Sunday, March 22, 2009

College Program: Interview with a First Generation Latina College Graduate

The first interview in my series on minority experiences in college prep and as college students kicks off with an interview with a first generation Latina college graduate.

This college graduate grew up with her mother, an immigrant from a Latin American country, and her siblings. She was the first in her family to attend an institution of higher learning an accomplished much during her tenure as a college student. This young woman achieved excellent grades as a high school and college student, attained fluency of a foreign language during a one year study abroad program, and will attend law school in the fall. Notably, this young woman achieved all this even though she had to financially support herself and her mother almost entirely while in college. The interview follows below.

Question: What were your assets preparing for and going into college as a first generation Latina student?

Response: I was fortunate enough to have a lot of encouragement from my mom and my teachers. I never really questioned if college was perhaps for me or not - it was always something I knew I'd do even though my parents and older brothers and sisters didn't go to college. I think my positive attitude and my mothers encouragement helped me. I was also very involved in high school and I believe that helped my university see potential in addition to just minority status.

Question: What challenges did you face as a first generation Latina, either in your college prep process or as a college student?

Response: I think the biggest challenge I faced as a first generation Latina to attend college was my mother's unfamiliarity with the system. She couldn't help me and although you can get help at school, it's still hard to never have anyone to give you advice or warn you about how college might be. Subsequently, one has to work a lot harder to gather that type of information. I think it added stress for me. I think I would have liked my mother to talk to me about college. That never happened.

On that same note, I have a unique situation because I had to live at home, so that I could use my financial aid to pay for our mortgage since my mother was unemployed. Perhaps similar things can happen to first generation minorities who go to college and are not completely detached from worries back home. That's definitely detrimental to performance and even sociability. That was another big challenge for me.

Question: What advice would you give to other Latino students preparing to go to college?

Response: I would suggest that the summer before senior year of high school, or even the one after, prospective students should look for mentors, read about college life, etc., so that they can make the most of it. I would also suggest that they encourage their parents to be involved in the process. Sometimes parents seem to feel detached and think they cannot contribute. However, a mere presence or display of interest and encouragement can make a great difference.

And learn a foreign language! I'd suggest that. College is still a great time to start.


Thank you to our interviewee. If I ever need a trilingual lawyer, you will be the first person I call!

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