“We have a responsibility to our parents to take advantage of all the resources available because of the sacrifices they have made,” Jennifer Zenteno shared during a recent roundtable of first-generation students. “All of you in this room have a responsibility to be community leaders and to step up.”
Jaime Rangel’s parents “did everything they could to get me into Dalton State College, even during the financial crisis,” which is part of why he returned to Dalton State after dropping out after three semesters, a he declared. “I got a good job in a carpet factory, I saved up to go back and I’m doing it for my parents.”
Education is so important to Ariana Caxaj and her sister because “my parents work hard for (us) so we want to try and give back,” the second told Dalton Academy. “We want to work hard for them because they have sacrificed so much to come” to the United States.
“I want to go to college because I’m first generation, so there’s pressure from family and friends, but it’s good pressure,” said Dalton Academy junior Seth Almazan. “They want you to be better, and they want me to study because they want me to succeed.”
Dalton Academy students were able to learn about college, leadership and resources on March 2 at the Junior Achievement Discovery Center in Greater Dalton during the second regional Latino Youth Leadership Conference. It was presented by the Latin American Association in partnership with the Dalton Academy and the US Hispanic Leadership Institute.
It’s “really helpful for students, because some of us don’t know what we want to do in the future, and it’s also helpful for parents,” Almazan said. “I’m from Mexico and my mom didn’t go to college so she doesn’t know anything about the process, but now I can explain to her.”
Born in Atlanta, Almazan and his mother returned to Mexico shortly after he was born, but he has been back in America for two and a half years and wants to study architecture at Kennesaw State University, one of the colleges set in the spotlight at the conference.
“It’s not a common career in Mexico, but I’ve wanted to do it since middle school,” and Kennesaw State offers the program, he said. This conference is “good for everyone to see their options and compare”.
The “sky’s the limit” at Kennesaw State — Georgia’s second-largest university — with nearly 200 degree and certificate programs, said Darisbell Valeriano, a Kennesaw State recruiter and 2018 graduate. also numerous clubs, organizations, and associations—including several aimed at Hispanic students—on campus “to make you feel right at home.”
Approximately one-third of Dalton State’s students are Hispanic, it is the only institution serving Hispanics in the state. Status as a Hispanic-serving institution is granted by the federal government, and these institutions must have at least 25% of the student body identifying as Hispanic or Latino. The “value is unreal” (the 23rd best return on investment among US colleges, according to Business Insider), said Dalton State enrollment specialist Diego Alvarado. “My life has changed because I’ve met faculty and staff who have helped me be who I want to be. You’re not just a number at Dalton State.
Alvarado came to the United States at age 6, grew up in Dalton, and attended Southeast Whitfield High School, but was forced to return to Mexico shortly before his 18th birthday due to his status as a immigration, he said. He returned to America in May 2016, enrolled at Dalton State and became a US citizen earlier this year.
“It’s been a long journey – 12 years – and a lot of that journey has been at Dalton State,” he told students during the lecture. “Having events like this is so, so amazing – in my day we didn’t have that – and we want you to get some insight today.”
The lecture “is really interesting, and we’re learning more,” said Flor Moreno, a Dalton Academy junior who is currently planning to attend Dalton State and join the National Guard after graduating from high school. She also appreciated the relative youth of many of the speakers, because “they have just done all this”, which gives them more credibility.
“We can do that too,” she said. “You just have to be dedicated.”
The conference is “beneficial, (especially for those) new to the United States,” said 10th grade student Luz Pimentel. “You see the opportunities for you to become a successful person in life.”
Benefits of college
“College can be a scary journey because it’s the biggest stage of your life, but college can do a lot for you,” Alvarado said. “We tend to think of excuses why we can’t go to college, but don’t let them stop us from asking questions and getting answers.”
“If you never ask, the answer will always be no,” Zenteno said. “I didn’t want to go to college,” but she benefited immensely from the Latin American Association, which provided “another village to rely on” in addition to her biological family, and she enrolled in a community college before moving to Kennesaw State. .
“You are (blessed) to have great colleges in our area, one of 22 technical colleges in the state,” Jason Gamel, director of recruiting for Georgia Northwestern Technical College, told students at the Junior Achievement Center . “We provide practical training, and our teachers who teach have been in these areas, (which) is essential.”
Whether it’s working with your own hands, joining the military or working in a profession where “people like us don’t work in this industry, fear not,” said Rangel, director from the state of Georgia for FWD.us, a pro-immigration 501©(4) lobby group that advocates for prison reform, the status of undocumented immigrants – especially for DACA (Deferred Action for child arrivals) – and higher levels of immigration visas. “Take on the challenge.”
‘Keep trying’ Being a first-generation college student “certainly comes with challenges,” said Rebecca Mann, a Dalton State senior majoring in psychology. Coming from a low-income family, she had to work and help around her home in addition to studying at school, and her family “couldn’t relate to me so much”.
Mann, another first-generation college panel member, “had trouble navigating the college system” and it was “easy to feel isolated,” especially as she suffered from low self-esteem due to partly to grades that weren’t “really good,” she said. However, college has had a “huge positive impact on my life” because it’s now more “resilient (and) secure of her than ever”.
“Don’t say no to yourself before you try and stop being so hard on yourself,” she advised. “It’s easy to feel bad when things (don’t go your way).”
University can be “difficult – it’s a new chapter, and everything is new” – and Edi Mejia’s lack of knowledge led to anxiety, but she “kept working hard and learning new things. skills,” said the Dalton State junior in business management. “I take the time to help others, and a big, really supportive community supports me.”
Rangel came to northwest Georgia as a sophomore, and the Murray County High School graduate hoped to play college baseball, but couldn’t because he had no papers, he recalled. “You are going to have challenges because life is tough, but the good thing is that you have resources.”
“Never give up and keep going,” advised Mejia, the fourth member of the round table. “Keep trying. It’s all worth it.