I am the child of immigrants and a first-generation student. My parents moved to the United States from México before I was born. They wanted me to live where I would have opportunities they didn’t have growing up, to get a better education and live a better life. My mother believed in my future, so she sacrificed her comfort and her family in hopes that one day, I’d have the life she dreamt for me.
It was hard for my mother to transition to the culture in the United States and leave all she knew behind. It was especially hard to leave her family. She didn’t understand the language nor the culture, but she persevered. She found a job and quickly learned how to speak English, but living in the United States took a toll on her emotional health. She felt alone. She couldn’t see or hug her family back in México, and she missed them. We never had the opportunity to travel to México because of our economic status. However, she never regretted leaving.
Being Mexican — and American
Growing up, my siblings and I were surrounded by Mexican culture. We ate tamales, frijoles, pozole, tacos, and a variety of other Mexican foods. There was a piñata at every birthday party, México’s Independence Day, rosca for el Día de los Reyes Magos, and endless quinceañeras. However, I have also grown up in U.S. culture and sometimes feel like I know it better, simply because it’s ingrained in the education system.
I identify as Mexican-American, but it’s an identity I have struggled with. I’m proud of my identity and my Mexican heritage. But sometimes I felt like I wasn’t Mexican enough. How much did I really know about the country of my ancestors? I didn’t grow up there. Did that make me less Mexican? All of my other friends and family had been to México and described its beauty to me in detail. But I never had the chance to visit.
That’s why I decided to study abroad in México. Being here is a way to help me understand my Mexican identity. My mother didn’t understand. “I came to the U.S. to give you a better life, and you want to go back?” she’d ask. I had to explain what it meant for me to travel the world and especially how meaningful it was to me to come to México. Once she understood, she was still concerned, but she was glad I’d get to meet her family, who she hasn’t seen in 20 years.
Coming home to México
I didn’t know how I would feel, but once I stepped off the plane in México City, I felt a wave of happiness and ease rush through my body. I was home. These feelings intensified as my host parents picked me up in Mérida. The sun’s warmth felt like a hug. I felt like México was welcoming me with open arms and embraced me like a mother embraces her child, with love.
My first month here has been wonderful. I didn’t know how much my heart yearned to be in México until I was finally here, and it has helped me explore my identity. Little by little, I’m getting to know México, well, Yucatán. I’ve met such kind people that have made me feel welcome. I’m learning more about a variety of topics and I’ve had interesting conversations with people about politics and the culture.
Staying with a host family has helped me feel at home and allowed me to get to know and understand the people here and their way of life. Taking classes at UADY and engaging with students here has also helped. I’ve learned a lot just from being in the classroom, seeing how students engage with one another, and hearing their thoughts on different topics.
Part of me feels like a foreigner. In class, I can see that I’ve been educated differently and have learned different things. There are things I don’t understand or know because I didn’t grow up here. I stand out at the university, but part of me also feels like I belong. I’m excited to keep exploring and learn more about México, myself, and how I fit in here.
—Carolina R.-B. (Colby College), Mérida Universities Program; IFSA scholarship recipient
Family Matters First Generation Intercultural Agility Racial and Ethnic Identity