Life for a first-generation college student can be extremely hard especially with an immigrant family. Many live between chasing their own dreams while trying to fulfill the necessities to survive. My paper recounts a glimpse of my life in which I had to take on the role of being the main provider for my family, the result of the hospitalization of my father. This was a difficult task which made me experience a wide array of feelings that almost made me drop out. My story is just one of the many stories which makes life as a child of immigrants difficult.
Here I am walking down the aisle for a wedding. The rhythm of trumpets and guitars are echoing throughout the endless pathways. As I step, handfuls of white flowers are falling onto us. The church is alive and beautiful. Tears of joy and giant smiles illuminate the churchgoers. In the distance is my dad, standing tall at the altar. I had not seen him in a tuxedo in years. As I approached him, he turned red and began to cry as he finally saw my mom in a white dress after being together for twenty years. They had been together for so long and had gone through so many things that it was magical to see them finally conjoin under the law and God. This day was the happiest day in my life, I had finally gone to my first wedding and luckily it was my parents’ union. Family and friends from all over the world finally came together in one place. The celebration was another highlight of the wedding. A night of endless dancing, tunes of the band that made the banquet feel like an amphitheater. It was the day that I finally had a chance to distract myself from the outside world. For once my mind was clear of the constant worries that fermented it. It was a day that I did not have to worry about waking up at four in the morning just so that I can begin to manicure people’s yards by five. Nor did I have to worry about making it on time to class and figuring out whether or not I would be able to finish the gardening route of the day by sundown. I did not have to worry about paying off the bills of the house and have a little extra to have beans on my family's plate. Finally, for one day I had the privilege of living life to its fullest and actually enjoying myself in a day of celebration filled with love and accomplishments.
Three months prior to the wedding day, the unexpected happened. It was dawn and my family was getting ready to travel to Kingsburg, California, in the northern part of the state. My dad had pulled out his red Nissan Sentra onto the street while I heated up our bigger family SUV. My mother and my brother though, had not noticed that my dad had stayed in the car while we loaded everything into the truck. Luckily, I had forgotten my backpack in the house and needed the house keys to go back in. So, I went to my dad to ask him for his keys, but I noticed something very odd about his actions. He was repetitively revving the engine, turning on and off the lights, rolling up and down his window, and looking through his mirrors. He almost seemed robotic, it was very odd that he did everything so systematically, yet it was quite frightening because those weren’t the actions of a conscious person. As I noticed his strange acts, I began to tell him, “¿Apá estás bien?” and there was no response. He would not even look at me, so I began to worry, and my heart began to accelerate. I then called my mom, “Amá córrele, ven a ver a mi papá!” She too was startled and worried. We tried to stop him from doing his systematic actions by trying to talk to him and trying to pull him out of his seat, but there was no luck, he had gone into almost a child-like stage. So, my mom began to try and get his attention by saying, “¿Eleazar, estás bien? ¿Qué Tienes? ¿Quieres salir del carro? ¿Qué tiene el carro?” As soon as we were successful in pulling him out of his seat, we put him in the backseat of the car and began to drive towards the hospital. During this scenario, I had no idea of what was to come, and I did not expect that my life would change tremendously. The race to the hospital was an emotional roller coaster for me. The first thing I asked him was, “Qué tienes?” There was no response, but there was a chuckle filled with confusion that came from behind his rough mustache. At that moment I realized that he began to gain a degree of consciousness, so I began to question him even further. I would ask him basic things like: “Cuál es tu nombre?”“Qué día es hoy” “Quién es el presidente?” “Qué día te vas a casar?” All he would respond with was: “No sé.” For a moment, I thought my dad’s memory had been lost forever and so I began to picture things in my mind. I began to picture what life was going to be if my dad forgot everything about his life. How was I supposed to remind him that I was his first child? That he had around 20 memorable years with my mom and that he was about to get married in a few weeks? So, I began to cry while I simultaneously tried to calm down my mother and my younger brother. They were also freaking out and trying to revive my father's memory.
My dad’s hospitalization put tremendous pressure on me and my mother as we needed to get out of the pitfall of my father’s illness and drive the family forward.
