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I’m a First Generation College Student

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(Photo Courtesy of Esbehidy Hernandez)

By Esbehidy Hernandez

Imagine this, you are a first-generation college student raised by immigrant parents. You’ve been working hard to get to where you are and finally your hard work gets recognition. You receive an email notifying you that you’ve made it on the dean’s list. The excitement is almost overwhelming and telling your parents is the first thing you want to do, and you do but your excitement fades away as you see their attempt to be as thrilled as you are. You know they have no idea what the dean’s list is and what it means to make it. You try to explain and still the moment of happiness turns into a heavy feeling in your heart because it is not their fault they don’t understand. School wasn’t something their parents could afford. So now after a rollercoaster of emotions, you sit at your desk with a feeling that’s indescribable. You made it. You’re on the path to success but you can’t help but feel sad that you won’t receive the excitement and joy that you deserve after a huge milestone as a college student like you see in college acceptance videos.

This is my story, and I know I am not the only first-generation college student who has gone through a moment or moments like these and it’s important to me to let anyone who can relate know that I understand that feeling and that they are not alone. You are not alone. I have learned that it takes a special kind of courage and patience to fully comprehend what it is to be the first generation within my family.

As a first-generation student, I have always felt that I needed to show my parents the risks they took to cross the border, the hours of sweat and tears of hard labor, and countless moments of language barriers they had to go through to create a better future for my brothers and I was worth it. It has always been important to me to show them that their hard work has paid off. I am not just a first-generation student but I am also the firstborn and a woman. This means that I must set an example for my brothers and that’s not it, without a choice I must become the brother my brothers never had, their second mom, their second dad, and the secretary of the family. That may sound harsh but it is the reality, from translating important documents, and at meetings at a very young age to answering every phone call that was in English. I never said “no” because the simple thought of my parents struggling crushes my heart into pieces. 

That is why when my awards or achievements don’t receive the joy and admiration that is normally received it can be painful since most of my life it has been my duty to never let my sibling’s achievements go unnoticed. The way that I cope with that feeling is simply coming to terms that, unfortunately, they didn’t have the privilege of having an education and because I have to explain most of my achievements that doesn’t make my parents any less happy, or any less proud. They are watching and everything I accomplish, they are learning with me, and they are seeing me do the things they never got the opportunity to do. Most importantly they are witnessing me take on the world all on my own. If you can relate to this, It’s okay to feel sad, but know you are doing the best you can. I, the oldest, first generation immigrant daughter, am doing the best that I can.

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