First-Gen Graduate Student: Andrea Vazquez, Department of Education and Chicano/Latino Resource Center (El Centro)

andrea vasquez smiling in front of artwork in first gen shirt

I’m a native to South Central Los Angeles and the eldest of two daughters born to a Mexican father and Afro Latina mother from Ecuador. My father’s education ended in the fifth grade and my mother migrated to the United States before being able to pursue a college degree in her own country.

What motivated me to go to college:  What motivated me to go to college was seeing how hard my parents worked to make sure we had food on the table and a roof over our heads. My fondest memories are of our family waking up at six in the morning to recycle copper because, although it was hard work, it was also our family time. Hearing my parent’s childhood stories, and their desire for us to succeed and no longer recycle cooper, motivated me to go to college.  

What the biggest challenge I encountered was as a first-generation student and how I overcame it:  The biggest challenge has overcome the insecurities of feeling like everyone else is better prepared, or smarter than you. It took a long time to realize that I was capable and disserving of being in college and that my childhood and lived experiences gave me a different type of grounding that was powerful enough to get me through college and eventually pursue a Ph.D.

How my background has helped me:  Because of my background, I’ve found that I am able to make connections that others my not be able to make, both inside the classroom and with other people. It’s almost like having an extra pair of glasses to see the world through.

What I would tell my first-year self:  If I go back and give my first-year self some advice, it would be to have more fun. I spent too much time worrying whether or not it was OK for me to go out and have fun knowing that my parents were working to help me pay college tuition, that I think I missed some opportunities to learn things outside the classroom and understand that my parents just wanted me to be happy.  

The best thing about my college experience was:  Being exposed to different cultures… and food!

How being a first-generation student influences me (and/or my work) now:  Being a first-generation college student has influenced all my work. I’m very interested in the way that youth think of the future and what they imagined their lives could be like in comparison to their parent’s imaginary of the future. My work was heavily influenced by my parent’s stories.