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Being A First Generation American

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at New School chapter.

This article is for all my First-Gen Ginas out there! As first-generation Americans, we encounter many challenges in our everyday lives. The United States lifestyle is completely foreign to our families, which is okay. There are so many of us out there — together we can learn and navigate the system.

My sister and I are first-generation Americans. Our family migrated from Peru just one generation back when my mother was a teenager. She did this act to give our entire family a chance for a better life. We are First-Gen Ginas! Cheers to us first-generation Americans.

Many families and people immigrated for that promise, which is true in some cases. There are so many first-generation families just like mine. However, it is undeniable that when you step foot into this country there is a whole encyclopedia of knowledge that remains invisible to you since your bloodlines are brand new. You don’t even realize there is so much information to learn until you are in the rut of it. Oh, the complicated feelings of being a first-generation American. I had no clue what it entailed until other first-generation Americans showed me. I thought this was the way of life, this confusion, and I had to beat it, but that’s not the case. Before being exposed to the others around me, I felt ashamed, embarrassed, and belittled to ask questions. It’s a common thing that many of us feel, the idea that “I should know.” I have felt this way my whole life, but not anymore. I am no longer filled with scarcity and anxiety, I am filled with empowerment, motivation, and hunger. I am ready to build the life I want. 

There were a couple of pivotal points that led me here. One is watching how incredible my sister has been on her life journey. She was the first person in our family to break into the American system, graduating from high school, guiding herself through university, and achieving her dream life in Miami. She really can do anything and she is still going! This girl made the world’s best lemonade without being given any lemons at all.

I had another extreme epiphany about being a first-generation American when I began to read the book, Cultura & Cash by Giovanna Gonzales. This book sparked a sense of relatability I never knew existed — I highly recommend reading it! I got the term “First-Gen Gina” from the book as well — First-Gen Gina is a character from Chapter 1, in which the author analyzes the different backgrounds we all come from. There’s Privileged Patty, whose family has built wealth by being in the U.S. for decades. Patty’s parents passed down financial literacy by teaching her how to invest and providing money for her investments and savings. Her parents also have connections, which get her a high-paying job right after graduating college. She could fully focus on school and internships with no financial worries and no stress about life post-graduation. We are also introduced to Average Amy in Chapter 1. Amy comes from a middle-class family who could afford to put her through college at a state school. She would work for extra money, but if she was stressed, she could quit her job and rely on her parent’s support. Her parents could pay for her groceries, gas, and other daily living costs. Post-college she isn’t as privileged as Patty, but she always has her parents to fall back on. Both of these characters’ parents have been through the college process and can navigate it with ease. They know financial aid, Degree Works, and resources.

First-Gen Gina on the other hand has an entirely different experience of the United States and the education system. Gina’s parents moved to the United States during their lives, therefore Gina is the first generation in the United States. Homelife for Gina falls into a low-income family, and she is the first in her family to go to college. She comes from a Latina family, which focuses on community rather than the individualism plaguing the United States. Gina has no financial help from her parents for college although she has their moral support. Her parents don’t know the college system, they are still learning the system of the United States itself. Often, she would help contribute to her parents’ living needs as well.

All these characters come from different backgrounds which directly impact their future. Gina has to work significantly harder to learn and accomplish the same things that Amy and Patty can succeed at due to her parent’s financial situation and overall lack of knowledge of how to navigate the United States. As the book mentions, we all have different starting lines.

No one taught us first-generation Latinas how to open a Roth IRA account to set up for our future or how we need a “peace of mind” fund. After all, my mom worked extremely hard, living paycheck to paycheck every month when I was growing up. She was constantly challenged even when she was just trying to get by in this system. She didn’t know about these secrets or shortcuts either, her main focus was making sure our family could survive.

Cultura & Cash taught me it all. It opened my eyes to a whole world of information that I am eager to learn and share. I was no longer buried with guilt for something that wasn’t my fault in any way, shape, or form. I could dwell, and sometimes I do, but I have to remind myself that I want to build this life for myself. 

