Culture

From Diapers To Dorms, I Worked Hard To Make Sure My Baby Sister Could Go To College

Betsy Aimee

As a first generation college student, as well as the first person in my family to be born in the United States, there was many things I had to figure out on my own.

CREDIT: The author (left) and her sister. Photo credit: Betsy Aimee

When it came to college it always felt like there was an assumption that all parents knew a lot about the process and were heavily involved; That they were signing me up for SAT classes, flying across the country with me to look at colleges and had a vast network of friends that were ready to offer me internships.

They supported me in many other ways and cultivated in me a desire to pursue higher education, but for the most part I was their window into the mainstream “American” world, so their ability to help was limited.

It was a blessing to be so self-reliant at a young age but at the same time I carried many things in isolation and there was an emotional toll that took on me. I’m not complaining, as I have lived a life of privilege and opportunity that many people, my parents included, could only have dreamed of.

Because of this it always felt like I couldn’t burden my parents with my “problems” when they worked so hard to provide me with housing and transportation, and the occasional luxury. It’s not that my parents didn’t care, they just didn’t know what they didn’t know. It would have been great to have an adult, or older sibling to offer me support at that stage of my life.

My sister was born when I was 16 years old. I realized that life had given me a special opportunity. As the oldest daughter to our father who emigrated from rural Mexico to the United States decades before, I felt like I was her official guide to first-gen life.

CREDIT: The author’s sister. Photo credit: Betsy Aimee

When I was in college, in between class, work, friends and boys, I would pick her up in my shiny, red Mustang. I didn’t always have tons of money, but I tried to expose her to as many things as I could. I would take her to the Festival of Books at UCLA and we’d walk around local universities. On trips we would drive through schools and talk about what her life would be like when she was a young woman.

When she was in elementary school I read an essay she had written. In it she said that I was her role model. It was a stark reminder to be better, and do better. After all, my sister was watching.

When I graduated from college with honors she was 8 years old. My dad pulled her and my brother out of school to attend my commencement ceremony. I remember her sitting on the bleachers in her pink dress looking up at me proudly. She told me later that was the moment she knew she wanted to go to college too!

As she got older, we talked about the fact that so very few Latinx people actually graduate from college, and that while not everyone needs college to be successful, education is an important way to advance our entire community. I told her that seeking to be the best people we could be was a way to honor the sacrifices of our father and her mother (my stepmother).

As she went through middle school and the early years of high school, we talked about classes she could take that would put her on the “college track.” I am sure sometimes it felt more like I was an annoying helicopter mom than a cool older sister. I also made sure to be honest about mistakes I made, and things I didn’t know then that I wish I had known.

Last year, I helped her write her essays for her college applications. In the midst of my own crazy life, which now includes a child of my own, I always tried to set aside time to be there for her when she needed me.

When she started getting her acceptances, I cried. We went to look at colleges together earlier this year.

CREDIT: The author and her sister at her sister’s high school graduation. Photo credit: Betsy Aimee

After some debate, she decided on Mount Saint Mary’s College near home in Los Angeles. Then she announced she would be living in the dorms. I reassured my father that this was a tremendous opportunity for her to immerse herself in the culture of the university and be focused on her studies. When she needed to appeal her financial aid award, of course, I wrote it.

We went shopping for her dorm supplies together and part of me was super excited she was going to have the experience I never had. That is the thing about being a first generation big sister, like a parent, you want things for your siblings that you couldn’t have for yourself.

I also told her something that I wish someone had told me at her age. I told her that she is more than the sum of her accomplishments; that the determination and ethics that had gotten her to college would carry her through life no matter what happened.

I told her this because I also know that there is a particular type of guilt that plagues first-generation kids like us. We feel like we will never fully repay our parents for our sacrifices and we can punish ourselves harshly for any mistakes we make.

Recently, my family and I, including my father, brother and stepmother, moved her into her dorm. It was a bittersweet moment because, in my mind, she’s still a little girl looking up at me with wonder. But looking at me now is a bright, level-headed, hard-working young woman moving towards her future with the hopes of all her ancestors resting on her shoulders.

CREDIT: Photo credit: Betsy Aimee

As we walked back to the car my dad told me, “You should have more children. I would be having a much harder time letting go of your sister if I didn’t have you and your brother too.” I said, “Dad, what are you talking about? This one counts as one of mine too.”

While my sister has learned from me, being her big sister opened up a doorway to love and understanding the importance of mentorship for first generation kids.

After all, It is up to us who have paved the way to make sure we are leaving the door open for everyone coming behind us.


READ: While Homesickness During College Is Hard Enough As It Is, This Latino Student Explains Why It’s Been Even More Difficult For Him

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Here Are The States Offering Undocumented Residents Access to Financial Aid For College

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Here Are The States Offering Undocumented Residents Access to Financial Aid For College

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According to the Pew Research Center, there are roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants that reside in the U.S. as of 2016, which includes about 700,000 people under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In total, the group represents 3.4 percent of the country’s total population. Undocumented students are a subset of this group and face various roadblocks due to their legal status, including obstacles that prevent them from receiving equal educational opportunities as U.S. citizens and legal U.S. residents. 

