What My First-Gen Experience Means To Me
Updated: Jul 23
I’ll be the first to admit that for most of my life, I’ve ran in tight-knit friend circles that have been primarily white. Back in high school I hung out with the beach kids and competed on the swim team and did waterpolo—both primarily white sports with some level of diversity because it's Oxnard. I never really felt distinctive from my white friends and peers; that is, until I'd occasionally hear someone drop a derogatory slur like "beaner" or "ched."
I'd feel the inexplicable sting and lump in my throat form, but it wasn't enough for me to say anything because in a way I believe I was excluded from the joke—it wasn't about me it was about others.
My inability to see the invisible chip on my shoulder at the time was due to my ignorance and my lack of cultural perspective. For most of my childhood, my parents worked to live and lived to work, and my maternal grandparents stepped in to care for me when my parents were working. My parents are both immigrants who came here when they were in their early teens and met while working in their job at a nursery where my dad still works to this day. They came here with a dream and little resources but built a life out of sheer hard work and perseverance. I like many other first-generation children out there can confidently attest that my parents are the hardest working people I know. Their struggles have inspired me to pursue dreams that simply weren't possible for them.
Still, as honorable and selfless their sacrifices were, I know my role as the daughter of immigrants is laden with expectations. Although it's not blatantly spoken all of the time, I understand there's a lot of pressure to succeed and surpass our parent's expectations because they made the ultimate sacrifice for our existence. Those are some big shoes to fill. Their words "echale ganas" which means "give it your all" echoed loud in my head when I was applying to universities in community college and when I was struggling to remain afloat at UCLA. I remembered them when I walked the line at my graduation and when I grappled with the rocky transition into post-grad life. And even now as I slowly emerge into adulthood, I can't deny that their words don't move me or effect my mentality.
What sets apart the first-generation experience from others is the fact that there is no roadmap to guide us. There is no one that came before us to give us instructions on what to do or where to go next. There is no handbook to tell us if we're doing it right and many times it may feel like we're not.
It's an equally beautiful and terrifying experience to blaze the trail of our own generation, because the fact of the matter is that our path remains unpaved. We have been granted the opportunity to create a life for ourselves in the Land Of Opportunity and on the backs of our ancestors. That's a privilege not to be taken lightly.
As a teenager, my own naïveté kept me from realizing that the microaggressions I overlooked, in fact did not exclude me. It took education and exposure to the diverse perspectives and people at UCLA for me to gain a broader outlook on the world the world and my part in it. The same can't be said for all people, but the thing is you don't need a fancy degree to not be an ignorant assh*le. It takes empathy, compassion, and a willingness to connect on a human level to learn about other's individual experiences. In this our highly polarized sociopolitical climate we need empathy, compassion, and an open ear if we want to cultivate peace and tolerance.
As I walked down Downtown Ventura in my Daughter of An Immigrant shirt, I couldn't help but feel a bit nervous. Downtown is full of retired older middle class white folks and out-of-towners so I didn't know whether someone was going to take offense or comment on my shirt. We are after all, living in a post-Trump and Pro-Trump era where flamboyant displays of racism and hostility are considered the norm, so thus I hold onto my t-shirt as a statement and proud declaration of my identity.
It's feels bizarre to me that my identity and existence as a whole can be so politicized that the very act of wearing a t-shirt can be a declarative statement. Part of me feels the need to be complacent and not stir up any "trouble" to offend anyone, but at the same time I feel a responsibility to be transparent about my identity because I feel it is essential to my narrative—a narrative that is shared by a large majority of minorities.
Every first-generation story is vastly different from the next and that's precisely what makes telling our stories so important. My life has been marked by struggle and personal trials that could've easily deterred me from pursuing my goals and dreams, but I think back to the fierce diligence my family instilled in me. I will continue to "echarle ganas" in the face of everything life or people may try to throw my way.
I am the daughter of immigrants and a first-generation college-educated Latina. I was born into this country not by choice but by luck. Many people do not have the sweet privileges I have had in my life and I strive to be as aware as I can of this. It's important for me to remember where I come from because it also serves as a reminder of how far I am wiling to push forward—for not only myself but for my family. 🇲🇽 🇺🇸 ❤️
Statement Tee: Daughter of An Immigrant
Blue Velvet Jumper: Nordstrom Rack