By Gabryele Garcia and Sabrina Guzman Nava
Immigrants come to the United States seeking refuge and a better life, just like the parents of Rainier senior Dorothy Le. “The Vietnam War caused a lot of Vietnamese people to … jump on boats and go to other countries to escape war, to escape communism,” Le explained. Many such immigrant parents did not attend or graduate from college, which puts their children in the unique position of being first-generation students.
A first-generation student is a student whose parents did not attend or graduate college and who will be the first in their family to do so. In the Summit Rainier community, there are many students who are in that position.
Three first-generation Rainier students, all coming from different ethnic backgrounds, explained their experience and what hardships they have encountered throughout their high school career.
Le, who identifies as Vietnamese-American, said, “To me being first-generation is having all of the pressure on me to set the standards and like doing everything myself because my parents don’t really know how it works and like having my parents’ high expectations and me having to meet it.” This same pressure is shared by the other two seniors. This pressure is most likely greater now since they will be attending college next fall.
Another Rainier senior, Alekssandra Pineda Martinez, who is from Mexican descent, said there are benefits to being first-gen: “ If I can be first-generation, then my younger sibling will have somebody to go.”
By this, Martinez explained that she wants her younger siblings to depend on her in the near future. Setting an example for younger siblings who look up to them is a common theme for older siblings.
On the other hand, since she will be the first in her family to go to college, Martinez struggles with “not having somebody to go to” for help with college applications and other college-prep work. The other seniors also mentioned struggling with not having someone to depend on or not having someone in the family to go to for guidance.
Rainier senior Vikita Sharda, who is from Indian descent, said being first-gen has affected her education: “I think it had gotten me behind because I don’t know exactly how to do everything such as college applications, so then I don’t have help at home, so then that’s why it’s affecting me.”
Le described a similar struggle, saying, “They don’t know what’s going on, so they can’t really support even if they wanted; they don’t know how to support me.”
When asked what Summit Rainier can do to help and support its first-generation students, Le said, “Don’t really know because I think I’m at a good place right now ’cause Quezada [a Rainier senior mentor] has been helping me.”
Le also mentioned, “I think Summit does a pretty good job trying to get us into but not exactly afterward.” Summit Rainier has taken steps throughout the years to help its first-gen students, such as providing mentors who are willing to do anything to help their students achieve their goals and to give them the opportunity to attend college.
However, Sharda believes there’s more that can be done: “I feel like they can inform the parents more of what they should be helping out with or host more College Nights.” This would provide a hand to parents who want to be more involved in their child’s education. If parents understand the college process, then they can empathize with their child and the amount of pressure, stress and confusion that they might be under.