Lifestyle, Opinions

A degree to succeed: The pressure of being a first-generation student

Throughout most of my life, I was constantly lectured by my parents that an education would bring me financial fulfillment and endless opportunities in my chosen career.

During the 1980s, my mother left Mexico City at 19 and my father left Guadalajara, Jalisco at 21. Both of them migrated to California to pursue the American Dream.

Mexico was described as an unequal country filled with poverty, and the income inequality left very little room to for optimism in order for their economy to improve due to “the very little progress with income distribution since the 1980s,” according to The Dynamics of Income Inequality in Mexico,

When my parents first arrived in the states, they didn’t know any English and worked 12 to 14 hours as farm workers where the pay was very low. Still, it was more than they would make in Mexico.

Throughout the years, both of my parents made so many sacrifices for my sister and I to have everything we needed, and the last thing I wanted to be was a disappointment to them especially because I didn’t want to major in the science or mathematics fields.

My father is a Computer Numerical Control programmer, and my mother is a Registered Dental Assistant, so they themselves are firm believers in education because they went to vocational career schools to obtain further opportunities.

In 2015, I went off to Cypress College after graduating high school because I couldn’t afford four-year tuition by myself, and I also had no idea what I wanted to do with my life at 18.

My educational pathway, on the other hand, took a while because I changed my major twice. I started as a nursing major, but after taking one pre-requisite course, I realized the medical field wasn’t meant for me, so I switched to an English major.

I’ve always loved reading, writing and spelling since I was in grade school, but the classes I needed to get an Associates Degree in English weren’t interesting enough for me. I was starting to feel hopeless and second guessing if college was even for me.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately one in 10 students changed their majors more than once, and 35% of students who originally started in STEM changed the major within three years.

When I became undecided for the third time, I knew deep down that I wanted to pursue journalism because I enjoyed writing and reading articles from the Los Angeles Times, Vice and Complex in my spare time. For so many years, I hesitated studying journalism because my depression and anxiety would convince me that I wasn’t good enough for it.

I will never understand the generational trauma my parents faced in Mexico, but they always made sure to persevere through the hardest times no matter what.

I can’t thank them enough for pushing me to continue at Cypress College, even though there were so many times where I physically and mentally could not handle it anymore because I felt so lost and discouraged that I was taking longer than others to get my associate’s degree.

Although many parents don’t support their children who want to pursue creative or artistic careers, I’m lucky enough to have mine come around and understand that journalism is my calling.

Everything happens for a reason, and I’m not ashamed to tell the world that I spent almost five years in community college before transferring to Long Beach State because I was also struggling with my mental illnesses, working a 30-hour weekly job at the time and on the journey to self-discovery.

Being a first-generation student will always have its ups and downs, but I have to remind myself that I’m on the route to success for myself and my loved ones.

This is the American Dream. We are their American Dream.

Para mis padres, los quiero mucho.

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