Most universities don’t offer in-state tuition to undocumented students and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) is not available for undocumented students either. For those who live in states that don’t offer in-state tuition, it means taking on huge loans and working multiple jobs to pay for tuition, or sometimes, foregoing college altogether.

Yet, there are a handful of states in the U.S. that are doing their part to help undocumented students receive some sort of financial assistance. Whether that’s legislation extending in-state tuition rates to undocumented students who meet specific requirements or receiving state financial aid, there is help. 

The following U.S. states allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid.

Credit: Nicole Honeywell / Unsplash

1. California

In California, there were 200,150 students that were participating in the DACA program as of August 2018, according to the Migration Policy Institute. This means that many of those students received some kind of financial assistance when it came to their education. State law (AB 540, AB 130, and AB 131) provides undocumented students with in-state tuition and state-funded financial aid. There are 23 campus options for the California State University system and 9 campus options of the University of California (UC).

The average cost of in-state tuition and fees: $9,680

2. New Mexico

New Mexico is doing it’s part when it comes to helping undocumented students pursue higher education. The state offers in-state tuition and financial aid to undocumented students through SB 582. The state also has one of the lowest costs when it comes to in-state tuition and fees.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $6,920

3. Oregon

Back in April 2013, Oregon adopted a state policy, HB 2787, granting in-state tuition to undocumented students. This has opened up countless opportunities for many who are pursuing college. 

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $10,360 

4. Minnesota

Minnesota offers in-state tuition and state financial aid to undocumented students through the MN Dream Act. This includes over two dozen colleges and universities offer in-state tuition to all students, regardless of status, residence, or MN Dream Act eligibility.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $11,300

5. Texas

The Lone-Star State is certainly the biggest state in the country and is also one a huge resource when it comes to assisting aspiring colleges students. In Texas, undocumented students may qualify for Texas State Financial Aid. The state in 2001 became the first in the nation to allow undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition to public universities. They only need to have lived in Texas for the three years before they graduated from high school.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $9,840

6. Washington

Undocumented students are eligible to receive in-state tuition as of 2003 via HB 1079. In 2014, the state also enacted the Washington State DREAM Act into law, making undocumented students eligible for state financial aid.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $9,480

7. New Jersey

In 2013, New Jersey gave in-state tuition benefits to undocumented immigrants. Last year, undocumented students were finally able to apply for state financial aid after Gov. Phil Murphy signed bill NJ S 699 (18R) opening up state funds for undocumented immigrants going to college.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $13,870

The following states allow for in-state tuition rates for undocumented students 

(This includes the previous 6 mentioned states that allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid)
Credit: Charles DeLoye / Unsplash

1. Colorado

In 2013, state lawmakers in Colorado created SB 13-033 which allows undocumented children to follow their American dreams. They allowed them to pay the significantly cheaper in-state tuition to go to state colleges instead of higher out-of-state prices.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $10,800

2. Connecticut 

In 2011, the Connecticut General Assembly approved a law which offers undocumented students residing in Connecticut in-state tuition benefits at the state’s public colleges. HB 8644 not only allows for undocumented students to pay in-state tuition for college, but it also states that students only have to attend two years of high school in the state to be eligible.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $12,390 

3. Florida

Former Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 851 into law in 2014. The measure allows undocumented students who spent three consecutive years in a Florida high school and applied to an educational institution within 24 months of graduating to apply for and out-of-state tuition waiver.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $6,360 

4. Illinois

Undocumented students in Illinois are eligible for in-state tuition and private scholarships through Public Act 093-007 (In-State Tuition) and SB 2185 (Illinois DREAM Act). Students can also access the state’s Monetary Award Program, aka MAP grants.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $13,620

5. Kansas

In 2018, HB 2145 gave undocumented students in Kansas access to in-state tuition. To qualify, students must have attended a Kansas high school for three or more years.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $9,230 

6. Maryland

In Maryland, things are a bit different compared to other states when it comes to financial assistance. Undocumented students are eligible for in-state tuition under SB 167, however, they must attend a community college before qualifying for in-state tuition at a public university.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $9,580

7. Nebraska

The state has provided in-state tuition to undocumented students for the last 13 years. LB 239 states that undocumented students must have attended high school for at least three years before graduating high school or receiving a GED.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $8,270

8. Utah

Utah gave undocumented students access to in-state tuition back in 2002. HB 144 states that people are eligible for in-state tuition if they attend high school in Utah for three or more years and must file or be willing to file when able an application for residency.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $6,790

9. New York

Through the Dream Act, undocumented students who meet the Tuition Assistance Program requirements, currently received access to state financial aid. Previously, New York had allowed all high school students who graduated from a New York high school an opportunity to receive in-state tuition at two local colleges, City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY).

