Tuesday, May 25, 2021

I want it for me': 1st-generation College Student Beats COVID Barriers to stay in School

This in-depth account of college student, Guillerminia Gutierrez Martinez' struggles, with getting through college provides a good sense of what many immigrant families are coping with in the context of the current pandemic. 

If navigating college is hard in normal times, one can only imagine just how difficult things are for them now. Most positively, it points to the resilience, intelligence, aspirations, and dogged determination of students that emanate from among the most marginal sectors of society.  

I so admire them. Thanks to Jorge Haynes for sharing.

-Angela Valenzuela

Published  Updated 

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Guillermina Gutierrez Martinez picked at her cuticles and let out a shaky breath. Her left leg bounced nervously as her right foot nudged the accelerator. She balled up her fist and pushed away a tear, clearing her vision of the road ahead. 

Will they think I’m a failure? Will they lie to their friends because they’re ashamed?

Crammed into her 2007 Ford Fusion were remnants of her life in the University of Washington dorms: A king-size grey Mexican blanket, storage containers bursting with winter clothes, a suitcase stuffed with textbooks and a camera. This is what she’d packed two years ago when she left her hometown to chase a college education, the dream of so many first-generation Americans and their parents. 

It was May 2020. Two months earlier, COVID-19 had exploded just 13 miles from UW, shuttering campus and moving classes online. Guillermina thought the extra free time meant she could take on more; while enrolled in 15 credits she doubled her work hours from 20 per week to 40 at the downtown Seattle Target, desperate to help her family as the economy cratered. But the dueling responsibilities crushed her. She fell behind on homework. When she discovered she could withdraw without financial penalty in the seventh week of a 10-week spring term, Guillermina dropped out.
Guillermina Gutierrez Martinez talks about her upbringing while driving around Mount Vernon, Washington, her hometown. A keychain replica of the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street is pictured hanging on her keys. The souvenir from New York City reminds Gutierrez Martinez to keep pushing herself.BRIAN MUNOZ, USA TODAY

One week later, she was hurtling backward: back to her house, back to parents she couldn’t look in the eye. 

She sniffed and wiped her nose with her sleeve as “Breathe,” from the “In the Heights” soundtrack, filtered through her car speakers: 

When Guillermina first heard that song in high school, she made a silent promise to herself that she’d get out too — to get an education, a profession, her own home. 

Continue reading here.

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