My experience as a transfer student didn’t start with filling out the application. It didn’t even start when I began my education at community college. It started when my family immigrated to the United States.
When my grandparents decided to immigrate, their focus was on greater economic opportunities for their family. My grandmother and grandfather immigrated from Nayarit, Mexico, to Simi Valley, California, with images of prosperity, work and stability in their minds.
All my grandparents wanted to do was save enough money to get my mother and uncle across the border safely and enroll them in school so they could get an American education. They left my young mother and uncle in Nayarit with relatives while they worked in a plastic fabrication company to raise money. And in 1988, my grandmother came back to Nayarit to take my mother and uncle by bus to the Tijuana border line. She left them with a family who guided them illegally through the bordering mountains on foot into the United States.
My mother felt abandoned and confused, but she often says: “When I’ve gone back and visited my hometown, it reminds me of how lucky I am to be here no matter how hard it was on me as a child. It was worth it, because now my family is accomplishing things that I wouldn’t have been able to do. It’s humbling.”
While my family worked very hard to immigrate to the United States, I didn’t share their dedicated work ethic when I was in high school. I lacked ambition, which showed in my grades — but it didn’t seem to matter because college wasn’t something I was familiar with. My parents didn’t purposefully leave me out of the college loop that so many of my high school friends were prepared to join. They simply didn’t know that college was an option.
My grandparents came to the United States for better economic opportunities. Their immigration gave my parents access to better basic education than what they could’ve gotten in Mexico. I didn’t realize until after I had graduated high school that the hardships my grandparents and parents faced culminated in an opportunity for me to be the first in my family to take this progress a step further and go to college.
I knew that living at home and going to the local community college would have been much easier for me. But I wanted to live on my own and take the financial strain off of my mom, who still had my two younger siblings to take care of. I wanted to experience life by myself and go at my own pace.
I followed in my older sister’s footsteps and moved out. I enrolled in a community college an hour away from home and found a restaurant job. I worked for about 30 hours a week while being a full-time student during my first semester at college. At first, I did horribly in all my classes. But community college became the place where I learned to be a good student, where I learned to study for different subjects, where I learned to take care of myself, pay bills and balance school and work. Community college gave me a space to acquire the work ethic my family immigrated to California with, and it prepared me to transfer to a four-year university.
After 3 1/2 years at community college, I was finally able to check off all the boxes on my Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum, and my Extended Opportunity Program and Services adviser told me it was time to apply to universities. I applied to every single UC campus in the fall of 2018, and I waited impatiently for my decision letters.
I got my acceptance letters and emails, and I was stunned by all the options I had. Most significantly, when the flying confetti from UC Berkeley’s acceptance letter filled my computer screen, I cried from pure joy and called everyone in my family to let them know I got in. My mom was so happy for me, my dad cried over the phone, and my grandmother threw me a carne asada to celebrate.
When I transferred to UC Berkeley, I realized that my accomplishment wasn’t only going to positively affect me, but my entire family as well. My three younger siblings now know that pursuing a higher education is possible for them. And I now have the responsibility to help guide them through the college process and be a role model for them.
Being a first-generation transfer student is still difficult because I often feel like I’m going on this college journey alone. But if my mom as a teen was able to cross the border alone, then going to college is nothing in comparison.
Mixty Espinoza writes the Friday column on her experience as a first-generation transfer student. Contact her at [email protected]