Dear First Gen,
This past week, my family and I have been coping with the loss of my "great-uncle" (my mother's uncle) and planning his funeral. He planted the seeds for my family’s American Dream by legally bringing my mom's family to the U.S. His actions were the catalyst that gave me an opportunity for a good education and unlimited professional opportunities.
As a child, I often heard the stories of his dream of wanting a lawyer in the family before he left this earth. I never imagined it would be me since my sights were set on being a doctor—Dr. Irnande Altema had a nice ring to it! Although I went to law school in the state where he lived, he was unable to attend my graduation because of his illness but I knew he was proud of me that day.
I often wondered how my mother had so much optimism and faith in a world where I felt the odds were stacked against us. It was her uncle who instilled great values and resilience in my mother; but I did not appreciate (or tap into) that until I was faced with a very tough decision.
After my first year at Hofstra Law School, I returned home and called a family meeting. My dad normally brought us together in the living room, but I overstepped my boundaries as usual. With a stutter, I delivered the news of my plan to withdraw and pursue another career path. Law school was simply chipping away at my confidence. The craziest and coolest thing was that before the family meeting, I was offered a legal internship for the summer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and a fall externship in a U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge's chambers. Yet somehow, I still felt inadequate. Clearly my opinions of myself weren't the same as others’ opinions of me; they saw a qualified student that they should bring as a member of their team.
I did not have any expectation of my family's reaction to my decision, but I knew it would not be an easy conversation for any of us. During our talk, my mother reminded me of my uncle's dream and all of the sacrifices that were made to bring me to this point of enrolling in law school. Interestingly enough, my uncle did not learn that I was in law school until I finished my first year. So I did not want to disappoint him by leaving school the moment after I filled his heart with hope that his dream would come true while he was alive.
I salute my great uncle for having the courage to leave the country he had known for most of his life for the purpose of providing a better life to his own children and the children of his siblings, to be followed by the offspring (ME!) of his nieces and nephews.
While he was living, I drafted a legal document to be used to carry out his burial wishes. My mother consistently reminds me to use my legal education to help my family while I am on my journey to make a mark in the profession. Working on legal matters on behalf of my family is a delicate situation, and I am honored to have helped this key figure in my family.
I wish him a happy homegoing to the skies beyond what we see looking up or while in flight. You will be greatly missed and we say thank you.
Tell me: Who is your inspiration for rising as a first gen?
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