Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

For my Lovely Parents: 

For all that I am and who I strive to become is all because of my lovely parents. 

Who have carried sacrifice, prosperity, and courage on their backs. Who left their countries with holes in their hearts but what had scarred them most is how they only had access to low standards of living. How can you undo what has been set for you? Easy, we can't choose where we come from, but we can choose where we go from there. 

(Genesis Vargas)

With Love

My Mother originally came from her country, with Ecuador where she was majoring in Education. However, her plans got interrupted once she started dreaming bigger. She fantasized about pursuing Education in the United States and so she did. She got her Student Visa and landed in New Jersey. She attended a local college by the name of NJCU and eventually graduated. However, she still wasn’t a citizen. All that changed when she met my father.

Meanwhile:

My Father was making his way from Peru to New Jersey when he was about thirteen leaving behind his childhood and his Mother. He lived with this troubled father for a while but eventually moved out and got adopted by a much nicer father figure. He managed to graduate from highschool and had hopes of continuing to College but then decided to pursue something he had never gotten to experience: love.  

A Mother on a Mission

Eventually, my Mother became a citizen then my parents became one. A couple of years and a couple of rugrats later, my parents were slowly moving up the economic scale. However, that transition wasn’t so easy. My mom began her career in the U.S as a Preschool Teacher in a local Daycare in Jersey City, and getting hired and maintaining her job was a grueling process. I remember her asking me for help when I was six or so to make sure her spelling and her pronunciation was sharp for her next day at work. For her, another day meant another project. Hurdles in the way for her were: discrimination. Apart from her trying to prove to the employer that her second language will not affect her strong work ethic, my Mother had to work harder at diminishing her accent because her employers looked down on her for that. Something to keep in mind is that before 2008, teachers were highly paid. Prior to that my mom was receiving high pay and benefits. She describe her work as rewarding but pure torture. My mother was the only Latina working at the Pre-School so they watched her every move. They calculated how many times she’d went to the bathroom and how long her break would last. It was a very hostile environment. She had many sleepless nights revising lessons plans and the employers refused to give her the credit she deserved for working twice as hard. They refused to acknowledge her great potential as a teacher. They saw her was a threat but tried to diminish her for her accent. However, even though they didn’t acknowledge her, the parents did. They rewarded her with gifts and thanked her for encouraging their children and preparing them for the next grade and having them progress in an early child development setting.  

(Genesis Vargas)

After dealing with the endless hostile work experience and still not quitting, the year 2008 came around and the recession took place and my mother got laid off. Despite the work issues, my mom had been earning great for a single mother, but all that changed.

She managed to find another job as a Special Ed Teacher that is just as highly rewarding for her. Although her career took a shift at the end, she believes that she accomplished her version of the American Dream.

Dad Wears Green

My dad was working as a truck driver to make ends meet. He was really good at it. However, what really set off my father's career was unexpected. One night my parents starting arguing and it got so bad that my father left and didn’t return for a few days. The day he finally did, he told my mother that he would be leaving again. When my mother asked where he was going this time, He said to the war that he had enlisted….

(Genesis Vargas)

I found the recruiter when I got kicked out of the house and he told me that they needed people for the upcoming war and they would provide free school, benefits, a great career. Recruiters made the war sound so fancy and life after it sound so special. Looking back now I firmly believe my Father didn’t think about this life changing decision and instead, acted impulsively. So he left the next day went off to bootcamp. Being the youngest of three and only 6 years old, I didn’t understand what was going on. My mother had told me he was going on vacation and I believed her.

He got shipped off to Bootcamp the very next day. He said it was the hardest day of his life. They shaved off his head just like the movies. For the next couple of bald months he slept on the cold hard beds, woke up everyday at 5 am, and made some lifelong friends. Luckily, he made the cut and graduated with honors. His graduation was a great one but a bitter one because although he did great, he got assigned a new mission: Iraq.

Days, weeks, and months passed by and still no calls. His absence was so prevalent I wondered if he was dead. The longer he was gone the more my parents separated. He has said he had witnessed some of the worst things during the war. There were bombing soldiers left and right, escaped fires caused by the other side, and witnessed his best friends die. It was so bad he wanted to escape and at one point he attempted. His attempt failed and he was back at the same place he started. Lieutenants were so merciful with my father because it could’ve been worse, much worse… After Iraq, he went to Afghanistan and then somehow he landed back in New York. He then was away from the action for a while and had to fulfil another duty selected by his commanders. His commander brought him to the side and said "I’ve selected you, Sir Vargas, to instruct the incoming class of 2007 of Westpoint and get them ready for training this Fall.” My father finally discovered what it meant to be happy in that moment. Out of all the times he never called, he finally called this one time and told us of the news. Nothing was ever perfect for him but he still managed to make one hell of a career. Years later, he retired unwillingly; he got sick but after a couple of months he grew stronger and better. I guess you can say by that time my parents had officially separated.

(Genesis Vargas)

Risking It All

Through this we navigate how struggling immigrants not only make it out their countries but struggle to reach success. What is success really? Is it earning a lot of money? Is it having a stable career? Is it being rewarded heavily? The answer is none of those things. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my parents, it’s to do what you love with no cost. No cost of risking your mental health and your life. Success is truly finding a career that makes you happy with the least stress.

Now where does that leave me as a first generation?

Growing up in one of the most diverse cities in Jersey City led me to be able to feel comfortable with my identity. But that wasn’t the hurdle I faced, it was seeing my parents’ hunger to reach their American Dream. Then, focusing on mine. My struggle included trying to have an outstanding performance at all times because I’ve had the privilege to do so. It’s striving for greatness and nothing less. Lastly, it’s my parents accepting my achievements and telling me I’m doing a great job encouraging me to do better. It’s the simple feeling of not being good enough. I had been so hungry with my parent’s version of success that I couldn’t find my own. Now that I’m older, my parents finally understand and accept all my efforts without criticizing me. I’ve managed to turn them around is by having them understand ‘Mental Health’. Money won’t mean anything if it’ll result in stress. I told my Mother I didn’t want to be like her in the daycare and I told my Father I didn’t want to be rewarded for what causes me a ton of stress. I’ve accepted where I’m currently at this point of my life.

I’m approaching a more positive aspect in my life. Nowadays, I’m thinking about how grateful I am to have two parents who love me despite my flaws. My motivation stems from being appreciative of life. Being born here, to me, means that my capabilities are limitless. Being latina to me means that what I can achieve is endless. I try my best to finish each task without it taking over my life. I believe success will come over time and that I should be trying to take advantage of any opportunity I think will actually bring me joy.

I can’t change how my parents grew up and the adversity they went through but I can use it as a tool to how I can overcome the adversities I will face now and possibly in the future. I’m looking forward to graduating as a senior, completing the semester, enjoying my pageant activities, and simply exercising one of my rights as an American to live with Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.