First-Gen Undergrad: Anabell Vidanes Gimena (College Ten '19 Community Studies w/ focus in Health Justice & Sociology)

photo of anabell vidanes smiling and sitting on colorful, tiled staircaseMy mother immigrated to the United States in the 90s and my father in the 2000s. I was born and raised in San Francisco and lived in a house filled with multiple families, often having to sleep on the floor to accommodate everyone in the house. Coming from the City, I was exposed to the open-mindedness and vibrancy of an immigrant community. At the same time, I was exposed to the health and economic disparities that affect people of color. My early exposure to the disparities that existed in communities of color has had a tremendous effect on my journey and development of passions in college.

What motivated me to go to college:  “Basta meron kang edukasyon, kaya mong gawin lahat ng gusto mo sa buhay.” “As long as you have education, you can do everything you want in life.” As the daughter of immigrants, there’s this pressure of not only doing well, but exceptionally succeeding in my academic endeavors to make sure that my parents’ sacrifices will not go to waste. This mentality is both my motivation and pressure. My mother always told me that my education will be my liberation. Just as long as I had an education, no one can take it away from me. I always knew that college was for me, no matter how difficult it was going to be.

By my junior year of high school, I got involved with nonprofits in the Mission district of San Francisco that assisted first generation college bound students from low-income communities to access college. The support I’ve received from Mission Graduates, ScholarMatch, and the Promise Scholars have consistently pushed and motivated me to be the best student leader that I can be. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to be blessed with a strong support system from the Filipino Student Association at UC Santa Cruz.

How my background has helped me: Coming from a family of Filipino immigrants, I’ve learned the strong values of hard work and community. Through all the struggles that I’ve overcome in my journey in education, I know that I am in a position to give back to those who were once in my shoes. I have a strong drive to help my peers and learn from them as well. In my second year, I had the opportunity to facilitate the Pilipino Historical Dialogue class under the Sociology department as an Academic Coordinator. Through the exploration of not only my, but the students’ identity and cultures, I’ve developed a stronger sense of the intersectionalities of my identity and the power I have a student leader.

As for my academic and professional interests, my early exposure to the health disparities in my community has had a tremendous impact on my journey to defining my passions. I started out as a Human Biology major with an intention of going into medicine. However, through the classes, internships, and networking opportunities, I’ve come to align more with my current route of double majoring in Community Studies with a focus in Health Justice and Sociology, with the intention of pursuing Public Health in graduate school.

What would I tell my high-school self about the college experience: Failure is inevitable but how you learn and improve from these failures reflect who you are and who you’re trying to become. I was always so afraid of failing in fear of disappointing not only myself, but the people who have supported me. Through my college experience, I learned quickly that many mistakes are bound to happen in all aspects of my life. But how I learn from these mistakes are the real lesson. I would tell my high-school self to be kind to herself in these moments.

Additionally, I quickly learned that college was a space of 24/7 socializing. As an ambivert, I found myself feeling overwhelmed after long hours of being surrounded by people, no matter how exciting that was for me. If I could tell my high school on this experience, I would tell her to one, explore more methods of self care over the summer before college. And two, find more confidence in yourself to try out new methods IN college!

The best thing so far about my college experience is: Being more in tune with who you are and you want to become. It’s cliche, but college has been the period of time where I can say that I have explored more of many aspects of my life. Through the struggle of switching majors and losing friendships, and through the successes of landing internships and finding life-long relationships, every experience I’ve gone through has made me who I am today. Leaving home and my City pushed me out of my comfort zone. Even through the hard times, I would be glad to have an opportunity like this again in the future.

How being a first-generation student has influenced me: Being a first-generation student has helped me with my independence. A lot of people say that college is your first taste of freedom. However, this came with a grain of salt. Moving away from home and having to pay your own bills while helping your parents back at home at the age of seventeen was a huge task. On top of all of that were the actual college academics. It’s hard to actually DO school while you’re supporting yourself and your family. It’s given me a greater appreciation for the sacrifices my parents had to make in moving to America.

With that being said, this appreciation has also showed me the importance of giving back to those who also identify as first-gen. I find myself being involved with organizations and work that builds community where it’s most needed. As a peer adviser for the East Bay College Fund and the Educational Opportunity Program, I have the incredible opportunity to share what I’ve learned and be a peer resource to those who also identify as first-gen students of color. It’s rewarding to learn from their lives and grow with them as well.