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Should I Stay or Should I Go? (But Don’t Tell My Parents)

When I revealed to my mother, at the age of sixteen, that I wanted to attend a university five hours away from home, she could only laugh.

“5 hours away? From my food?” she said. 

In her defense, even I hadn’t yet taken these plans seriously. It was hard to imagine being in college in two years when I still looked like I could eat for half-price at a buffet.

Yet, despite her surprise, my mother continued to encourage me to chase my dreams and pursue what I truly love. She constantly emphasized that my happiness was more important than financial security—notwithstanding her penniless beginnings as a Cuban immigrant in the United States. As I grew up, my mother remained supportive while my dream career shifted from author to musician to psychiatrist to journalist and finally, to public relations specialist. Naturally, she encouraged some of my more unrealistic aspirations with a lighthearted attitude. Of course, her sixth-grade daughter, who still had a lot more thinking to do, might not assemble a successful alternative rock band, but why destroy those dreams? 

My mother regarded my dream university with the same sentiments until the night of February 26, 2021, when I received my acceptance letter from the University of Florida.

“She’s leaving us,” my mother said to my father while reading the letter on my laptop screen. Consumed with excitement, I thought my mother was making a joke. However, looking back, I wish I had noticed the heartache she concealed behind her words.

My mother had a unique perspective on my thirst for independence.

“You give your children everything just for them to leave you the first chance they get,” she would say to my family members with a laugh.

Most parents say, “I gave you everything,” to justify why their children should become independent as soon as possible. But after fleeing to the United States at eighteen, with only her family and minimal knowledge of American culture and the English language, my mother prefers to keep her family close. While my mother braved a series of life-changing events throughout her childhood, her family maintained a ubiquitously comforting presence, which is why she now equates family with home.

And here I was, her firstborn, shattering her long-held definition of home not only by moving away for college but also by showing disinterest in returning to Miami after college.

My post-college plans are a topic of conversation that I vigorously avoid by remaining evasive, but, alas, I am an open book to my parents. Knowing that there is a possibility I would not stay near them, they skillfully use humor to mask their disappointment. 

“She’d get away from us right now if she could,” my dad often says with a sad smile and his eyes averted. I can only ever shake my head and laugh, unable to conjure the appropriate words when I can’t even make promises about what would happen in a few years. 

This situation exemplifies a crucial characteristic of the Latino culture: familism. Familism is a social ideology that subordinates individualistic needs to familial needs. In other words, Latinos make choices based on how their families will benefit from it, not just themselves. 

Familism in Latino culture has become a coping mechanism against the political and economic instability faced by many Latino countries. Families stick together because, in most cases, this is the only sense of stability that they have. Due to the large-scale corruption and poverty in many of these countries, the Latino people believe that they can only trust their families. They continue to cling to this cultural value when they move to the United States by remaining physically and emotionally close. 

This concept of familism also explains why there is a difference in how Latino and American parents in the United States view their children’s transitions out of the house. America’s capitalist system has shaped the country’s individualistic culture, which stresses that every American has the freedom and opportunities to pursue their interests and succeed. Thus, American parents expect their children to be in college or have a job once they become legal adults at the age of eighteen. On the other hand, children of Latino families face less pressure because they traditionally move out once they get married. The 2009 National Survey of Latinos conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center highlights the universality of this belief by revealing that sixty-nine percent of all Latino participants surveyed agreed that children should live with their parents until they are married. 

However, because of their exposure to the American lifestyle, children born in the United States to Latino families feel encouraged to adopt the American practices. The American culture emphasizes the thrill of going to college in a different place and the benefits of success and financial security through TV shows, movies, novels and other forms of media so that children look forward to becoming independent. But while Latino-American children excitedly pursue this lifestyle, their parents struggle to abandon other customs to embrace it. 

To my family, my desire to move away and explore new places resembles a renouncement of our Latino way of life to embrace the American way of life. It also represents my desire to detach myself from them and create a life without them. These perceptions are completely unaligned with the actual reasoning behind my interest in moving away—I am simply interested in seeing what the rest of the world has to offer. I want to discover new places, new people and new ideas. 

I hope that, if I do live in a different place, I can prove to my family that we should not fear distance. I hope that they will realize that the world can be kind to us, despite what their traumatic past forced them to believe. There is space in this world for us Latinos to spread our wings, and I will prove it to my younger siblings and cousins. 

In the meantime, I will begin planning a conversation with my parents on the topic of moving away. It would not surprise me that, despite their complaints, my parents would happily pack their bags and move away with me if given the chance.

Daniella Alfonso is a first-year public relations major. Besides writing, she also loves to go out for coffee, ascend to rock music in her bedroom, and share her love for astrology with others. You can follow her Instagram @daneillas.
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