It’s More than Just a College Sweater

As Originally posted Dianalamaestra.com

I couldn’t help but remember a defining moment in the relationship between my dad and myself when reading When Grit Isn’t Enough by Linda F. Nathan, and it all came down to class and money. I have a picture saved somewhere that shows me at a table at Black Angus, a restaurant that we went to on special occasions only. I’m holding a letter with one hand with my younger sister next to me, and with the other hand I’m covering my face, clearly crying.  The letter read something along the lines of “Congratulations Diana Cornejo you have been admitted to the University of San Diego.” This was my dream school, amongst the few we have in San Diego–you see as the eldest, I was discouraged, in fact told to stay in San Diego, but more on that later.

After reading my letter, my mom passed along a gift bag. What came out of there brought even more tears to my eyes. Attending a high school in a white, affluent area in San Diego, I saw students representing universities across their chest, many that I had never even heard of. This simple apparel for me was a clear signal of status–one that I assumed meant they had a parent or relative that graduated from there, or they, themselves, had visited the college. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was envious. My parents, even though my mom only graduated from high school and my dad never made it out of middle school had always set the expectation that I would go to college; not owning a piece of college gear reminded me that I was not part of that group. So when this college sweater was gifted to me, I felt like I, for a little bit, belonged. The pride arose strongly when my dad began to speak about the purchasing of the sweater. My dad, who works in landscaping, had swung by USD’s bookstore one day after work. I could picture him in dirt stained jeans and a sweaty work tshirt after a long day under the sun walking on to the ivory campus.  It brings a smile to my face to think about how he even managed getting there, who did he ask? What did he ask, “where can I buy a sweatshirt?” I wonder hesitantly about the greeting he received, both physically and verbally. You see my, dad taught me something very important that day, something my mother and he always taught me–I belong and I am worthy–even when I doubted it, they never did.

So that college sweater for me, meant belonging. It meant a future where I wouldn’t have to depend. It meant a future of success, one that my family had so much desired for me, you see, my father in his early twenties crossed the US-Mexican border illegally to grant me this opportunity, this privilege. For us, this college sweater meant the first step in fulfilling this American Dream.

And so, my #sanchtwins, when you read this later on in your future, know why you see so many pictures of yourselves since infants in various college gear, from college baby onesies to college tshirts, because it’s so much more than just apparel.

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