The True Struggle of a First Gen. Daughter

Heidi Andrade Castillo

Professor Perry


23 October 2023

Since the day I could remember, I’ve always had a sense of jealousy towards kids my age whose parents, grandparents and even great grandparents had the opportunity to attend college and get a degree. People take that degree for granted and think everyone can obtain one after attending college, but in reality, it takes hundreds of sleepless nights, focus and especially money to obtain “just that degree”. Living a comfortable life where those kids always had food on the table, never having to worry about staying warm throughout the atrocious winter storms. Any New Yorker would know that winters where the sun doesn’t rise until almost 8 in the morning and sets down by 4 in the afternoon are the worst simply because were all shivering and coughing trying our best to stay warm. Those girls who went out with their mom, shopping at the clothing store Justice because everyone thought that was THE store to shop at. Simply having those quality times with their parents and being able to rely on their parents to explain to them how to solve an addition word problem. These are the kids I would envy since my parents didn’t have a degree or couldn’t spend quality time with my sister and me.

My mom worked at a shoe store in Queens and at times she would take me there but that was when I was a little more mature, I would say I was around 4 to 5 years of age. I knew that place was where my mom would talk to strangers and converse with them rather than give me attention but one of her coworkers named Son would talk to me, make me laugh, bring me snacks while I sat in the corner of the store looking at all those shoes on the wall. Son was Korean, she had an accent, but I somehow understood her as I listened to her talk more and more. When I soon realized people had different accents it had me questioning if I had an accent when I spoke in English. That curiosity didn’t last for long after I no longer saw Son for moving to Staten Island at the age of 7. 

My story is a little different compared to others, on the contrary, my parents emigrated from Mexico in their early teen years and got married when they were just 20 years old. They started from the bottom up and I will always tell their story proudly because I personally don’t think anyone could easily leave their entire life behind not knowing whether they are going to succeed or not. My respects for them are always to an all-time high, just with them moving to a different country with no family members, no home, no job, just an allowance to live off of is more than a challenge itself. That didn’t stop them from coming for a better life, for the “American Dream”. For context, I grew up moving to different houses and boroughs all throughout out my 18 years of living. Being surrounded by all these different communities not only helped me be more entertained instead of just staying home but it also widened my curiosity to the different form in which people spoke. 

Living in an apartment with two bathrooms and a living room with an immensely high ceiling had me always wanting to go home and jump on the sofa until I could reach the ceiling. Thinking about it as I type upsets me that I had taken what was once “My Home” for granted. The home in which my father worked at least twelve hours a day to pay for, a home where my mother worked all morning and day to provide us food within that home was all gone. It burned to ashes after our neighbors had an accident and basically took the house down with them. We eventually moved to another apartment and started again from the bottom up. 

It may seem very hectic but that’s just summarizes how my childhood was in a few words. Constantly moving from place to place with my older sister and parents. Imagining how many communities I was a part of blows my mind. I give all those communities from the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island the credit for helping me grow as the honor student I am to this day. Days where I would sit in the restaurant next door because I had forgotten my house keys multiple times, provided me with enough comfort to finish my projects, homework and writing assignments I had throughout my childhood. I went all elementary school, middle school, high school and now college with no help from my parents and I say this in the most loving and respectful way possible. I know if they could help me in what I was doing they would’ve done it in an instant even after their long shifts at work. YouTube was my best friend all those years because if I didn’t understand a concept, I would simply search it up and in a matter of 10 minutes I would finish that word problem. It wasn’t always that easy though, when YouTube couldn’t help me, I would get very frustrated and hate my parents for not being knowledgeable enough to help me out with just one problem. It hurt my heart just thinking all those thoughts out of frustration. One of the many struggles I overcame led me to getting into college pursuing a passion I have for numbers. 

The power of language was exposed to me at a young age, but I wouldn’t change a thing if I could. From the communities to the languages to the experiences, they all shaped me as the proud first-generation honor student and daughter I am today. Everyone’s experiences are all different. And of course, there are times where I can’t help it but envy those who may have it easier, but the truth is that just because someone has it easier doesn’t mean they didn’t work hard for where they are now. Life is all about the experience whether they are the good or bad ones they mold our beliefs and values. The experience is the most important thing when it comes to learning anything because at the end of the day it’s what you take away from what you learned not what you memorized. 

My parents don’t know it, but they also formed my identity as I grew up. Being a first-generation bilingual daughter, whose first language was Spanish was all from them teaching me an unknown language that I didn’t know at all. Yes, I became a literate person from school, books, friends, etc., but my parents also gave the ability to speak fluent Spanish which gives me ana advantage from all the other monolingual speakers. Just like English has different forms of English, Spanish also has its own texture and forms. From Standard Spanish to Spanglish to Pachuco Spanish to Spain Spanish are all in my vocabulary. In a sense you can say I was given the opportunity to learn Spanish which Is the second most spoken language in the United States. People tend to pretend there’s no negative side to a positive outcome, in this case having to translate all papers including legal documents when you just started learning English. Learning English and Spanish simultaneously while also having that burden of understanding what all these complicated terms such as precedent, alienation of income, etc. meant with no clue in the world of what they really meant but having to try my very best in the fear that If I mistranslated, they would end up in jail for not fully understanding the terms and conditions. That fear would eat me up at nights keeping me up thinking “wait did I say it meant this or this” “what if I didn’t tell them the right definition and they end up getting arrested”. I laugh at my younger self for overthinking, but younger Heidi put her big girl pants and successfully made it through her childhood without getting her parents in trouble. 

Books didn’t always grab my attention it was more the action or comic books because they had more pictures than words. The descriptions in comic books made me feel as if I was present when a hero was fighting the bad guy. I laughed for hours and cried tears when it wasn’t always a happy ending. Later on, I outgrew that phase, but it opened my eyes of who I am as a person. I’m more of an observer where I need to see what is happening for me to understand. All these “phases” in my life growing up were not unfortunate it was more of an opportunity for me to grow. Even though I didn’t have the guidance that most kids had I know I overcame all those obstacles on my own with my parents rooting for me on the side lines. 

Maturing at a very young age isn’t the easiest but it also isn’t impossible. It benefits you as an individual in the long run in the sense that one can grasps the situations you are put in as an adult in a world where everyone moves in a fast pace. Decisions are made more thoughtfully with the experiences one faces growing up. All these factors play a crucial role in one’s adulthood in which I stand at right now. Being aware of the consequences of the decisions I make helps me choose what’s best for me in the long run. 

The two components that mainly make up literacy, like mentioned before, weren’t my biggest strength but it doesn’t make me less literate than someone who enjoys reading or writing. Speaking and listening are also other factors of literacy that come from experience and the development of one’s personality and cultural development whether it’s our own culture or another culture in which find interest in.