As first generation college students, we often are forced into maturity at an age much younger than many other people. There are hurdles and struggles that we have overcome only by seeing life through the eyes of an adult, and as such, we’ve learned to be flexible, even with the heavy load of responsibility we carry wherever we go. In my previous post, I talked about forcing myself to stay in a physics class that I found to be miserable. I put all this pressure on myself to find something about physics that I found interesting because I wanted to become a mechanical engineer. I want to talk about why I wanted to become a mechanical engineer.
I’ve found it really easy to talk about majors in college like I talk about my favorite ice cream flavor, casually. Being at an elite institution, that is the general vibe around here. There are a lot of things left unsaid in these conversations, and I always leave them with a general uneasiness, knowing up next, I have the choice between dwelling on the internal conflict that’s been a part of me even before coming to college, or on simply ignoring it, internalizing it all the more. At some point in life, I wanted to become an artist, a professional one. I was a late bloomer, but when I discovered my passion for art, I held tight, and even ended up going to a summer program for art through the help of a beautiful human being, my track coach and mentor from high school. I have been fortunate to never have been seriously pressured to go into a field I did not want to go into by my parents. All my life I’ve been told to go after what’s best for me. This is a privilege I know a lot of first-generation students do not have. However, there are a multitude of life circumstances other than parent pressure that shaped me to leave my aspirations of being an artist and take the mentality of being set on mechanical engineering before I even knew what it was.
On the most practical level, math has always been a strength of mine, and I figured mechanical engineering deals with a lot of technical work and there is also a design aspect to it, so that seemed like a perfect fit for my strengths and passions. In addition to this, it made good money. Now, I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of taking a job for the sake of money, at least when you have other alternatives. My parents did not. Because they don’t have a complete elementary school education, and much less a college one, they work ten hours a day, six days a week, in the vineyards, in extreme weather conditions so that I have the privilege of living without having to do the same. This has been their life, and growing up, the sacrifice, the relentlessness, and the selflessness I’ve seen in the day to day life of my parents has shaped me in ways very few other things have. Not only am I first in my family to be at a four-year college, being the youngest of four boys, I am the only one out of all my brothers to do so. I understand that my parents will one day get to an age where they cannot work anymore, and I don’t know how well we could support our parents with our current living situations. One of my brothers is working in a restaurant, the other is in the fields with my parents, and the other is in Mexico working as a taxi driver. Getting a well-paid job after college would ensure that my parents will be able to pay medical bills and own a house in the future.
As much as I may hear the “do what you love and the money will come naturally,” I don’t want my family’s future well-being to rest on what feels like a whim for myself. To do what I want without thinking about the consequences and implications it has for my family’s future feels selfish. To ignore the possibility of facing these consequences feels selfish.
I am currently thinking of pursuing a math degree, which at this point, is a field I am starting to enjoy more and more, at least it feels like it. Perhaps this is something that many first-generation college students go through, and perhaps this is something that might be an ongoing internal battle (and it might even peak along with the level of difficulty in my math classes), but I want to do this so that my parents have the life they deserve after all they’ve done for my brothers and I, and so that one day, my kids don’t have to do the same.