My parents were immigrants. Although they seemed to thrive in ambiguous situations, I knew how hard they worked. From them, I learned how to ride a bike, how to hold my little brother when he first came home from the hospital, and how to live between the fringes of two worlds. My parents never pretended to have all of the answers. However, they knew that if they couldn’t teach me, there was always a library, a teacher, or an English-Spanish dictionary that could. Tirelessly, they made sure that my brother and I could call America home.
In the midst of the internet boom, my dad lugged a bulky computer and eagerly, to my mother’s dismay, set it up on the kitchen table. Although my parents had shown me what determination looked like, they had the foresight to invest in a boxy piece of technology that would give us access to a world that they did not fully understand.
After school, I would spend hours on this computer. Initially, I would tinker with games like Solitaire and Pinball, beloved classics to anyone born in the mid ’90s. However, it wasn’t long before it became the tool my parents intended it to be. In a way that I hadn’t been able to before, I was able to learn about the culture that my parents had left behind, translate my homework and essays into a language that they could understand, and I began to teach myself things beyond what I was able to learn in the classroom.
However, when immigration laws eventually forced my parents to return to Mexico, I found myself in a situation that challenged everything that I had known to be true. At fifteen, I lost the guidance that my family had provided me and felt defeated by what I had always known to be the land of opportunity. Yet, it was my family’s sacrifices that inspired me to stay in the U.S. without them and it was their confidence in my ability to continue finding opportunities that helped me believe that it was possible.
It has been more than 7 years since I last lived with my parents. Since then, I have constantly searched for ways to repay everything that my family and the community that helped raised me has done for me. In high school, I read forums online – researching the best universities and what it would take for me to be able to fund them. I read blogs and looked at how others pursued their ambitions, often lingering on our shared experiences. For me, the biggest risk had been living in the U.S. without stable housing or a family to come home to. After that, it seemed logical to take every opportunity that I crossed paths with. In my mind, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
It would be naïve to credit grit as the sole factor for many of the opportunities that I have been able to take advantage of. Statistically speaking, students in situations like mine rarely complete high school and in some of the darkest moments, college seemed unattainable. However, it was thanks to the adversity of these experiences that I had the confidence to take on risks even when I felt unsure or unqualified. Time and time again, I found myself able to dismiss rejections and pursue alternatives. In many ways, keeping an open mind helped me apply to schools like the University of Pennsylvania and apply to programs like the Gilman Scholarship.
Today, I take for granted how easy it is to look up directions on my phone and explore a place like London, one of the most global cities in the world. Yet, I can’t help but think of a younger version of myself sitting wide eyed in front of an old computer. Captivated by that clunky monitor, I was unaware that I would one day get to explore the world that my parents had been so eager for me to see.