Dear First Gen,
My whole life, I have not stopped to heal.
What does it mean to heal anyway?
Every choice or decision I have made in my schooling and my career was for a reason beyond my own self-interests. I excelled in school because it was necessary for my family. I put in long hours at work because I had a reputation to uphold. I sacrificed taking several days off work despite many days feeling under the weather or overly committed.
I have been going and going, like a nonstop flight, and I have not taken time to check in with myself. Maybe I need to be making time to heal.
You may be wondering what I need to #heal from.
Well, I never took time to heal from the instruments that I was prohibited from playing. Or the birthday celebrations I didn't have. The vacations I didn't take and the summer camps I didn't attend. The “normal” childhood I missed out on.
Or how about healing from being seen as someone accepted into school or offered a job under #affirmativeaction policies rather than for my own merit? Or the countless hours I spend rewriting emails in fear that I'll come off as “another incoherent person with immigrant parents”?
It can be exhausting having to defend myself if I use an accent when saying certain words, speak to my parents in their native language, or have my credentials questioned even after putting in the work to be seen as a qualified applicant.
Individually, these instances may not leave a lasting mark. But built up over decades, being continually questioned and having to prove myself, it's possible that I need some time to heal.
It is rare for me to share this publicly. I was raised to believe that there were certain things I would not be afforded, so I had to be strategic and intentional when pursuing each and every goal in my life. It was always reinforced that nothing was going to come easy for me. I was not born into any privilege, and I would always have to work for what I wanted.
When I wrote my first blog post, I started to heal from the various #unapologetically first-gen moments I have lived. How? Other people reached out to me to let me know they went through the same things, or would share their own story with me.
After I posted “Hard Knock Life of a First Gen,” my cousin who is in high school told me that his mom took him out of trumpet class to focus on science. We spoke to my aunt about how it made him feel and she said that he can take trumpet lessons when he is older.
It is possible that it's too late for this cycle to be broken, but my cousin did not harbor any ill feelings about his mother's decision. Just like me, he understood the bigger picture that all first gens learned at a very early age.
Our families came to the United States to achieve The American Dream. But often, this constant reminder can be hard to swallow and doesn't give us the time we may need to heal those wounds of what might have been in our childhoods.
As an adult, I have been reminded of the importance of healing. Now, I make it a priority to find space and time to heal because it has helped me to recognize why I may act a certain way when something is withheld from me or when I feel “robbed” of certain moments.
For me, healing was and is necessary. I just wish I'd learned that sooner in life.
Tell me: Have you made time to heal? If so, how do you heal?
Dear First Gen,
One of my favorite hobbies is traveling. My brother and I have a friendly competition where if either one of us visits a place before the other, the other sibling works overtime to avoid traveling to that location. (My parents are not fans of our "explorer" spirit.)
I have met several first gens who do not own a passport or have used their passport to only travel to their family's birth country. Yes, it was shocking for me to hear, too! Recently, I returned from a trip and enjoyed the culture, the food, beach and also learned how two languages were simultaneously taught in a classroom and reinforced at home.
For example, my friend and I were in the post office mailing postcards to our friends and family back home. My friend asked the postal worker how to say pen in their language and she responded. Another customer, older woman, joined the conversation and began singing a song that taught her certain words in both languages including the pen. Another customer overheard her and sang along and then the postal worker chimed in and sang along, too. The young postal worker confirmed a decades-old classroom instruction still being taught and had not been forgotten by the two older women.
A fellow first gen has written the guest post below:
As a first-generation law student, I was surprised that so many of my classmates were children of attorneys. Many of them had worked at their parents’ law firms prior to starting law school and they had established connections. I, on the other hand, didn’t have the skills or a single connection to lean on when I entered law school. But I have found that a love for travel is a great way to connect with people.
There are so many reasons to study abroad. You will make friendships that last a lifetime, you will experience a new country as a local, and you will broaden your horizons more than you thought possible.
Your study abroad experience is also something that will enhance your ability to connect with people throughout your life. When you go on interviews or to networking events, many other professionals will have traveled extensively, and your study abroad experience will give you talking points and help you make connections with people who share your passion for traveling.
As excited as I was to study abroad in my second year of law school, I was even more excited to head to the “motherland.” My relatives left Italy in the 1920s, but their traditions remained strong and have influenced my life in many ways. Although I had been to Europe once before, I had never been to Italy.
This month’s featured First Gen is also outstanding, has a knack for simplicity, and is admirably humble. He pursued his graduate education out-of-state and impressed his classmates by being valedictorian of his graduating class. (I thought I would mention it since he would want to keep it quiet.)
1. What is your name? Charlie Mileski
2. What is your current occupation? Attorney
3. What makes you a first-generation graduate/professional? I am the first person in my immediate family to attend graduate school and to become an attorney.
4. What was your proudest moment as a first generation? And why? My proudest moment as a first generation was my graduation from law school. Law school was stressful and full of challenges. However, I powered through. My entire family attended my graduation, most traveling cross-country. Seeing my parents’ and brothers’ faces and the tears in their eyes as I received high honors and graduated made it all worthwhile.
5. What advice would you give to a first-generation student, graduate, or professional? Always be prepared and always plan for what may happen in the future. As long as you have a set plan and set goals, you will have a personal guide to success.
6. What is your favorite quote? And why? "Kid, you’ll move mountains! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way!" [Theodor Seuss Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss)] This is an amazing quote because there will be mountains to overcome and you'll always need a reminder that you can overcome them!
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