Getting First Generation Latinos To and Through College

I dreamed of attending UC Berkeley since my first visit in the third grade. I remember looking up to massive buildings and walking through beautiful forested areas. I also remember hearing that “Cal is #1.” I assumed they meant it was the first school everyone applied to because I was too young to know anything about university rankings. I know understand that “#1” referred to Cal’s ranking among other prestigious universities. During an eventful senior year, I was accepted, and my dream became my reality. I felt as if I had reached the finish line and could finally breathe.

I quickly realized that this finish line only meant the beginning of another leg in a relay race. High school was my first segment, and college would be my second with many more hurdles to jump over. My high school, Leadership Public Schools Richmond, is known for it’s high rate of college acceptances. I always thought that attending LPS would equate to college success. A few weeks into my first semester in college, I began to realize that getting to college was the easy part. Getting through college was going to be a whole different ball game.

After a few weeks of panicking and questioning my decision to attend such a prestigious institution, I was lucky enough to find resources on campus that were tailored to my needs as a student. I began to find spaces where first generation, students of color receive any support needed ranging from academic counseling to assistance with food. These spaces included the Student Parent Center, the Educational Opportunity Program and the Undocumented Student Center. Even if I didn’t enter the space with a specific need, it was comforting to see familiar faces and have a space to talk about the rigors of Cal.

Many Latinos, especially at Cal, are the first in their families to attend college. I remember being frustrated when I needed help filling out the FAFSA or deciding what classes to take. All of my peers seemed to have college knowledge as a sixth sense, and I was lost trying to find my way. I applaud the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics for tailoring the college conversation to Latinos specifically. We are such a family-oriented culture with certain needs in college such as bilingual resources so that our families can be a part of our experience as well as the need for financial resources. We deserve the focus of initiatives like this because our experiences often get lost in college statistics. This initiative successfully balances these important data with the rich narratives of Latino college students. The ¡Gradúate! Financial Aid Guide to Success is for Latino students and their families; it provides specific resources ranging from undocumented student support to more general advice for Latino students on selecting a college in both English and Spanish.

I am currently finishing my senior year of college and will be graduating in May. I will be pursuing a career in education through teaching. I have been fortunate enough to have mentors along the way who have provided the guidance that I needed to navigate the work world and my academics. Mentors have been an important contribution to my success. Now that I am beginning to enter positions of power, I feel that it is my duty to give back to my community and to provide my students with the same guidance and motivation that I sought when I was entering college. It takes a village to achieve college success, and we are all important pillars of this village.

Despite my parents not being able to offer me concrete, step by step advice on graduating college, they were able to provide the comfort and motivation I needed to be emotionally stable enough to take the challenge on. On the busiest weeks, visiting my family and hearing an “echale ganas mija” was enough to re-energize me and give me strength to jump through that hurdle. My parents often vocalized their desire to help me out and even attempted to offer what advice they could. However, they had as many questions as I did. We cannot look down on our parents and families for not having the background knowledge on college and career readiness. As first generation Latinos in college, we need to reflect on the fact that it won’t just be us crossing the stage during graduation, it will be our parents, tíos, abuelas, and little siblings doing so too. A win for one of us is a win for all of us, we cannot take that lightly.

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Daniela Felix

Daniela Felix

Daniela is a first generation college student who is heavily involved in education in her home district, West Contra Costa Unified. After becoming a mother at a young age, Daniela’s passion for education justice only intensified and she began to fight for an equitable education for all children, regardless of background or zip code. Daniela played a key role in organizing parents with the California Charter Schools Association and is a firm believer in school choice for all families. She is currently a Lead Organizer with Students for Education Reform, organizing college students around education justice issues in her home district. She was recently accepted into Teach for America and plans to continue impacting the lives of children in her hometown of Richmond, CA as a high school social studies teacher. Daniela is a UC Berkeley senior pursuing her B.A. in Legal Studies and Education along with her 4 year old daughter and husband. Daniela is a firm believer in that every single child is capable of meeting high expectations if given the correct support. Daniela hopes to be a provider of that support.

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  1. Pingback: I’m a First-Generation Latina at UC Berkeley and I Thought I Wouldn’t Make It – BeWell Health & Wellness

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