Feeling heightened pressure, minority students shouldn’t be afraid to find their passion

Alejandra Velazquez, a freshman majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

On most days in December, my mother and I sat in the car for two hours as traffic slowed for the annual Christmas season. We were in line waiting to cross the border into the United States from my hometown of Reynosa, Mexico – the trip we took twice a day so I could attend school in the U.S. From kindergarten to my first year of high school, I would make the trek between Reynosa to the nearest town in the U.S. – McAllen, Texas, a trip that could take anywhere from 40 minutes to two hours. This ride was especially tiresome on my mom, who would drop me off in the morning, go back to work in Mexico and then proceed to return to the U.S. in the afternoon to pick me up. She spent most of her days driving back and forth.

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It would have been easy for me to attend school in Mexico, but my parents wanted the best for me. They recognized not only the importance of being bilingual, but the opportunities that open up when studying in the U.S. compared to Mexico. My parents worked their hardest to make sure I could attend school in the U.S., which included enduring the long commute and paying for private school – the only way for a Mexican resident to attend school in the U.S. – even though the monetary exchange wasn’t in their favor. As my parents said, my only job at that time was to go to school – and therefore I should give my best to it at all times, which meant straight A’s. I also felt that was the least I could do to thank them. But I’m not alone. The expectations set for minorities – especially children of immigrants – to be successful are damaging and create a culture of fear of failure. While expectations that create a fear of failure are not positive, the biggest problem is when minority students take these expectations to heart and end up limiting themselves.

When I moved to North Carolina for my dad’s job in my freshman year of high school, the expectations that my classmates had from their parents were vastly different from mine. Their parents wanted them to give their best too, but unlike me, that didn’t necessarily mean getting straight A’s. Most of my classmates, who had not come from an immigrant background like me, didn’t understand what made their education so important. Most saw it as a chore they had to get done. While they were ready to relax and not study second semester of senior year, I kept working as hard as I could. I had already been accepted – and had decided to go – to GW, but that didn’t change the fact that I still needed to get good grades. Like the other seniors, I wanted to have a fun second semester, but “senioritis” was not a concept my parents would ever understand. They worked hard so that I could go to school in the U.S., and not taking advantage of my high school education for the final stretch after all that time seemed wrong. I wanted to be able to have fun and relax, but at the same time, also show my friends that I could be hardworking and not disappoint my parents. These high expectations and the fact that I did want to have a little fun were pulling me in different directions.

At my school, it seemed to me that only those who were minorities understood what their parents or grandparents had gone through for them to get an education. But other students had different expectations. My white classmates mostly expected only the East Asian students to be the overachievers, while they were surprised by my constant work as a latinx. From expectations at home to stereotypes at school, minority students face a lot of undue pressure.

Before entering college, I only wanted to please my parents in the choices that I made for my future. I felt that I owed everything to them, including where I went and what I studied. For me, there was always immense pressure to not disappoint them.

It took me a long time to realize that the only way for me to not disappoint my parents is to pursue my own dreams of becoming a pro bono lawyer, so I can help people like my parents and other immigrants without making money off of them. I realized this year that my parents didn’t make those sacrifices so that I would just follow the footsteps they set out for me. They wanted me to follow my own path. At GW, a University with a large international and immigrant student population, there are other minorities who come from a similar background to me who feel the same, and we shouldn’t be afraid to carve out our own path. It might seem like we are disappointing our family, and in some cases, they might even outwardly express that disappointment. That is something my parents did not do, but parents of friends did. In the end, though, they will realize that their sacrifice was for our happiness, and they cannot dictate what that happiness consists of. Minority students shouldn’t be afraid to try out new things, whether that means trying a new student organization or following a different educational paths.

It seems that everywhere minorities turn, there are expectations. There is what their parents dream of, and all the questions and doubts the students themselves internalize.  Because my parents sacrificed much of their lives for me, I shouldn’t sacrifice mine. That’s not what they wanted when they decided I would study in the U.S. My parents wanted me to have opportunities, like the freedom to decide what I wanted to be without anything holding me back. While it might seem like taking risks is unsafe, it worked for my parents and provided me with a better education. As minorities from immigrant parents, we should hold on to the value that we give our education and transform it into a life that fits our passions. Our ancestors did not set out on this journey for us to conform and be afraid, but rather to boldly brave the new waters.

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