Written by: Steve Mota
It was Jan. 5, 2023. I was in my living room with my family preparing to leave for Southern Adventist University. My ticket was purchased, my roommate was set, and I was packed, but a large part of me still did not want to leave. My hesitance was not caused by a lack of excitement about the next phase of my life but by the immense sense of guilt I felt for leaving my family behind.
I felt guilty because, for most of my life, I’ve heard stories of the hardships my family endured for us to be able to live in the United States, the struggles my siblings faced as undocumented children and the challenges that arose with higher education. A large part of me wanted to call the whole move off and stay close to my family, where I could get a cheaper education and a job to start helping my parents financially.
This story isn’t unique. According to Forbes, 56% of students in the U.S. are first-generation, and 25% of those are Hispanic/Latinx. I am one of the many within that 25%.
What is unique to a lot of Hispanic/Latinx students, including myself, is this idea of breakaway guilt. This idea suggests that my decision to pursue higher education comes with the price of abandoning my family.
My parents weren’t opposed to me going to a university; they encouraged it, and my sister was a big supporter of me coming to Southern. However, something about leaving home felt like I was breaking away from my family, that, rather than continuing to pursue my education, I was abandoning my parents. Furthermore, a big part of why I chose to go to college was to bring honor to my family and community. When leaving home with this mindset, a person can feel totally alone in this experience.
Coming to a place where a lot of the people I meet aren’t first-generation makes me feel out of place. I’ve experienced challenges in areas professionally, financially and academically. My parents don’t have professional networks I can tap into and get advice from. My parents are trying their very best to support me financially through college, but there is an understanding that I will be putting effort into supporting myself. It’s been hard not being able to call my parents to help me in certain areas of school because they never went through it themselves. However, coming to Southern has been an easier transition with all the help and resources the university provides.
I view my status as a first-generation student as a source of strength. Everyday, I try to remind myself why I’m here. It’s a motivating factor that helps me become driven and determined. I look forward to the day when I can look at my parents and say, “Lo hicimos” (We did it).