I am from New Jersey but I was born in Colombia… The Struggle of First Generation Students

“I tell people at school that I am from New Jersey because anybody can be from New Jersey…. I don’t tell professors about my background because I don’t want them to pity me, I don’t want to be a burden”   These are the words of Ana Maria, an Ivy-League student originally from Colombia (she came when she was 6 years old) in a series of recent articles from the Boston Globe and the New York times about First-Generation Students.

The articles features students from many backgrounds and ethnicities and their struggles in school.  How incredibly hard is to come by with the $15 co-pay for health services even when you have insurance… How we fight with ourselves to raise our hands in class because we are afraid we may be mispronouncing words we have read a hundred times but never spoke them aloud; how incredibly hard it is to navigate a system that requires so much from you and your support network when often times you have none.  You can not ask your parents or family to help you learn how to talk to professors, how to network, how to use office hours, how to ask for help because they were never in a position to learn any of those things.   How often times you have so little to share with your family about what you do and learn simply because they just would not understand it.  How lonely it feels and how the responsibility to make it weights on your shoulders because if you fail, you are going back to a life of poverty yourself and you are also dragging your family along with you.

Ana Barros leads the Harvard College First Generation Student Union. “This is a movement,” she says. “We are not ashamed of taking on this identity.” Credit Charlie Mahoney for The New York Times

Ana Barros leads the Harvard College First Generation Student Union. “This is a movement,” she says. “We are not ashamed of taking on this identity.”
Credit Charlie Mahoney for The New York Times

Many students consider their experience as a great privilege, an emotional experience, a blessing and a curse, life changing, difficult, rewarding, crazy, exhausting, insightful and privileged.

YES it is a huge privilege to have the opportunity go to school, let alone an Yvy League school.  That privilege speaks also of the incredible resilience, courage and intelligent of the students that inspite of their challenges got in and took a leap of faith into a new world full of wealth, knowledge, clothes that fit well and opportunities.

Still, it is our responsibility not to forget about those who have no platform to share their struggles as First Generation students, those that are denied the chance to experience an American academic institution of their choice and further their education because they just happen to live in a state like Georgia that bans undocumented students and even DACA recipients to their best colleges or because they limit tremendously the financial assistance to attend just about any college by not charging in-state tuition even if these students do not remember other place to call home.

GUYA students protesting the ban to attend the best colleges in Georgia

GUYA students protesting the ban to attend the best colleges in Georgia

The work Ana Barros at Harvard College is doing; “coming out” and speaking about first generation challenges while creating a community students can belong to, find support, establish friendships and make it through is incredibly important.   On the other side of the coin and equally important;  there is the work of students like Rigoberto Rivera, Mitzy Calderón, Karla Umaña, etc members of the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA) that simply want the chance to attend the best schools they can.

“If I fail, I’m going back to poverty, to working in a factory. I need to get good grades and get a job that pays well enough to help feed my family.” sais Alejandro Claudio…   At least he is given a change.   Our “Dreamers” in Georgia have NONE.

Last week, on April 8th, GUYA filed a petition to the Supreme Court of Georgia regarding the Court of Appeals (negative) ruling on the in-state tuition case.

Interested in the original articles?  Links below:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2015/04/09/what-like-poor-ivy-league-school/xPtql5uzDb6r9AUFER8R0O/story.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/education/edlife/first-generation-students-unite.html?ref=education&_r=2

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