’t help but feel alienated in my pursuit of academic success. My parents aren’t college educated, and although my mom always tried her best to explain subjects I would learn in school growing up, I had no academic help at home after I passed the fifth grade because of their lack of formal education.
That meant having to understand every topic, in every subject, in every grade by myself following that, or else I’d fall behind. And my parents didn’t leave their old lives for me to fall behind.
My younger sister had the luxury of having an older sister to rely on for additional academic assistance whenever she didn’t understand a science or math topic, but unfortunately, I did not. So it never felt fair when my parents would compare my grades or successes to my younger sister when she had the resources that I never did. I would always disappoint in comparison.
Raised with the mentality of being the first, it has been nothing short of exhausting. Forcing myself to be perfect in the eyes of those around me and punishing myself when I wasn’t. It got to the point where it felt like I had another insatiable person to satisfy. But no matter how difficult the impenetrable obstacles along my path to college have been, I remind myself that it’ll all be worth the rewarding outcome of seeing my parents finally experience financial stability.
So I’ll gladly struggle a little longer for my parents, and I’ll continue to fight to forge my own future. After all, it isn’t lost on me that I have the immense privilege to attend a four-year university out of high school, but it certainly doesn’t invalidate my years of frustration and disappointment after coming to the early realization that academia would always be much more difficult for someone of my background.
According to Pew Research, in 1980 Latinos were 4% of students enrolled at degree-granting postsecondary institutions. By 2000, Latino enrollment had increased to 1.5 million, or 10% of all students. And by 2020, 3.7 million Latinos were enrolled, accounting for 20% all postsecondary students.
For those who share my background or see themselves in my story, your struggles don’t go unseen. Your hard work and effort will amount to everything you desire.
¡Continúa a echarle ganas!
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