Diana Leon Garcia (Oakes ‘20, History and History of Arts & Visual Culture)

photo of diana leon garcia smiling in front of leafless trees and forestBackground: I was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and am an indigenous citizen of a Zapotec pueblo. I migrated to the U.S. at a very young age with my parents and grew up within a low-income home in Arcadia, CA where I lived with my immediate family of four and five other distant family members in a tiny two-bedroom apartment. As eldest immigrant daughters I became a second parent to my younger sibling when my parents were unable to care for us due to their busy work schedules. At the age of 15 after almost 13 years of complicated legal paperwork, my parents and I became Permanent Residents and three years later my parents bought a home in Pomona, CA. It was then that I enrolled in Mt. San Antonio College and began my path towards a degree in higher education.

What motivated me to go to college: Growing up in an affluent city it was common for everyone out of my high school to enter into UC's or Ivy League institutions. I was determined to continue breaking the stereotypes my peers held against me and continue on to higher education even if it was through an untraditional path.

Biggest challenge you encountered as a first-gen student and how did you overcome it: Overall the biggest challenge I faced was the imposter syndrome, as a transfer student, and as a first-gen POC (person of color), it was hard to find my place within an institution that was not necessarily made for me. I eventually overcame this feeling after finding a community of students who had the same experiences as myself and with our combined, and individual successes on campus and within our personal growth I was able to overcome that fear.

How has your background helped you: My background as an immigrant student who had to work a bit harder to be heard has helped me in many ways. I was able to seek help when things got tough and reach out to professors and academic advisors when I struggled within my classes. I was also able to connect with different people on campus and within the Santa Cruz community as I have been well equipped with the people skills that allow me to navigate the different cultures and people that live on and off-campus.

What would you tell my first-year self now: The road ahead looks scary and impossibly long, you're going to take a few missteps, but overall the journey, the friends you'll make, and personal growth you'll experience will all be well worth it.

Best thing about your college experience: I would say the communities I became a part of was the best part of my college experience. I was pretty lost during my first year on campus, but bonding with so many different people who have the same passions, interests, and hunger for knowledge was amazing. Especially when those people are able to give me various perspectives on things I would not have seen myself.

How has being a first-gen student influenced you (and/or your work) now: As a first-gen student and especially as a WOC (woman of color), I have found that I have to work a bit harder than most. That being said I have always been quite a hard worker, but having others give me the validation that the hard work I give my projects is noticed and appreciated, it has allowed me to take bold steps and apply for jobs, fellowships, and programs that I originally would have been too afraid to go for.