In the memoir First Gen,Alejandra Campoverdi, the first ever White House Deputy Director of Hispanic Media for the Obama Administration, puts into words the fragility of trying to integrate into a society that has overlooked Latinx communities while staying true to one’s foundational culture and customs. Right off the bat, Campoverdi coins the term “First and Onlys,” individuals who are first generation in their families and who are often the only ones to do so. This term can apply to things like being the first and only to go to college, or could also mean being the first and only person of color with a seat at the table. It’s something that is present for many Hispanic and Latinx communities at all levels of society, big and small. She describes how fulfilling these achievements can be, such as honoring our family’s sacrifices and determination for a better future and life, and also how alienating it is trying to navigate a space and culture that was not created for us or with us in mind. For many first gens, breaking the glass ceiling always comes with a price.
Oftentimes, when we hear stories of notable First and Onlys, like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer, their difficult upbringings are highlighted to showcase how unprecedented their rise to the top has been. While it absolutely is an incredible feat, these stories pressure all future First and Onlys to behave perfectly in order to reach similar success. Every First and Only has had a multitude of obstacles and problems that led to their success; they misstepped and made mistakes. They weren’t always perfect like society expects us to be, and to gloss over this is a disservice to those following in our footsteps. If our white counterparts are allowed to mess up publicly and freely, why aren’t we?
“Identifying the emotional scar tissue of being a First and Only is not meant to be discouraging; on the contrary, it is essential. Because we can’t heal from that which we can’t name. It’s perhaps our best hope to ensure that we aren’t set up for a life lived with outward success but emotional isolation.”Quote from First Gen
This is why celebrating first gen college students during Hispanic Heritage Month is so necessary, especially at predominantly white institutions. The expectation to be perfect is always present for first generation college students, but this is often amplified when none of our classmates look like us, and therefore do not know our struggles. Being the first in our family to pursue higher education can be isolating; we will run into situations where there is no one we can turn to for advice, there will be times the pressure will make it hard to breathe, but every day we even show up to class, we will be making a stride forward. Every day as a First and Only is another day we are advancing the fight for representation, so that maybe one day we won’t have to sacrifice a piece of ourselves—instead we’ll be enough as we are, scars and all.