Upon arriving at the parking booth at the hospital, the unforeseen seizure had begun in the car. He began to twist violently in the car, his mouth began to foam, his eyes began to roll to the point that only the white section was visible, and he began to groan loudly. It was as if he had been possessed by a demon. I hesitated to act upon seeing his seizure, but as soon as I reacted, I ran towards the emergency room door to get help. I took a wheelchair with me and ran back to the car. The path to and from the emergency had felt like an eternity to cross. My mind could not comprehend what was going on and my body was shaking with fear. While in the emergency room, anxiety mixed with a degree of depression began to form within me. I had never seen a seizure before. My dad was unconscious in the bed, and the doctors had no clue what caused his seizure. I was anxious to find out what was wrong with my dad. I had never envisioned him becoming ill. He had always seemed as if he was invincible and immune to illness when I was a child. When the doctors came back with the lab results, he was diagnosed with a rare infectious disease in his brain named Cysticercosis. The doctors explained to us that it was rare, yet common to see it from people who used to live in low-income countries. Living on a rural farm in Mexico rose his chances of contracting the infection. As the World Health Organization states in “10 Facts About Neurocysticercosis,” the disease occurs in countries in which community farming is used, free-roaming pigs are raised, and slaughterhouses who have no meat inspectors. Unfortunately, my dad’s childhood contained all those elements which fostered the growth of the brain infection.
My dad was expected to stay at the hospital for at least two weeks. It was recommended that he stop gardening because of the amount of danger that there was on working around open blades. Although my family had fallen into a dark time, life around us still continued with normality. We still had to figure out a way to accommodate our schedules so that we would make ends meet. The landowner and service companies were not going to forgive us that month from our payments. For that reason, roles within my household changed. I now had to take on the role of becoming a “breadwinner” for the family by taking over my dad’s job. My mom also needed to contribute more than before; she had to begin to clean more houses in order to pay off the bills, so that we would at least have beans and tortillas on the stove. In addition, the problems with taking on the role of becoming a "breadwinner" for the family were the conflicting schedules with school. I had to figure out a perfect balance between work and school. My dad’s hospitalization put tremendous pressure on me and my mother as we needed to get out of the pitfall of my father’s illness and drive the family forward. Our motivation was my younger brother and my dad. They needed us in order to survive. My dad needed me to continue his company so that it wouldn't go out of business. My younger brother needed us so that he could continue his education as well as helping him cope with the mental impact that my dad’s hospitalization had on him. As a family, we were all intertwined with relying on one another. This caused tremendous stress and anxiety. My house, which used to be alive, had become quiet and ghost-like. My house was no longer the same, there was no longer loud music, the sound of crackling chilies and the sound of my dad trying to help my brother with his math homework. My home had become lifeless and depressive.
It was rare for me to not find dark bags under my eyes when I would look at myself in the mirror. I stopped working out and the only way I was able to relieve stress was by eating my feelings away.
Unfortunately, the time of my father's hospitalization coincided with the summer phase of the EOP program at CSUN. It was a transitional phase to get me prepared for my first year at college. Being the first in my family to go to college, I found it crucial to absorb any information and to better prepare for when my first semester began. I had been going to class every weekday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and would have a moderate load of homework to do. The beginning of the program really helped me prepare for what was to come during my college journey. One thing that really stood out to me was a phrase that my EOP mentor, Kevin Flores, always told us: "College is not hard, life around it makes it hard." This was very significant because during that time my life had been going smoothly. When I first heard Kevin mentioned it in our discussion, I never really believed him. The truth is, I was wrong. With my dad being hospitalized, I had to take charge of my household bills and maintain the gardening company stable. This meant that I had to somehow fit gardening over 30 houses into my schedule. With a fixed class schedule I really had no option other than to garden houses before and after class. So, I had to wake up every day at 4 a.m. and garden as many houses I could before school, which started at 8 a.m. Then, after class at 3 p.m., I would continue to manicure gardens until sundown. My weekends also consisted of working from 8 a.m. up until sundown. This was the only way that my dad's company wouldn't go into ruins and that services at my house wouldn't be shut off. Thus, I had a work schedule that consisted of more than 40 hours of heavy physical labor and I had more than 30 hours of school. In an article by the National Center for Education Statistics, “College Student Employment,” it states that 10% of undergraduate students in 2017 had full-time jobs and worked 35 or more hours a week. These time schedules were very frightening for me. I had never worked such long hours and had such a dense schedule. There was no other choice but to do it and not complain. My entire family depended on my mom and I. Our motivation was my brother and my dad. The only thing pushing me forwards during my summer phase and throughout my first semester of college was the constant self-reassurance that I would say to myself, “Sebastian, there are 24 hours in an entire day. Fuck sleep. Fuck friends. Get shit done and don’t complain. You can do it. It’s just a matter of isolating yourself to achieve your goal. Your family depends on you and you can’t let them down just as your parents didn’t let you down when they went through dark times.” In addition, every day that I would walk to school, a quote on the floor would constantly remind me that my struggles at the moment would have positive results in the future. The quote on the sidewalk stated, “No se trata de donde estés sino de donde quieres llegar.”
