First Generation Dreams


We live in a country that was founded on immigration. However, following Trump’s candidacy and inauguration, it seems as though the focus has been on persecuting “illegal aliens” from south of the border. What we often don’t stop to question is why these people come to the supposed land of the free. These immigrants from Central and South America often flee violence, government corruption, deserted lands, and no opportunity in their home countries.

The USA is thought to be a land of the free, but that is hardly the case. From the start, Trump’s candidacy has rallied around racism. Not only against Latinos, but also against African-Americans, Muslim-Americans, and other ethnic minorities. Latinos, specifically, have been targeted with slanderous labels of being “illegal”, “drug dealers,” “rapists,” and so on.

First Generation Difficulties

These children born to immigrants become first generation citizens of the US. The power struggle for an identity begins. Language barriers, resource inequalities, discrimination and the push to conform are a few struggles they’re faced with.

Language Barriers

For first generation children, language barriers are a legitimate issue that although can be surpassed, may lead to lower self-esteem, ignorant beliefs that they aren’t smart, and allows for the continued establishment that English is the “dominant” language of the country, although there is no official language established. This is important to note because language mastery isn’t the only form of measuring intelligence and this is often a skewed belief that politicians, teachers, and other individuals possess.

My first language was Spanish and I wasn’t exposed to English until first grade which caused me to suffer greatly during the academic year. I participated in the ESL program at my elementary school, but catching up was quite difficult. Prior to learning English, I had been taught to speak, read and write Spanish. Differing from my experience, my brother only spoke Spanish, but learned the English language and how to read and write it starting in kindergarten.

The struggles of a first generation child of an immigrant goes beyond academic difficulties. You are often expected to perfectly translate and interpret conversations for parents who cannot speak English or don’t understand it. As the years go by, you gain a better understanding of the English language, but unless you are trained to translate it still proves to be difficult. Why not learn the language then? You cannot expect a full-grown adult to grasp a new language, when their brain has been tuned to one specific language their whole life. It’s possible, of course, but it’s difficult for even the most enthusiastic learner.

Questioning Identity

As a first generation student you are expected to conform to societal norms. Speaking English, acting patriotic, and rejecting any culture other than American is a must. You are expected to assimilate to American culture and reject other cultures and traditions. You often get discriminated against if you’re proud of your roots, especially is Trump’s presidential era.

High Expectations

As a first generation kid, you are expected to strive in every aspect of education. It’s imperative to get good grades, graduate, achieve high honors, attend college and make something of yourself.

Any failure could be seen as defeat, and could be used to prove the point of not being the best, bringing disappointment or shame. Since our parents often didn’t have the same educational opportunities or resources they often push us forward with the infamous “you need to take advantage of the opportunities we never had.”

First generation Student struggles

If no one in your family previously graduated high school, that in itself is a major accomplishment. Attending college is another huge accomplishment, but completing and graduating college is on a whole other level. Often families don’t know what to expect.

The process of applying to schools is generally much more difficult if no one in your family has ever done it before. In addition, seeking federal aid to pay for school and applying to schools are big mountains to climb. After reaching this milestone mountain top, it is important to note that the journey is only beginning. The process of applying and getting into college commences a longer journey, adjusting to college and making it to graduation are other mountains you continue to climb in the journey called life.


Whether you move away to school, or commute, the first semester is the baseline of how college will begin to define you. It doesn’t predict your grades, your major, or future career goals, but it helps you figure out what type of student you will be.

Learning to organize, prioritize, schedule and keep on task helps establish how to get work done in the most efficient manner. Often students start establishing independence, but also try to maintain good relationships with family. For example, if a student lives on campus and calls every day at the beginning of the semester, perhaps towards the end this becomes a weekly phone call and occasional texts. Often parents don’t know what to expect because they haven’t experienced college, but this is where education and communication become crucial. They often don’t realize the amount of dedication, of work, readings and papers you’ll do and many times there is a strain because of expectations.

There may be expectations to watch a younger sibling, expectations of visiting family, or helping around the house. In the household, the title of students isn’t always top tier. Depending on the family, education may not be seen as necessary and the idea of working hard is more realistic; therefore making things difficult to navigate as a new college student.

Not All Hope is Lost

Regardless of ethnic and socioeconomic background, transition periods for students are difficult. This doesn’t take away from the unique experience first generation students face, but is important to note. Being proud of small accomplishments, even if it’s one “A” in one class is something to celebrate. Being proud of making it as far as you did is equally necessary to motivate and drive the student. The college journey will bring trials and tribulations. You will expand your mind, discover new interests, find your identity, culture and explore the cultures of others. Walking across the stage with a diploma in hand and your family cheering, makes it all worth it.

Traditionally, it’s expected to graduate in 4 years, but if you’re taking longer don’t be discouraged. Sometimes life intervenes, not allowing you make it to graduation. Nevertheless, be proud of who you are as a person and what you want to become. First generation students have major obstacles to overcome, but it’s always a fight worth taking.



About Lesly Guzman

Current college student at NEIU in Chicago, Illinois, future psychologist that serves the world. Self proclaimed Xicana and also feminist (an oh so controversial topic in today's world). I am majoring in psychology with a minor in child advocacy studies and plan to work with minority adolescents and children. Topics of importance to me range from inner city violence (present in Chicago), the importance of funding education (or lack of in my institution's case), to issues of identity, what it means to be a first generation college student, religion and culture, along with the utter most important topic of mental health. I challenge myself in my learning, in my views, and hope I may do the same in a positive manner for those I reach. I plan to help change the world one day, even if it takes a lifetime.