Stepping Into My Power as a First-Gen Latina Post-Grad

Post-grad life can be a much different experience for first-gen Latinas navigating so many firsts

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Photo: Courtesy of Laysha Macedo/Calena Ang

Being a first-gen student, at least for me, was growing up dreaming of simply going to college. Working throughout high school and romanticizing the application process that would lead to me to a college, despite not knowing exactly what college was. While I knew it was going to be an extension on my education, I didn’t know anyone in my immediate family who had attended a university and knew what the experience would be like. I didn’t know anyone in my life that I could go to with questions or someone who had anecdotes to share. Looking back, I can see that while my Advanced Placement (AP) courses did what they could to prepare me for the academic rigor, I had no plan or idea on how to handle everything else—I didn’t even know what “everything else” was. When I thought about being first-gen I only thought of los logros, the simple fact of being the first-to-go and the pride my family felt.

But, I had to learn about being a first-generation student by being a first-generation student. My college experience was a constant trial and error. Taking the wrong course, then learning for the following quarter. Having no guidance when it came to my major, only finalizing it halfway through my undergraduate career. Living with horrible roommates, leading me to learn how to navigate and address bad living situations myself.

As I ended my undergraduate career, it dawned on me that something else I noticed was not talked about enough was being first-generation after graduation. As graduation neared, I could feel the whole “first-generation” experience about to start all over again. Even with four new years of experience, being thrown out into the real world opened up all of my first-gen insecurities—my imposter syndrome, feeling untalented and unprepared, and my overall anxiety around having to fill out new applications and going through a new rounds of trial and error. I tried putting off my anxieties by focusing on los logros, the fact that’d I’d be a first-generation Latina with a degree my parents can be proud of. Putting off my emotions, however, only did so much when the realities of post-grad stared right at me.

I spent approximately three months completely alone after graduation. When all of my roommates moved out and I chose to stay to start job hunting, I was left to confront what being post-grad means by myself. Those months were difficult to say the least. The silence in the apartment served as a reminder that things were rapidly changing in my life. The friendships and spaces I had built and been a part of during such a transformative period of my life were not at all what they were just a few months ago. The friends I used to see every single day were spread out across the country. The Latinx student organizations I used to participate in, I was no longer a part of: I was done with that chapter. Rather than being the summer just before a new school year, I started accepting that from now on I was running on a different schedule, no longer thinking about the year in terms of college, quarter systems, assignments, and exam season. 

Part of the difficulty of this new transition stemmed from the struggles of job hunting. The uncertainty that I already felt as a first-gen graduate with no connections was amplified by the burnout of applying to jobs I was never hearing from. It was only exacerbated by the fact that I never saw anyone in my family go through this process. Filling out long applications, going through multi-step interviews, updating resumes and so on. The optimism I felt when I started slowly began to wither away as none of the opportunities I was reaching for seemed to work. About halfway through the summer I experienced a major low when it seemed that my life had no direction. I was not getting the job I thought I would have. My relationships were starting to look different. I began to question myself. Did I waste my parents’ hard work? Am I capable of starting my own life post-grad? Did I ever even have a shot at finding a good job? Leaving the comfortable bubble of a college community and having the “student” title was not only hard to grapple with but it came with a grieving process—a process that no one had prepared me for. 

In the months leading to graduation, while I was uncertain about my future I imagined the transition to be an exciting one. Exciting, meaning that I’d be jumping from one thrilling moment (graduation) to another (getting my first job). What I failed to recognize is that behind the excitement and emotion of being a first-generation Latina finally walking the stage was that the four years of experiences and community would now only be a memory. I wouldn’t be going back to this space anymore. That was a loss that I needed to grieve but I had not taken the time to do so. With the stress of job hunting and the overwhelming loneliness of the summer, I hadn’t stopped to think that growing up and being thrown out into the world meant that I had to start all over. Which was a mindset I decided to take on as another transition came about: moving out of my college apartment.

As bittersweet as it was, leaving a place I had called home for two years was the catalyst I needed to get out of my funk and accept this change for what it is: a fresh start. Decorating my new space, exploring parts of Los Angeles, meeting new people and even going to a different grocery store than my usual have all contributed to forming my new sense of self post-graduation. The time I spent alone over the summer and now planning this move from the life I knew, forced me to see that I am more than capable to be by myself and do things for myself. All these new experiences meant that I am capable of navigating transition periods and come out on the other side better than when I started. Moving into a new space, a new part of the city and meeting new people gave me the confidence to know that the world is much bigger than my college town and I have only scratched the surface of what is out there for me. 

Entering 2024 I am making it a point to turn over a new leaf and accept changes in my life. Now, halfway through my first year post-grad, I am at peace with the fact that my future is uncertain. I don’t know what tomorrow will look like or where I’ll be even two months from now, but I do know that just as I have navigated difficult transitions before I will continue to do so with whatever challenges emerge. As I look to graduate programs, future career plans, and where I see myself putting down roots, I am looking forward to navigating the challenges and getting myself where I need to be. “Cherish” is too small of a word to describe my college experience and that of the last six months. When I look back on them all I can think of is the gratitude I feel for the growth and learning that I have gained that will now propel me to continue pushing through this post-grad life.

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