Places | On Campus

My Mother’s Hope: On Being a First-Generation Latina in College

“We can make a positive impact and pursue our dreams in this country—even when we feel unwelcome in it.”

He went over my school credits and extracurriculars. “Tell me about your speech competitions,” he said.

First-generation students of color get used to the remarks: “You got in because of affirmative action.” “You know, it’s unfair that you’re a person of color and that makes you more interesting than me.” No matter the words, the sentiment is the same: You probably got admitted because of some fluke, not your own hard work.

paid a reduced tuition throughout those four years. My dad had died unexpectedly and didn’t leave behind a will, so she had to take on the daunting task of single parenting and managing the finances while raising a preteen.

While dealing with her grief, she still had to be my guide. Not once did I hear her complain about how she had to balance taking care of the house with working full-time and making sure I was fed and doing well in school. She had to help me navigate a world which she didn’t have experience with herself. She often sat hunched over at the dinner table, triple-checking each expense with a calculator nearby. “I don’t want you to worry about all this,” she said, whenever I asked about our finances. “I want you to focus on school.”

When I was seventeen, I walked across the stage in a white gown and received my high school diploma, bursting with excitement because I was headed to the University of Southern California.

As an eighteen-year-old college student, I found myself getting home later and later on weeknights. I wanted to do it all—take as many classes as I could, volunteer, work at the school newspaper, write freelance. One evening, I told my boyfriend at the time that I was ready to drop out. I felt gutted, exhausted, and unsure how to handle the pressures of living up to my family’s expectations. But school was such an important part of my life. If I didn’t graduate, my mom’s efforts would be in vain.