Putting The “I” In Immigrant: Hyphenated Americans have a complex relationship with education

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In an immigrant family, one of the first things you come to realize is that your dreams are not just your own. Aspirations and ambitions become almost communal in these family dynamics; there is something to be sowed and reaped by everyone within the family tree. 

Within these life plans, there is a cyclical collaboration that exists. In mine, in particular, I’ve noticed that the commitment to my education and career reaches far back into my family line. For those individuals that oversee my journey, even the smallest of my successes finds a place within their own personal triumphs.

In a sense, my education from USC belongs to me, but it also belongs to my father, who fostered my love for Trojan football; to my grandmother, who cosigned my student loan; and to my mother, who gave up a career in the Philippines so that I might have one here. 

It creates a chain of well-wishes and oftentimes unsolicited guidance, but there is the general consensus that higher education comes to mean the difference between static existence and forward progression. 

I was a little girl when I came to America. I was 3 years old, with a Filipino American father and a Filipina mother. My dad knew everything about life in America, and my mom knew nothing of it. Despite their differing worldviews, there was something I was taught from a young age that seems to hold true across many cultures: Acquiring an education is synonymous with the idea of a better life. 

With no true basis of comparison, it was a true conundrum that I only began piecing apart as I grew older. I never lacked any basic necessities and I never felt as if I had anything less than those around me, but I was only able to register the foundation behind this mindset when I grew to understand who my parents were. 

Here and there, I’d glean bits of their past lives, and I was awed to realize that there existed a substantial thread between two narratives. Though my father grew up in the heart of Los Angeles as a latchkey kid and my mother grew up well-off in a developing nation, their differing backgrounds found union in an idea impressed upon them by their parents: the hope of something more.

In conversations with friends who come from immigrant families or who are immigrants themselves, I’ve found this to be an identifiable commonality in the way hyphenated Americans are raised. The trope that immigrant families push education on their children is no false narrative. Education is upheld as the great equalizer of opportunity, the path to this metaphysical “something more.”

The great problem that I have found is that this tool that provides the equality of opportunity is not so readily financeable for everyone. For me and many other immigrants living in America, our journeys are typically not so straightforward. 

For low-income children, immigrant children and those who are undecided about what their career path may be, one of my hopes for American society going forward is the normalization of community college as a first choice. There is a stigma attached to these educational institutions that hinders prospective students and overshadows the achievements of those that attend these colleges. 

In my experience, community colleges are wellsprings of opportunity that should be considered when financial barriers arise. They are altogether inclusive and diverse in their range of studies. They provide incomparable programs for financial support and educational assistance for first-generation immigrants like myself. In my own journey, community college acted as the vital stepping stone between my high school years and my time at USC. These are not places of lesser education, as we might have been conditioned to think, and ironically, it would be good for us as a nation to unlearn this preconceived notion and stop acting as our own gatekeepers. 

In applying these observations on a grander scale, the devotion to education is not a dividing factor, but one that unites this nation and this University as a purpose for existing. In the same vein, education means a great deal in my family and, though we may come from a different country, the value of education presents a link between our culture and the one fostered in American society. 

Uncovering the similarities between immigrant values and American values is my purpose for writing this column. During an age of heightened xenophobia, I am devoted to bridging divides and humanizing a vital demographic that may not always be given a name, face or voice. The immigrant experience is a unique experience filled with nuance and complexity that evolves with the changing times. In truth, I’ve just gotten around to unpacking the different facets of it myself and this column will serve as a space to find common ground, highlight shared experiences and discuss social and political factors that affect the lives of U.S. immigrants today. 

More than anything, I’d like to shed light on the many ways in which we are all more alike than different. 

Noelle Natividad is a sophomore writing about the immigrant experience in America. Her column, “Putting The “I” In Immigrant”, runs every other Friday.