Ailyn Hernandez-Bazan was a student in Literature and Contemporary class, which I taught this spring. She is a first generation college student, a cultural phenomenon I know well–to be the very first to go away to college, and all that means, how it changes our relationships with our loved ones.
It begins with thanksgiving, then rips through the reality of the first generation Latina college student. Ailyn uses a brutal yet caring honesty to tell her story, by addressing her family.
Most all my students are Latinas–from Mexico or the Central Americas. As I read their essays, I realize, they have gone through a hell of a lot more than most college students in this country. And they have triumphed.
Queridos Mama y Papa:
Ella es el producto de tu resistencia, tu fuerza, tus lágrimas, y tu sudor. Ella hace que todo valga la pena. Ella es una promesa de todos tus logros y sueños. Ella soy YO.
Gracias, for all the countless sacrifices you make, every day for myself and for my sisters. You work twice as hard as anybody else, working countless hours, and never giving up. You are my true heroes and role models. I want to do everything I possibly can, I want to achieve the most, to continue to make you proud by being the first in our family to continue past elementary and graduate from a University. I want to see you finally take a rest from the demands of work and life, and enjoy yourselves, like you never get the chance to do so.
You papá, losing out of a childhood at a young age. Only ten, forced to become the man of the house as my abuelito—your father—wasted his time and money roaming around bars. You, taking on the role of a parent to six younger siblings and four older siblings. You, taking on the responsibility of tending to the cattle before and after school. You, eventually having your education cut short and forced to walk and cross with abuelito in order to establish grounds here and continue working to help send money to abuelita and the rest back home.
You papá, a hardworking, humble, proud and responsible man, devoting your time to the only occupation you have known; the cruel conditions of the scorching sun, touching down your skin, the years of hard manual labor, bent at 90-degrees tending to the strawberry fields that stretch into the valley. Thirty plus years of sun exposure has taken a toll on you. The wrinkles on your face show more than what is on the surface. The dangers of field conditions, the exposure to close contact with pesticides and fumigation, avoiding too much exposure to them.
Your experiences have set examples for my sisters and me to live by, your warnings to stay in school and to keep expanding our education, “Ya saben como era mi vida no quiero que salga como yo, quédense con sus estudios.” Your stories, make me so proud of all the roles you continue to take, and at the same time they make me angry and frustrated at all who put you through it. Life was never easy for you, for a majority of my childhood, you fell through the cracks and resorted to the bottle as a way to justify the life you have been put through.
You mamá, living under the hard iron hands of abuelita and the alcohol abuse of abuelito. Abuelita making her point clear with each hit, of the cold metal belt buckle or the leather huarache against your body, for no reason. A family with fourteen children, you and tía Glafira, were the only ones who continued to provide for the family. At a young age, both became slaves to the pueblo. Anywhere you can find a job, you two had to show your worth to keep slaving away in kitchens and caring for random children. You two continue to show them you were there for the long haul, working for a few measly pesos a day.
Mama, I see why you continue to run the house with the iron fist. Listening to the shit abuelita put you through, never sharing the emotions of a loving mother. Abuelito, losing the little land he once inherited along with the few animals, because he couldn’t pay off his problem. The rest of your bothers following abuelito’s footsteps, to the point tío Eduardo ran away and disappeared, only resurfacing the past year with a memory loss condition.
I guess running away with papá seemed like a better future than to continue living in a house that continues to oppress the young women in the household. I guess crossing the frontera at five months pregnant, and living in the fields like moles, seemed like a better future than to continue living life as a slave to the pueblo and to your family.
I just need to survive the storm that is in my heart. The constant stir of emotions and the feelings I will never live up to your expectations cloud my mind. I look at you, and see disappointment; how many times again and again I continue to live in stress. It is not healthy that I keep comparing what I am going through to what you went through at an early age. I will never be able to measure up with so many sacrifices that both of you guys gave.
I always thought I faced more hardship than others, in a way, I did. Seeing others my age enjoying the luxury of living a childhood and enjoying summer, then you see me struggling in school, English, because all we spoke was Spanish and there was no way you could help, as much as you wanted to. Spending countless summers bending my back in the sun’s face, picking strawberries, alongside both of you. Your absence at award ceremonies, the cold shoulder I felt when I would arrive home with awards and certificates, but feeling like they were still not enough to make you proud. I guess the cold void you felt as children, you mirrored onto your own. But, in a way I still want to thank you.
Thank you for raising a strong, hardworking, selfless and independent woman. I realize that the struggles we face were never a burden, but rather a chance to push through stronger than ever. It’s amazing how much one person, especially a family member, can change a life into present success. I will never lose sight of our goals. I will dedicate this college degree to you guys, you who have worked so hard to get me here. I am eternally grateful for everyone who continues to help me achieve one of my goals in life. My work and dedication will soon arrive on paper. Thank you for giving me life and guidance.
Por ustedes y para ustedes.
Con Mucho Amor,
La fruta de su producto