One morning, I woke up and made my way to the living room to greet my father and grandmother. My grandmother had tears in her eyes. Panic kicked in.
In between tears and sniffles, she admitted that she was broken over the fact that I am 26 years old and haven’t gotten married nor have children. Pelted by confusion, I frantically elaborated that I am working on my career, an endeavor I clawed my way into, and that this work will one day pay off into stability.
My grandmother is from Tierra Colorada. A small, close-knit pueblo in Guerrero, Mexico, Tierra Colorada consists of many mothers in their 20s, according to my grandma.
I am the first in my family to earn a master’s degree and work in a higher education institution, a dream I’ve had since I was nine. I grew up in East Garden Grove, California. I was raised by a resilient single, immigrant mother who worked two factory jobs back-to-back, six days a week. Her words always echo in my mind.
“Si quieren trabajar como yo, entonces no estudien. La decisión es de ustedes,” my mother told me. “If you want to work like me, well then don’t study. The decision is yours.”
That was the driving force, my catalyst. So now that I’ve accomplished college and career, why is it still not enough?
According to Excelencia in Education’s 2020 data, only 8% of Latinas earned a master’s degree, and 1% earned a doctorate degree from Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). On a relevant vein, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that birth rates have declined across the country in recent years. Women are having babies at an older age. I conjecture that the rising cost of living, excruciating job market, and lack of resources are contributing factors. From 2006 to 2015, the fertility rate for women of Mexican heritage declined by 37 percent.
Because of post-pandemic circumstances, I too will be a part of that pool. I will break the cultural and generational expectation to have a child before the age of 30. Looking back, it’s okay. I worked diligently to make it this far. Like most first-generation children, my professional journey was brutal.
In my first workplace, I interned in communications work at my local school district where I was the only Mexican-American and Spanish speaker on our floor. I navigated the space blindly until I met Alejandra, my Salvadoran-American friend who was attending one of my sister campuses. Suddenly, I felt more comfortable. We began to speak in Spanish with saludos on the job, and to our surprise, this linguistic bond wasn’t welcomed. English was the only acceptable language, and this pressured my naive, 19-year-old self to constantly code switch. I have many other experiences, but for some reason, this one really stayed with me.
Fast forward seven years – I still work in communications – but I’m now a proud part of my institution’s Latinx Faculty and Staff Association, where we wear our heritage on our sleeves. While I suffer from imposter syndrome, question my belonging, and work like I have yet to prove my worth, I’m embraced by a plethora of other Latinx professionals with a myriad of different journeys. Because of them, I find my journey to delay motherhood more acceptable. I am surrounded by successful Latina leaders who waited until their 30s to have their first child. These women have mentored me and told me they chose to wait while they built a career.
I also know Latina professors and colleagues who decided not to have children at all. They are accomplished and fulfilled.
This set a new normal for me – a normal bound to break my family’s bleak curse of generational poverty. Back home, my parents are proud, I’m sure of it. But I know they feel like something’s missing. While I’m the first of three sisters to break into the higher ed space, it comes with a sacrifice. I sacrifice traditional pride, and I ignite the intrinsic fear of my biological clock running out. While I’m breaking barriers, my current choices are difficult to understand because they’re not what they’re used to. They’re afraid of the unknown, and I don’t blame them.
As my grandmother cried and we locked eyes, I let out a deep breath and conjured up the language to mitigate our differences. I was somehow able to communicate that I would absolutely love to be married one day and venture off into the beauty of motherhood, but that it still isn’t my time. My professional endeavors will set the stage for the next milestone to ease in. While I received some pushback, we agreed that it’s not a matter of now or never, but rather not now, but later.
As Latinas, we simply cannot make everyone happy. I owe it all to my family for sacrificing their dreams, sleep, and sanity for me to chase my dreams and never look back. Because of them, I still run and refuse to look back.
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