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My Dreams: Pursued + Pursuing

Updated: May 22, 2023

Last year, I was thrilled to begin reading a book written by a Latina who titled her book, For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts by Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez. The title spoke to me and with no surprise, I was amazed by how her words made me feel seen and acknowledged. I had never in my life related to an introduction to a book like the one Prisca wrote. As I was reading the introduction, I began to shed tears.

It was the first time someone had combined words so perfectly to describe the reality of my experience.

Party with balloons


She sheds light on the weight of “generational curses” many first-generation Latinas carry as we navigate life and unknown spaces.


Once upon a time, I dreamed of being where I am now. I had confidence that I would achieve my goals because I had an important motive driving my ambition. At 14 years old, I realized college was not going to be free, and I knew my parents would not be able to afford it, and I could not allow them to go into debt. Yet, I did not anticipate how lonely this journey was going to be. My parents were not going to know the answers to my questions or provide me with the guidance that many students may receive from their parents. My mother and father are immigrants from Guatemala who have lived in the U.S. for over 25 years. They are my motivation and inspiration to achieve success. I do everything I do to honor my parents’ sacrifices, hard work, and endless support. I quickly learned that every decision I make about my life needs to be calculated.


I do not consider the weight I carry as a daughter of immigrants a burden because of how it has molded me into the person I am today, but I know people depend on me to meet expectations that my parents could never have for themselves.


Expectations might not be said out loud, but the pressure of giving back to my parents and making their sacrifices worthwhile influences every decision I make: from moving out to create a space of my own to how I spend my money and what experiences I choose to create and give myself. Many of the experiences have been positive and rewarding to make my parents proud. However, I do have to shed light on the moments when my parents completely disregarded how far I have worked and navigated a journey of many “firsts.” As a first-generation student, I did not know if I was going down the correct path or whether I was seeking the necessary resources. Many times I wished that my parents could be the first people I sought for guidance and to be able to seek my parents’ validation and recognition, but I could not. For this reason, I sought out mentors and built a support system that would provide me with the necessary guidance and validation my parents could not.


In high school, I made it my focus to earn good grades, win a scholarship for college, and of course, graduate from high school. I received good grades, became my class’s salutatorian, was awarded the Lilly Endowment Scholarship (a full-tuition scholarship for any public or private university in Indiana), and was accepted to my number one choice school, Butler University. Ever since high school, I had to be excellent and exceptional for survival. I have to be great because no higher education meant no stability, a privilege I wanted to be able to have.


In college, my day-to-day tasks continued to focus on getting good grades, working towards graduating from college, and landing a job. I received good grades, obtained internships, networked, volunteered, and upon graduation landed a job.


Yet, meeting expectations meant sacrificing time that needed to be allocated elsewhere. I reflect today and had once again a moment of realization that during my four years of college, I became so focused on my end goal of graduating and obtaining a full-time job...I never took the time to live in the moment as a college student. It felt like I had to keep swimming to stay afloat, no matter the moments of burnout.


I gave up precious time to invest it into opportunities that as a first-generation student I had to ensure I obtained to prove myself as a Latina I can achieve my career goals. I did not stop to enjoy the swim or the view.


I always considered what was expected from me because I had everything to lose and opportunities I needed to seek to set me up for success.


After graduating from college, I thought that I had met every possible expectation. At this point, what more can I do? One day I was on the phone with my mother. We were on the topic of employment and she mentioned my cousin, who is a nurse. She follows by stating, “Maria, you should find a better paying job.” Her statement landed like a gut punch.

Women sitting in a circle

I could not continue the conversation because of how shocked and furious I felt. Did she really say that to me? I am currently making more than both of my parents’ incomes combined. But can I really expect my parents to understand the journey I have faced navigating unknown spaces?


Breaking generational curses and glass ceilings is an endless responsibility I have come to accept. I may not always know what I am heading into, yet I know the challenge will continue to mold me.


I have the choice to live and create a life my parents never had as young adults. I want to live every day with the ability to provide myself with experiences that will continue to mold me. I want to be a role model and an example for my siblings. The opportunities they can obtain are endless because I was once able to meet my goals and dreams.


Now how do I change my own rhetoric of meeting expectations? My parents did not and currently, in some capacities, do not have the luxury to choose to do the things they “love.” The majority of the time, it was because they were constantly seeking economic stability.


Today, the opportunities I have been able to obtain have allowed me to choose. I have had the privilege of choosing a life that will make me happy. But having the freedom to choose and create your own life as a first-generation Latina means you carry the weight of guilt.


You learn to live life as a collective because family comes first. This idea hinders your ability to go outside the norm to create your individual identity. I am learning to understand it is okay to fill your cup first and accept my parents’ happiness does stem from mine. I can have agency and the power to define what happiness looks like for me without the pressure of meeting my parents’ or society’s expectations. As first-generation students and or children of immigrant parents, as we are entering unknown spaces for the first time and accomplishing things we once dreamed about experiencing–never forget to take a moment to breathe and float. We become immune to the idea that we have to continue to “succeed” and check off an accomplishment from our list of goals to validate our own worth or feel like we are honoring our parents’ sacrifices every day. Let us allow ourselves to shift our mindset to set expectations of balance, recognition, and celebration.

 

Written by Maria De Leon. Photography courtesy of Mujeres Conectadas.

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