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My research paper explains what it means to the students and thier families to actually be the first in thier family to graduate and pursue a higher education. This essay

ellaborates that feeling and importance.



We, Yetzenia and Jose, were given an assignment to do a documentary about something we were passionate about, something that had a lot of meaning for us. After a lot of thinking, we chose to document what it is like for young Latinos who are the first generation of immigrant families to graduate from high school or go to college. They are the first in their families to have the opportunity to succeed in a foreign land, and the act of achieving the goals that were predetermined for them when their parents came to America, is something to be noted. The odds are truly against them. It is only with the purest determination and perseverance, love and support from families, and a genuine desire for a beautiful life that makes it possible for people like us to succeed.

      This topic has been the repeating theme of our upbringing. Both of us come from immigrant parents, who have pushed us our whole lives to lay the foundation for a better life. Not a day has gone by that we have not been reminded, consciously or unconsciously, of what our parents have gone through decades ago. What we truly know is that it does make a difference, that we do make a difference.

      Making it through school and graduating is something to be recognized. Only 54% of Latino high school students graduate from high school1, which makes succeeding in high school that much more impressive for that Latino. The thing is, it doesn’t just end at that one individual. A diploma does not only stand for that one person. Graduating sets up that one person to live a better life than their elders had, but that prosperity will be reflected even more so on the generations to come. The future generations are guaranteed an American life, and have a decent shot at achieving the “American Dream.” The seed of comfort and security becomes planted with that one person, and will grow to give an everlasting fruit of opportunity and knowledge to more and more generations. This is why we had chosen to do a documentary on this issue, because it is something very dear to our hearts.



Erik Licea is 23 years old, he's a business major, hopefully soon to be married, and an older brother to 2 younger sisters, one including Yetzenia.  He was also the first member of his family to go to and graduate from a university.  He has set a major example for not only Yetzenia and her sister, but for his whole family including the generations to come.
Though he looks obviously Mexican, he has no accent which tells us he's been living in the US for a long time.  He sports a San Jose State University shirt and has an aged face that makes him look about 50 or so, yet he has not a single grey hair on his head. Robert went to college and dropped out after deciding he wasn't ready for that part of life yet. He went back to school in his mid 40's and decided to get his masters in teaching. He already works as a teacher in San Jose where he teaches 50% Latino immigrant students. He wishes there was more Latino representation in universities nowadays, and that a much larger amount than a sad 8% would graduate from college.
Lisa is a senior at Mountain View High School in her last semester of high school.  She is the first in her family to graduate from high school, which is a big deal for her.  Her brother didn't make it, leaving her father's hope on her.  She sports her hair in a tight bun and large silver hoop earrings and speaks what she feels at all times, typical flamboyant Mexican girl.  She laughs as Yetzenia asks her how she feels to almost be done with her goal.  "It feels hecka good!" Lisa comes from a traditional Mexican family, her father immigrated to the US began their life from scratch.  She's glad to be making her dad proud.
When asked how she feels about her brother's accomplishments in college and how far he's come, Yetzenia speaks with passion and admiration. She says she's so proud of everything her brother has done and that it let's her know that she can do it too. "My brother's planted the seed for his kids and his kids' kids so that they don't have to trip on going to college, and that also let's me know, that I can do it too." Because of what Yetzenia's brother Erik has achieved, her family has proof that they can make it in this country not only through their labor of hands, but through their labor of minds as well, which she recognizes.

