The Importance of Politics in the US for First-Generation Latinos


Emely Mejia, Reporter

Everything is constantly changing, from our planet to our attitudes toward life, our government, and those in power. But simply because change occurs so frequently does not make it any easier to adapt to. For instance, imagine having to make the decision of leaving your country, the only place you are familiar with, and venturing to an entirely new country. 

The saying “the world is your oyster” is common, but what if you had to leave behind the only world you know? Your home is now thousands of miles away, and the only language you know has to be erased from your mind, yet somehow you have to manage in this new world that is unknown to you. With new political parties, systems, and norms that are unfamiliar to prior experiences. How are you to manage when your first impression of this new world is not having an absolute clue as to what is occurring? It is almost as if you become a baby once again, you have to relearn everything. 

In this sense, you have left your country to come to the United States and find prosperity for yourself and future generations. A country wherein opportunities are abundant, the political system promotes citizens, and the legal system works to protect you. 

Many Latino immigrants have risked their lives for there to be a chance that their children live better lives than what they had, to seek higher and better education, acquire better rights, and seize the overall opportunity to thrive financially and emotionally in America. Since the goal is stability, education is highly valued in the Latino household, making it your “golden ticket” to endless possibilities of reaching your dreams. This leads to the importance of graduating from college. The majority of these students are first-generation Latino college students and graduated, as they are the first in their intermediate family to graduate college. Doing so in hopes of furthering their education and pursuing a career that will allow them to build security in America. 

Personally, my sister and I fall into this category, throughout our entire life we valued education, it was pushed on us from our parents but we individually had our own motives. My parents Veronica and Rafael Mejia came from El Salvador, my father is born and raised in the capital city of the Cuscatlán department, Cojutepeque and my mother, on the other hand, originated from the capital, San Salvador. They risked their lives when coming to the United States. My father came to the states in 1999, he stayed here and created a foundation to soon bring my mother. Since my mother had my eldest sister at the age of 16, she had to stay until my sister had an established caretaker who could raise her child until she could come to the United States to be reunited with my parents. My mother finally gained the courage and left my sister who was three at the time and came to live with my father in the year 2000. 

Life for them was miserable without their child, regardless of where they were or what they were doing they were worried about the well being of their daughter. They left everything that they loved behind but were eager to begin a new life in America. 

My sister finally came to the US in 2003, at the age of five, beginning her life in the states.

Soon after, in 2003 I entered this world. But unlike my sister and parents, this country was not going to be new for me, it would be home. Because of the strife of our parents, education was always highly valued in my family, my sister and I were very competitive at school from the start. And, with the constant reminder of the struggles my parents persevered, it made the struggles we faced in school seemingly small. My sister Karla Mejia is now 22 years old, she is an honor AP high school graduate and will be graduating college with her bachelor’s degree in May 2020. Although she has been fortunate enough to follow the route of her dreams with an abundance of support from our parents, not one step of it came easy for her. She has dedicated her life to her studies, for instance, I remember a time wherein she had applied for a program that would give her aid for a semester of college. But it was not guaranteed and if she did not receive it, she would be required to pause her studies due to the overwhelming cost. She came into the living room one night and discussed with my parents if having to stop taking classes for a semester without the certainty of her getting the aid was worth it, she broke down into tears. Everything she had done up to that moment was to make our parents proud, for them to see their struggles be worth it and most importantly to see their daughter happy. While sobbing, my sister said, “I just wish I had more opportunities, the only thing I want is to do well in school.” Since Kalra isn’t a United States Citizen she isn’t eligible for many aid programs and although she got accepted to many colleges, she wasn’t eligible due to her status. Along with challenges in college that she faced due to her not being a US citizen, Karla was seeing the opportunities that her American friends were being given – such as financial aid and internships. But she was unable to apply for help because she wasn’t born in America which then made her route to graduating more difficult. 

Despite this, Karla has continued to bloom within her education and development in America. She values the opportunities in America and knows that education and politics go hand-in-hand, as they are two of the most fruitful democratic privileges.

My family is used to risks, my mother says that because my sister has had such a difficult route to get where she is now she has learned to endure and it has made her a stronger woman. She wishes she could do the impossible to help her daughter but the only thing she can do is support her. Throughout my life, I’ve hadn’t had the same challenges as my sister, like having to adapt to a new world. But I do have to work hard and become the person my parents hoped for while risking their lives to establish a life here. I was fortunate enough to have amazing mentors in my life who reminded me of my talents and pushed me to be the best version of myself overall but especially when it came to academics, Eric Mejia (not of relation to my family). He had been my sister’s counselor during middle school, and her soccer coach as well. When I attend middle school he was my counselor too, then transferred to the same high school that I would attend and was counselor there as well, I knew that if I had any questions or if I was doubting my abilities I could talk to him and I’d be reminded of the reason why I’m working so hard. 

I had the pleasure to interview him on his journey as to being a Latino and the first college graduate in his family. His family originates from a town called Izúcar de Matamoros, his father was the first one to come to America but at the time there was poor communication and had gone about five years without reporting to his family about his situation. They didn’t know about his existence to the point that his mother believed he had died. When Mr. Mejia was about seven and a half his dad had got a hold of his family and he was brought to the US along with his brothers, entering this new world that he was a stranger to. He was excelling academically in Mexico and had good study habits, leading his mother to hold high expectations on his academics performance in the US. Although learning a new language was difficult he persevered and about six months from his arrival he was able to form sentences in English and at the year he was almost fluent. Since his parents had risked their lives to give him a better life she was strict on his attendance and reminding them of their purpose and the importance of education. Mr. Mejia recalls, “She used to remind us of why we were here, that we were here to better ourselves and our family and her goal was for us to get the education that they could never get.” 

Coming from an extremely low-income family in the Bay area with parents with no educational background, basic necessities and the concept of saving money was highly valued. Due to the lack of money, he grew up with a house full of people who were renting from his parents in order for bills to get paid and this did interfere with his personal space or a quiet place to study but all of the hard-working people who lived there helped him stay focused.

Mejia, like my parents, my sister, and I have lived a life of struggle as an American, but similarly, each of us has aimed to create the best life possible.

Data suggests that only 28% of first-generation Latino students graduate college. After hearing the story of my counselor Eric Mejia and second-handedly experiencing my sister’s journey from home and how unfortunate their situation truly was I couldn’t say I’m prouder to be a young Latino woman on my own journey to graduate and call myself a first-generation Latino graduate. 

Although my being born in the United States allows me to be eligible for the opportunities that weren’t accessible for Mr. Mejia nor my sister. Remembering my roots and the story of the Latino heroes that I know who proved that what might seem impossible just requires hard work, dedication, motivation but most importantly finding yourself able to adapt in a new world even when its the scariest thing that happened to you. Valuing politics in America is vital for my parents since they want people in government to have the same beliefs as them and will essentially work in their favor on how they lead the nation.