Story courtesy of Marivel Bravo-Mendosa, MS in Counseling – Student Affairs and College Counseling 2019 Graduate
I was born in a small town just off the coast, Santa Maria, CA, that is nestled in the valley between the Pacific Ocean breeze and beautiful wine country. It is a town that is predominantly Latino populated and where many immigrants seek refuge in search of socioeconomic opportunities. It is also a place where our youth are affected by the challenges of drug abuse, gang violence, and teenage pregnancy and has persistently increased to unfortunately threaten the future of many local youth.
As a first-born daughter of Mexican immigrants, I was fortunate enough to overcome my hardships, be the first in my family to graduate high school, attend a university, and graduate as a first-generation student. If there was one thing that was repeatedly drilled into my mind during my upbringing as a first-born Latina in a Mexican household, it was this:
“Education is everything. It is the key to success and a better future míja. Síguele adelante (Keep moving forward).”
It was messages like these along with stories of my parents’ upbringing that motivated me during my academic experiences.
I faced many obstacles in my life that have jeopardized not only my studies but well-being. In high school, my mother was diagnosed with gallstones that required a surgery she could not afford. Instead, my father drove her down to Tijuana, in hopes of a more affordable treatment, which quickly turned into a disastrous life-threatening surgery that landed her back in an ICU in San Diego with a Staphylococcus Infection.
For about two weeks, she slipped into a coma, while my siblings and I were completely on our own hours away from her. I found myself on my own caring for my three siblings, two of whom are deaf and have special needs, and giving up sports, most after-school activities, and my friends in order to make sure they were taken care of. It was only with the help of a neighbor that I was able to survive this experience that at the time I did not fully understand the intensity of the situation.
Thankfully, my mother survived and made a healthy recovery. However, there were times where she would slip into a depression and anxiety, and again I found myself taking care of everyone and everything else around me in order to keep some stability and normality for my siblings. This also affected my mental health, even after I left for college. I was very afraid of what would happen if I was not physically present with my family at home.
The day I left for school was the most emotional day of my life.
I fought back tears the whole car ride there and it took every inch of my being to swallow the knot in my throat as I hugged my family goodbye and watched them walk away. I knew it wasn’t goodbye forever but leaving my family was a milestone I needed to complete in order to achieve the goal that was most important to me.
In being the first in my family to graduate from college not only set an example for my younger siblings but it also broke a barrier between poverty and opportunity. It was very hard to make friends as a freshman because it was a complete culture shock. It took a couple of years for me to be accustomed to my new surroundings and find the motivation I needed to stay and finish. Four years later, I waved to my family from a stage at UC Santa Cruz with a cap on my head as I proudly walked up to receive my diploma with a Bachelor’s in Sociology combined with Latin American and Latino Studies.
I did it, not just for my family, not just to get it done, but for my own future.
Although I have accomplished so much in the past few years, I continue to face and overcome many obstacles. The year after graduation I decided to be financially free and independent from my parents. One of the reasons I pursued Fresno State was because it was more affordable. Yet the first couple of years were challenging due to unemployment, unstable housing, and obtaining medical insurance for mental health support.
As a first born, first-generation Mexican American, I was taught to be strong, resilient, and determined to work hard for my goals. This was both my strength and my weakness, both a blessing and a curse. I was taught that feelings, emotions, and communication about our emotional battles should be internalized, kept behind closed doors and in secret. I have learned that I need to take care of myself physically, mentally and emotionally so that I can ethically help others.
The Student Affairs and College Counseling graduate program has taught me that it is okay to ask and seek out help so that I can develop into a healthy individual and professional.
Everything that I have faced has influenced where I am and developed who I am today. Although I am very proud of everything that I have accomplished, the journey was not an easy one and I am left with lessons, knowledge, and wisdom about my academics and who I am as a person.
My goals in life are working with students in higher education and youth in promoting academics, college and career planning, family involvement, mental and general health and cultural representation. I want to be able to help students seek opportunities in their life ambitions and to be able to do that, students need to be supported in their basic needs.
Learn more about Fresno State’s Master of Science in Counseling programs.