Family Matters

To be an immigrant means to be someone who is or comes from a family that moves to another country in order to better themselves and gain a better quality of life.  Mexicans make up a huge amount of California's population and work forces.  Any Mexican parent's dream is for their kid to go to college and make something of themselves. Yetzenia agrees, "we're raised with that mentality never really leaving our mind, that we have to make something of ourselves and we have to appreciate what our parents worked so hard to make available to us.  And when you're the first in your family to do that, to go to college and to take that step, it's a huge deal."  Graduating from high school is a big deal for Lisa as well.  She's the first one in her family to graduate from high school, as she finishes her second semester of her senior year, " it feels good to be like the first one in my family to graduate cause my brother didn't make it, he dropped out so that was a little, you know, sad cause that was all his hopes for my brother to graduate and he didn't so like now all the focus is on me, but I really wanna' do it."  To be able to say your son or daughter graduated from a college or university is a big thing for any parent, but it has a special significance when it comes to Latino immigrant families. Yetzenia describes how great it was for her family to watch her brother Erik graduate from USC, "It just meant a lot to everybody in the family like, you know because my parents came from Mexico and they were here and then now that my brother was doing these things, planted the seed so that way his kids don't have to trip off of anything, and they're kids won't have to trip off of anything…it's almost impossible to put into words.  But you can see it, like I can see it in my parents.  I can see how proud they are to see my brother succeed and do so well, and how proud they are of my sister because of where she's at, and all I can really do is just, you know, at least try to make them proud in the same way."  Support from a family is perhaps the most important key to success. Erik agrees with Yetzenia's statements, "I would say my family had a huge importance in supporting me to go to college.  Simply due to the fact that again my family really pushed me to go to college." The fact that Erik was first generation made it that much more important for him to make it to college.  "Because I was going to be the first in my family to graduate from a top rank university in essence kind of  putting my mark on this country "  The only expectation Erik, Yetzenia, and so many other Latino kids have from their parents is to go to college and get an education.  To Latinos, this is almost like a way of establishing their sense of belonging in this country and saying that they refuse to not make it, and that it is possible.


Of course, making it to college isn't as easy as one may think.  Aside from the challenges that all students have, such as taking the SAT, applying for scholarships, getting financial aid, and doing well in school; there a whole other level of challenges a student experiences because they are first generation.  The fact that they're first generation means that their parents probably don't know the first thing about getting into college or applying for aids and scholarships.  Erik recalls having to collect all this information on his own simply because his parents had never gone through this process before, "The biggest obstacle was that I had no information.  All the information I received from college, I had to obtain by myself or for myself. Like I said I'm a first generation so my mom and dad didn't what the SAT's were, they didn't know what the requirements were, they didn't know about applications or scholarships.  All of that information I had to obtain by myself."  Lack of information is a difficult situation, as well as lack of financial support for college.  Many students out there think that they can't apply for scholarships because they wont get the money or they won't qualify, but they never know what's out there.  Because of this lack of finance and motivation to get money for school, many students instead drop out of school to work or get a job after they graduate instead of going to college.  This emphasis on not having to go to school and getting a job instead comes especially from Latino families because of the struggle for money they experience as immigrants.  Robert agrees and says, "Lots of my students are immigrants who's parents are working 2 or 3 jobs who are saying, you know, graduate, get a job, and help us out.  College isn't important, we just need you to help us out."  What they don't realize is that by going to college, they're child is doing much more good in the long run.  Lisa also says that she sees the struggles some families go through because of money and recognizes the pressure parents sometimes put on their student to get a job instead, "most people just want money right now, like it's kinda hard for their family, they don't have the opportunity I had because they're parents might not be as lucky as mine to have their own stuff so they have to help them out, so they drop out."  A lack of support can also cause students to not think about college, uninterested parents mean uninterested kids.

Half the problem

Although we hold and emphasis on graduating high school and going to college, going to college is only half the issue.  After getting into college, the next test is graduation.  Robert says, "75% of students who graduate high school go to college," but a surprisingly high amount drop out. "only 8% of Latinos actually graduate from college."  Robert says that he actually left college his first time around. "I wasn't ready to be grown up at that point.  In college, there's no one telling you what to do or to get your work done or to wake up and go to class. It's all on you, and I wasn't ready for that. I went back to college when I was in my mid 40's."


The ultimate joy for a parent is seeing their child make something of themselves and be happy.  Erik's parents witnessed him be the first in their family to graduate from a prestigious university.  Yetzenia's older sister is now at USC as well, and Yetzenia hopes to graduate with her class of 2008 and attend San Jose State University and become a nurse.  Lisa wants to become a massage therapist and attend the National Holistic Institute after she graduates.  Robert is studying to receive his masters in education and continue his teaching career.  These people are all excellent examples of what the great man Cesar Chavez once said, yes it is possible.
Si Se Puede.