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $7,940

10. Oklahoma

HB 1804 made it possible for undocumented students in the state can receive in-state tuition if they graduated from a private or public Oklahoma high school and were accepted to a school in Oklahoma’s state university system.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $8,460

11. Rhode Island

While it might be the smallest state in the country, it’s still doing its part to help undocumented college students by offering in-state tuition. The Board of Governors for Higher Education voted unanimously to give undocumented students in-state tuition if they graduated from a Rhode Island high school and sign an affidavit saying they will apply for legal residency when eligible.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $12,230

12. Virginia 

Virginia still has work to do but, currently, students on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are eligible for in-state tuition. However, there are people fighting to expand that benefit to all undocumented residents of the state.

The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $12,820

READ: This Latino College Grad Is Showing How To Persevere Against All Odds In the Face Of Ignorance And Racism

A Latina’s Viral Facebook Post Sends Message To First-Generation Students: “You cannot behave like the rest of them”

Entertainment

A Latina’s Viral Facebook Post Sends Message To First-Generation Students: “You cannot behave like the rest of them”

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A new fall season is upon us, which means it’s time to hit the books and go back to school. For some of us, “back to school” can ignite dread, anxiety, and stress. For others, it could mean a time to reunite with friends or go full-throttle into our studies. For most of us, going back to school fuels feelings that teeter between anxiety and utter joy. It’s a confusing time, especially for those incoming freshmen Latinas that will be entering a whole new world of firsts, doubts, and loneliness.

College life isn’t just about studying for so many children who are first-generation immigrants. Instead, for many, education and the potential paths it can lead us to, weighs heavier.

Valeria Alvarado, a Texan Fulbright scholar, wrote an incredible Facebook post that highlights the hardships that first-generation Latinas will face as freshmen in college.

Credit: Facebook/@valeria.alvarado

Alvarado, who’s currently in Serbia as an English Teaching Assistant, began her letter of advice to Latinas by saying, “You’re gonna see all the other freshmen moving in with their families, taking box after box into their rooms, while you’re standing there, alone, with your two maletas [suitcases] and backpack. It’s sucks; I know. And you’re going to be meeting so many different types of people and students. You’re going to see the other students sometimes online shopping during class. You. Can. Not. Be. Like. Them.”

“You. Can. Not. Be. Like. Them” was the overall general theme of Alvarado’s post, and it hits home for so many of us who have been in those shoes.

Credit: Facebook/@valeria.alvarado

Alvarado’s post went live 24 hours ago and has had almost 8K shares.

She goes on to say in her post that while other students may be partying it up, and taking school for granted, Latinas have to remain focus because our life depends on this privilege of being able to go to college. There’s no slacking off in school for us, she wrote, “Estás becada y no puedes actuar como los otros.” You have a scholarship, and you cannot behave like the rest of them.

Your duty, as a first-generation Latina in college, is to help your family out of poverty. You’re able to have a college education because of their hard work and sacrifices.

Credit: Unsplash

Alvarado, who became a U.S. citizen in 2013 and has been an advocate for the Latinx community since the Donald Trump’s election win, noted, “This education is for you, for your papis, your siblings, your community.” She also expressed concern over your mental health which will be immensely affected by this new period in college. She reminds you, though, that you have much more strength than you know because your family has strength.

You will want to give up, she wrote. You will be frustrated, but rest assure your work in college will pay off.

Credit: Unsplash

It will feel like the future of your family depends on your studies, and it does. That means you have to know that your worth is what put you in college in the first place, she offered. That is what will pull you through your college days when you’re feeling frustrated and lonely.

Alvarado not only offered words that were 100 percent on point, but she also provided words of encouragement and support.

Credit: Unsplash

“You have people who LOVE you. You have little Latina girls that you are INSPIRING. You have abuelitos, abuelitas, tías, y tíos that BRAG about you cuando están chismeando. You have friends and neighbors that are so PROUD of you. Eres el orgullo de tu familia.”

She finished her touching post by giving tips which including a message to Latinas to call their abuela when they want to make comfort ford.

More than anything, Alvarado wants first-generation Latinas to know that their self-worth and that dedication makes us stand out above the privileged elites who take school for granted.

“You are the first, but not the last,” she wrote. “So unpack those two suitcases with pride. You are powerful.”

People loved her words of wisdom and shared their own stories of going away to college for the first time.

Ashley Cruz commented on Alvarado’s post by writing, “Oh freaaakk I remember moving to San Francisco with 4 maletas, $100 in my pocket, and no family to move me in but it is so fucking worth it.” Merrina Mendez-Itima wrote, “I seriously felt this so much! If you’re reading this you got this mama and you have a team behind you who did it before you!”

Share this with any college freshmen you know!

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