Tag Archives: first generation

Si Se Pudo?

12 Jun

A first gen/low income, mom, non-traditional undergrad perspective
B.S. Computer Science AI Track
Stanford University Class of 2020

This week was the last week of classes of the last quarter of undergrad.

For those of you with me since the early days, you know that I’ve been through so many ups and downs, and so many ups that were actually downs, and so, so many rock bottoms. Some day, I may tell you the full chisme, osea the ‘not the autobiography’ autobiography. Aveces, osea siempre, in my world, a way out is always a good thing.

But we’re here. We made it, no?

So many years of wondering if we would ever be able to say, I graduated from X college. And it just happens that our chingona self can say, “I graduated from Stanford with a mother-effin Computer Science in the AI track degree (with three kids in tow – what you do?!!)!” Okay maybe most of that will be in my head but you bet that I will be thinking it while staring down some condescending, mediocre cualquiera in the valley – not the LA valley but this fake Silicon Valley. Wait, does that translate to fake FAKE valley? ūüßź

I have been whispering to myself, “just get that college degree” for so long that I never thought to think what I would tell myself once I actually got it. And maybe I’ve read too many inspiring stories of Black and Brown people that have “beat the odds”, that have “made it”, that have gone from homelessness to self-made successes. Because although I could relate to the raw pain of knowing you could make it only to be presented with a new challenge, a new way to prove yourself, I didn’t think about how lonely and angry it could make you feel.

We all love a good story. An inspiring story. But we NEVER respect, honor, nor SEE the person making that story.

We make certain people invisible in this world. We smirk, we look confused, skeptical – most of the time not bothering to try to figure the person out. We move on, we discredit their plans, we don’t believe them, we think ‘Oh okay, this person is all big talk’ if we even bother to think, or do, anything but roll our eyes. We are a cruel people. And we are a hypocritical people. Because when that person becomes “somebody”, we fall all over ourselves clapping and cheering on with tear brimmed eyes because it’s just so damn inspiring. We cheer only once the damn game has been won.

I know I’m incredibly intelligent, I’ve known that my whole life. But I’ve also had to prove that to everyone my whole life. I’ve never had the pleasure of having my answer accepted without an automatic, “are you sure? How do you know?” And that’s at the most polite end. I’ve had to politicize and strategize my words and work to manipulate those around me into thinking that my ideas were their own ideas. I’ve had to lead so many horses to water and convince the horse over and over again that they were the ones leading me. So maybe after so many years of telling myself that once I had that computer science degree from an elite university, that I would be free from that required humiliating and tiresome explanation. But now that I’m done, a sinking sensation has spread from my stomach to my chest to the bottom of my feet because even with a Stanford CS degree in the AI track – those people will keep finding a way to invalidate my accomplishments.

So forgive me for feeling tired and not feeling particularly celebratory while our country is gripped with having to explain the obvious to hateful racists and those who deny that they are racists while spouting hate out of the side of their necks.

Forgive me for feeling so fucking angry and exhausted at having to educate people that Black Lives Matter is not political. Forgive me while I recoil in disgust from White America and the communities of color that are just as racist.

I have my own experience with racism and with being judged as less intelligent or capable because my skin happens to be brown, but what makes me truly sick, what throws me into the deepest despair of depression is knowing that even with the shitty life I have experienced, is knowing that it does not compare – cannot come close to comparing to what Black Americans experience.

So no, I don’t think this is a moment to celebrate. I won’t celebrate what I’ve known all along I was capable of doing.

I will celebrate if these protests continue; if America’s short term memory can finally be seared with the present that never changes; if we do not look away until we all fight for Black Lives Matter no matter the cost to our own personal comfort.

I will celebrate when you accept that our system is fundamentally flawed. That our educational system is failing our children. And that incremental change and reform is not enough. That the broken inner city public school system is nothing more than a pipeline into stagnant water where a meek existence is considered success given the alternative is the prison system. And sure there are hairline cracks that allow a handful to escape and “make it.” But make no mistake about it, those cracks are there not by design but from the outward pressure of our own greatness trying to escape the crushing confinement of failure.

We are capable of running an equitable world.

I will celebrate when you thank us for only wanting equity.

Dancing Between Borders

12 May

We linger on either side
Dancing between invisible borders
Split in two

The English me
At work
Speaks formally, taking time to enunciate and think ahead
Choosing my vocabulary carefully
So as not to Stumble and fall

The Spanish me
At functions
Takes care to speak eloquently
Proving myself as not just
Getting by

Hiding
Hoping they don’t ask
Where is your accent from?

The English me
With friends
Is casual, relaxed and at ease
Sassy, funny and bold

The Spanish me
With my sisters
Bursts forth
Words spilling over each other
Hanging in the air
Like bright decorations
Warming my soul

I am me
I am Susana
Fitting in nicely

We waltz between borders
Stepping gingerly
Lingering long enough to feel like we belong
Stepping gingerly
Before we’re caught

La Migra

1 Sep

We went out to the Geffen MOCA and dinner with AM and her boys on Thursday evening.  As we settled down with our sushi and rambunctious kiddos, we started talking shop, as AM fondly refers to it.

