First-Generation Latinos Do Right by Their Parents
It’s hard enough to get out of bed on Monday morning. We go to work or school and complain about how much mornings suck. But for these students, the morning struggle is anything but because they know it’s nothing compared to what their parents endured to give them a better life. Their parents gave up their entire life, crossed borders and worked hard for an opportunity at something better. Watch what these students are doing to make sure this opportunity and their parents’ sacrifices don’t go to waste.
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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.
Getting through college and receiving your degree is not easy at all – especially when you’re a first-generation college student. But despite the stress and sleepless nights, reaching the finish line is the best feeling in the world, both for you and your family.
If you’re the first in your family to graduate, your parents react one of two ways when you cross the stage in your cap and gown: they cheer for you at the top of their lungs or they completely freeze and choke up in tears because they’re so happy and proud of you. And this is why…
As the first in your family to get a Bachelor’s Degree, one of the things you have to bear with and adjust to throughout your years of study is the education gap between you and your parents.
CREDIT: STEPHANIE OSUNA-HERNANDEZ / FACEBOOK
The contrast between the workload in high school and the workload in college hits you hard in the face as you enter your freshman year. Because you’re the first one in your family to get a college education, you can’t really go to your parents for help – or anyone else in your family and at times it feels like you’re walking in the dark. They give you moral support along the way, but when it comes to your Mechanical Engineering: Finite Element Analysis class or a course on Medieval and Renaissance Literature and Culture, your parents’ hands are tied. This education gap between you and your parents makes it crucial for you to seek help from friends, professors and academic advisors. You have to go out of your way and make time to get the assistance you need because college is way too expensive to feel too shy or intimidated to ask for help.
“I don’t think my parents fully understood what I was doing at my university and why I couldn’t just do it at a local college. I think that until now that I’ve graduated and have the job that I do, they see what I was preparing for all these years.” -Stephanie Osuna-Hernandez
In addition to the intense workload of college courses, another thing that takes time to adjust to is being away from home.
CREDIT: @CHEERISCAM / INSTAGRAM
If you don’t attend a college that’s close enough to commute to, moving away from your home is not easy, especially if you’re extremely close to your family. For the first few days or weeks, waking up in a place that’s not your home feels strange and somewhat uncomfortable. From no longer having home cooked meals, to no longer being taken care of by your mom when you’re sick, there’s a lot that changes once you live away from home, and to be honest, it fkn sucks. There are some days that are tougher than others and sometimes you just break down crying because things get so frustrating and stressful and there’s nothing you want more than your mom and dad. You wish they were there to hug you, hold you, and tell you that everything is going to be okay, but instead they’re miles away and the only thing you can do is call. But soon you learn, this is what helps you grow.
“My mom is my best friend and my dad is a goofball, so I missed them all the time. I needed them all the time – especially when I thought an assignment was too hard or I wasn’t smart enough, I would just call home and my mom would remind me that I could do it, because she knew I could. I graduated because they didn’t and I chose to push harder because they told me that they knew I could. It was all for them.” -Camerina Morales
And one of the scariest things of all, is dealing with the cost of tuition.
CREDIT: ANDREW SANTIAGO / FACEBOOK
Being the first person in your family to attend college, also means you’re the first one to apply for FAFSA, scholarships and loans and anyone who has been through it will tell you it’s not an easy process. The harder part is knowing that you’ll have to deal with the same expenses for the next school year, and the year after that…but what if you don’t receive as much financial aid, or what if the cost of tuition suddenly increases, or BOTH? The price tag attached to college is scary AF, which is what makes getting through it such an immense relief especially because you don’t want to burden your parents by asking them for some help.
“It all hinged on this one scholarship that had the ability to change my life….and the day I got the call, I collapsed into tears.” -Andrew Santiago
But at the end of your college career, all of these struggles are completely worth it…which is what makes your graduation day SO. DAMM. SPECIAL. ❤️
CREDIT: @JROLDEE247 / INSTAGRAM
Getting through college is not easy, especially when you’re the first one in your family to do it. But the look on your parents’ face when they see you cross that stage, is what makes every sleepless night, every hour of studying and every stressful exam, completely worth it. This is the best gift in the world that you could’ve given them, and they will never stop showing you off – with immense love, pride, and joy.
“Nothing beats the feeling of knowing they raised you, and that you chose to succeed, that you chose to break not one, but many stereotypes.” -Camerina Morales
And the best part is that now you can be there for all of your younger brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews once it’s their turn to apply for college.
CREDIT: @JAZSM / INSTAGRAM
Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re an idol to all of your younger family members. Seriously, you’re their hero. And now that you’ve gone through this process, you can now help out the rest of your family that also decides to attend college. It will still be a difficult journey for them, but at least they’ll have your support, guidance and advice, which is exactly what every student needs.
“Making my family proud was a priority, but hearing my baby brother say that he was proud of me was even better because I know he looks up to me…I guess it’s the same feeling I had when I was a little girl and looked up to my neighbors’ daughter who had graduated from med school in Guatemala. Children are influenced so easily, and I’m content knowing my little brother will follow my example.” -Jasmin Ramirez