Alicia Gutierrez grew up in San Jose, the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her mother left school after the third grade, her father after sixth.The Daily Californian spoke to her about her experiences as a first-generation student and an immigrant on campus. This is the second in a series of photo essays on the immigrant experience at UC Berkeley.
The Daily Californian: As a first-generation immigrant, do you feel that you’ve experienced an identity crisis?
Alicia Gutierrez: I did a whole bunch of programs in high schools, helping bridge the gap for minorities. Though they’re trying to empower you, you’re constantly reminded that you’re one of a few, defeating the statistics. Hearing it so often, you start to believe it’s harder for you. Coming here, it’s in your psyche that other people think of you this way. In reality, maybe they don’t even think about that — but to you, it’s ingrained.
It changes how you see everyone else — like, my allies are the people that are like me and everyone else thinks lower of me because (they’re) hearing these statistics. There’s a culture change.
DC: Do you find yourself accepted at UC Berkeley?
Gutierrez: I feel accepted, but I think it required getting over that psyche, thinking that I’m not worthy of being here or something, that I’m not up to the Berkeley standard because I’m first generation. Getting over that personally and being able to accept others’ help and seeing what other opportunities there are for me helped me realize that I’m on the same level, even though it might take me a little longer to understand the system.
DC: Which culture do you feel more connected to, American or Mexican?
Gutierrez: Now I feel more connected to American culture but as a kid I would feel more connected to Mexican culture. A lot of the divide for me is from going into higher education and (then) going back to the community. People see you on a different level. I remember having a conversation with my grandma one time. I was telling her about something annoying in Mexican politics. And she was like, “That’s not your job to fix, you’re not Mexican.” … It’s little things. My international friend couldn’t believe that I didn’t know what an Arnold Palmer was. But at home, all I ate was Mexican food. That’s what my mom makes.
DC: Has being in this third space affected your identity?
Gutierrez: Not growing up, because the neighborhood I was from was mostly Mexican. … We would go to Mexico every summer. I thought I was sufficiently Mexican, I guess. As I was growing up, it’s been harder, because I’ve been distancing myself more from them to focus on school. My parents couldn’t help me after elementary school. They couldn’t help me with my schoolwork, so I had to learn from others. After graduation I spoke less Spanish. … Coming to university and not having someone to speak Spanish with constantly has caused a language barrier with my parents. I feel like I don’t belong in either world. I’m just kind of in the middle.
Contact Lillian Holmes and Daniel Kim at [email protected].