A year had passed since I changed careers, a career that she so generously recommended me for and positioned me perfectly for.¬† In a year I had learned that this was the perfect vehicle for my ambition, hard worth ethic, and all around personality of a control freak. ūüôā¬† I had just received a promotion and she wondered how I came to possess the professionalism, poise, and ability to navigate and distinguish myself while¬†working at a high-powered law firm and coming from Boyle Heights with my highest education being at Roosevelt HS¬† no less (a school whose distinction includes being¬†featured in the documentary Waiting for Superman as an educational¬†fail factory).

As far as my work ethic, that’s easy I told her, I get it from¬†my mother.¬† She taught me that you can reach whatever you want as long as you are willing to work hard enough for it.¬† And she certainly lead by example, always holding two jobs when we were growing up so she could achieve her dream of being a homeowner.

But as far as poise and the “intuitive knowledge required in marketing” that she kindly stated I possessed, in a way that came from my mother as well…

When I was a kid I had a neighbor who for lack of a nicer term was a bona fide pocha.  Her ancestors were of Latino descent but the Spanish, customs, and any semblance of pride or relatable qualities to them had long ago been stomped out.  She had learned a strong dislike towards anyone with an accent, anyone who ate carne asada and tortillas, anyone who spent summers in Mexico, anyone like me.

A combination of niceness, ability to forgive, and low self-esteem kept making me forgive her and be subject to her constant pranks.

My parents would not allow us to play outside of the chain link fence that surrounded the perimeter of our home so we would play with our Barbies through the holes of this wall that separated us.  Joanna would excuse herself and go off to get her Barbie Malibu car and I would keep combing the hair on my dolls.  Then a shreeking siren with a piercing pitch would fill my eyes with terror and send me sprinting to the backyard.  I would deftly pull all of the dirty linen from  the laundry bin and jump inside, pulling the musty smelling sheets on top of me.  I would lay there huddled in a fetal position immobilized with fear until it dawned on me that she had done it again.  I would break out in a cold sweat as relief and anger would hit me and spread throughout my body in a glistening sheen, the anxiety oozing out of my pores.

I would take a deep breath and walk back to my side of the fence where the cackle of Joanna’s laughter would be ringing in my ears long after it had died down.¬† I would pick up my toys without a word and stand up to walk away.¬† “You’re not mad are you?¬† I was just joking, you should have seen how scared you were!!! Hahahaha!”¬† I couldn’t utter a word or the tears welling in my eyes would come crashing down stripping me of any dignity that I had left.

My mother was smuggled into the U.S. as a child using someone else’s identity.¬† She remembers these poignant events in her mind as if they were yesterday.¬† She still laments having to cut her beautiful¬†waist length hair up to her ears so she could match the passport’s picture of¬†the girl she was usurping.¬† And when she recalls working in the factories that were the constant target of immigration raids in the 70’s, her eyes glaze over and I have to shake her to bring her back and out of her painful past.

She was 14 and worked at a curtain manufacturing factory as¬†a seamstress’ assistant in downtown Los Angeles.¬† She would work two shifts, from five in the morning to nine or ten in the evening.

The terrible sound of the siren broke through the monotony of their work and the constant humming of the sowing machines and hissing of the steamer were replaced with frantic cries of “La Migra!!”

Chaos everywhere as people ran into each other, running up and down the stairs, crawling out the windows, but bodies everywhere being slammed against the wall my ICE, the immigration agents thugs that swept throughout the halls with snarling excited dogs ready to attack.

Someone pushed her into an armoire¬†and piled curtains on top of her and she lay there immobile, waiting for the wails¬†to die down into a whimper¬†and the silence that followed.¬† Her heart thumping sounded so loud and ominous¬†that she thought there were heavy footsteps heading towards her.¬† Her heart stopped and absolute silence filled her body as she heard the dog barking at the door, clawing to get in and claim its prize.¬† The doors were swung open and light fell on her face as she stared right into a snapping dog, the breath sour in her face.¬† As sudden as it was there it was gone and the ICE agent looked straight into her eyes, deep down into her soul, and he must have seen a skinny bony kid who stood at 4’11” terrified out of her mind.¬† She heard someone call out “All Clear?!” and she closed her eyes, ready to be yanked out with the hundred others that were detained outside.¬† But she was enclosed in darkness instead and thought, Am I dead?¬† She lay there for what seemed like hours before her bones and limbs ached so badly that she had to move before she would be unable to.

She walked out, through the eerily quiet hallways and out into the evening light where everyone went about their business as usual.  Somehow she found herself home and surrounded by her siblings and worried parents.  They had been calling around the neighborhood, fearing her in Tijuana, MX, wandering along with the other lost living ghosts that walk up and down the border.

My mother had many stories like these, and I took them on as warning to never trust the siren, to fear it, for it meant that it would break me away from my loved ones and turn me into the walking dead along the border.

When I was old enough to realize that this siren could no longer harm me (my parents eventually became U.S. residents through the Bush administration’s amnesty),¬†I realized that the simple fact that I had been born in U.S. soil exempted me from this fear of being flicked away from this country.¬† By then¬†I had learned¬†to adapt so that I would appear to belong.¬† I spent hours¬†memorizing the pages of the dictionary, practicing the sentences, trying to decipher the pronunciation, so that no one could identify me as not belonging to U.S. soil.

As I became a teenager, I learned that the more I assimilated, both in posture and confidence, the easier it was to camouflage my brown skin and blend into the background.  What AM thought was intuitive poise and the confidence to succeed was pure survival skills bourne from the need to adapt and go unnoticed.

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