There is more than financial literacy to be shared as well, like how to build a resume, form relationships, and set boundaries when our DNA is community-based but the country is individualistic. I don’t have all the answers right now but I do have some key takeaways that I have learned so far through Cultura & Cash and professional financial advisors.

  1. Open A Roth IRA Account! Once you start building your savings, invest that into a Roth IRA. You could do this by putting aside any amount that works for you monthly, it could be $10 or $100. I have a Roth in Vanguard, but Vanguard or Fidelity are both great options. It’s about what works best for you. After that money is settled, start to build your investment portfolio. This sounds scary, but take it one step at a time. It is also important to start this as soon as possible — time is your friend for your money to grow. You deserve a secure future, so let’s start tackling it now.  
  2. Find Your Communities! Find the first-generation and related communities around you. This could be by joining Latinas in Tech or finding a mentor. Reach out to your teachers and get to know them. Community is huge and we can all uplift each other together, whether that be through internships, friendships, mentoring advice, and more. Most times, the mentors have been in similar situations, therefore they can help guide you through it. Confiding in therapy is great as well. These experiences can be extremely stressful, so treat yourself to some time dedicated to you. You are not alone! Empowered women empower women. 
  3. Create a piece of mind fund. This will take time to work towards, but the sooner you start the better. Piece of mind funds are typically funded with about 3 – 6 months of your bare minimum living expenses. Depending on your preference you could even do 10 months or a year, but don’t build this too high. If this fund exceeds a year or two worth of income, then you should start transferring it to another saving goal. 
  4. Open a high-yield savings account. This account differs from the two we talked about earlier. The piece of mind fund is solely for a rainy day, emergencies, or even in the case you want to switch jobs in the future for your mental health. That fund provides freedom. This is solely your savings, which you can funnel into different goals. While your savings are sitting you might as well make some financial gains off it, so open a high-yield savings account in a bank that differs from your daily checking account. This can help you save more effectively since you don’t have immediate access to it. Online banks are great for these, I use Ally Bank!
  5. Practice Affirmations! Affirmations are essential. They can truly change our brain chemistry. Make a list of affirmations that speak to you. This one is all for you and you only. Although we may not fully believe it the first time we speak it, as we repeat it to ourselves it gets stuck in our brain. We have the power to rewire our thought process. I was stuck in a scarcity mindset for so long, but now with the help of therapy and affirmations, I am working past it. Don’t knock it till you try it frequently! Some of my favorites are, “I am safe,” I am worthy,” “Abundance is coming. I deserve and accept it,” and “Everything works out for me.” Affirmations alongside taking action are powerful forces. Try it! Write out a couple that you like, then find one minute to say them every morning. This could be when you wake up or while waiting for the subway; find time for yourself.

I know this may seem overwhelming, but tackle it little by little. Contribute a little bit every day, and in the long run, everything will come together. Every day I am learning more and more information, so I try to share it often with as many people as possible. First-Gen Ginas, we got this!

Andrea Robbin

New School '26

Hi everyone! My name is Andrea. I am a student at the New School in New York City. Originally, I am from New Mexico. I really love to write in different ways such as reporting, creatively and informational. Another passion of mine would be to venture our and try new things. This can be new sports, food, places and experiences. There is so much out in the world to see, and I want to see as much as I can! Without a doubt I am a ambivert, which gives me a great deal of perspective from my extroverted and introverted side. I love socializing and my personal space. To me, they are the best of both worlds. On a daily basis I enjoy reading about fashion, culture, and educational pieces. I also always have a personal chapter book in hand, therefore reading is practiced heavily in my daily life. I truly see all the benefits and wisdom stored in reading and writing, which is why I admire them. A long term goal of mine is to grow as an individual every day in order to blossom into my best version of myself. As I've aimed for this goal, I have realized it truly takes a village, and sometimes multiple villages too. This is one of the reasons why I am truly so excited to be apart of HER Campus! I cannot wait to share my pieces and read amazing pieces posted by the community as well.