Since the day of my father falling ill, a total of eight months of sacrifices and successes went by. My dad’s hospitalization affected my family’s lifestyle completely. Of the many sacrifices that I made, eliminating and forgetting my social life was one of the major ones. Having such a constrained schedule disabled me from socializing with my friends. This impacted me because I lost many friendships and it was hard to maintain the ones that stayed. The only way I communicated with my friends was through text, but it took me a long time to reply. This was depressing because some of my longest friendships were broken and so I began to feel isolated. Now I only have one strong friendship left but I rarely go out with my friend.
In addition, my health and self-care began to deplete after I became the family “breadwinner.” It was rare for me to not find dark bags under my eyes when I would look at myself in the mirror. I stopped working out and the only way I was able to relieve stress was by eating my feelings away. So, I began to gain tremendous weight, 30 lbs. in total. Jennifer Warner from WebMD wrote in “Freshman 15: College Weight Gain is Real” that one in four college freshmen gain 5% of their body weight in their first semester. My emotions intertwined with habits and it created physical changes. My father is back to normal but still has the possibility of having seizures even under medication. I am now changing my physical appearance back to normal by improving my eating habits. As for my work schedule, it still continues to be the same. I do not get paid to help my dad, but I do it out of respect and love. My work schedule is still 40 hours but the amount of time I spend in class has diminished. I no longer take care of paying the bills but do contribute to the sums by working over 40 hours for free. Although I had so much going on in school, it was no excuse for me to give up on my academics. My drive for success made me get all A's my first semester in college. Slowly but surely, I am shaping myself into a more mature, motivated, and dedicated human being.
Out of the bad comes good, and the good has been finally showing up recently. My family may have struggled greatly but it just made us stronger. The setbacks have made us become resilient and better prepared for any possible setback in the future. The hesitation and shock will no longer be present in any future seizure. Thankfully I now know what to do to help my dad during his seizures; fear and anxiety will no longer be present as I now have better prepared for anything that is to come in the future. I know what my capabilities are now, and I know that my family can overcome any setback. My parents have now told me, “Si nos pasa algo a los dos, tu trabajo será cuidar a tu hermano y tratar de superarte lo más que puedas.” This incident has also better prepared me for my future as an adult. Many college freshmen do not fully develop an adult mindset until later in life. In my case, I now know what it is like to be an adult and even more! Some adults can barely handle working 40 hours a week, yet I did that and still dealt with school. Thus, from bad stemmed good and I am glad that I had the opportunity to undergo such drastic changes in my family.
In the empty church, there I sat gazing at the cross and a statue of the Virgin de Guadalupe. My parents had just gotten married a few moments ago, something I would have never thought was possible after my dad’s setback. I had never imagined myself being a crucial part of driving my family forward and back onto the road of normality. My family had overcome a hard obstacle and the wedding had just been a sign that everything was going to be okay. While sitting I began to reflect on how amazing life was. Sometimes life could turn bad, but in the end, everything would be okay. Looking at the Virgen de Guadalupe I began to cry of happiness. All I could say was, “Thank you for everything. I am thankful for my parents to be alive. Thankful that I had the opportunity to reshape myself. Thankful that the wakeup call let me realize what my capabilities are.” On my knees I found myself praying and thanking God for everything that he had given me throughout my life. I have now become an improved version of myself, I now know that I have no limits in my capabilities. I am now better prepared to face life and what it has in store for me. I am no longer fearful and anxious about the future. As an 18-year-old Chicano, I have now developed a more mature attitude compared to many other adults. As I finish my prayers and wipe the tears off my face with my scarred hands, I begin to walk out of the church to head towards the wedding celebration. A celebration of love but also success in overcoming setbacks.
“College Student Employment.” National Center for Education Statistics, Feb. 2019, nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_ssa.asp.
“10 Facts about Neurocysticercosis.” World Health Organization, 19 Apr. 2017, www.who.int/features/factfiles/neurocysticercosis/en/.
Warner, Jennifer. “Freshman 15: College Weight Gain Is Real.” WebMD, 28 July