First-Gen Undergrad: Julian Alexander Narvaez (Cowell '22, History of Art as Visual Culture)

photo of julian narvaez smiling in black long sleeveBackground: My name is Julian Alexander Narvaez, and I’m an undergraduate in my third year majoring in History of Art as Visual Culture. I’m 21 years old and I’m from Ontario, California but I went to high school in Rancho Cucamonga. 

What Motivated me to go to college: What really motivated me to go to college was seeing how my family has struggled financially and how that adversity has affected their quality of life and overall happiness. I wanted to get away from LA and closer to nature, so I knew going to a college up north would be my best option. Once I realized art history was my passion, my motivation became my dream of doing something fun and purposeful that would secure my financial stability. Since I was a kid, I’ve had aspirations of doing something that would allow me to spoil my family; seeing them struggle my whole life made me want to do something special for each of them someday. That aspiration has been reshaped because now I can inspire them to prioritize their passions in life, the same as I have with Art History and my career goals, and that to me is more impactful on their lives than material things. I still want to buy my nana a new house someday though!

What’s the biggest challenge I encountered as a first-generation student and how I overcame it: My two biggest struggles as a first-generation student have been money and guidance; my parents don’t try to learn about my classes nor do they try to help remind me of deadlines because they just aren’t involved. Throughout my whole school experience, my family has told me I was going to go to a big 4-year university right out of high school because my grades showed promise. This encouragement quickly turned into pressure once college application deadlines came around, and especially when realizing getting your bachelor's degree isn’t easy! At that point, I had to recognize that the pressure my family put on me to graduate couldn/t be my main source of motivation; the only way I could fulfill my dreams was to focus on how great my life will be when curating art galleries or selling art. My whole first two years, I refused to seek financial support on campus even though my parents weren’t able to support me because of pride. 

How my background has helped me: My family has taught me to have a strong work ethic and how to maintain determination, especially in hardships. This resilience has pushed me through other kinds of obstacles like mental and spiritual barriers. Some members of my family taught me self acceptance, while others taught me how to introspect deeply so I could improve myself. My dad taught me how to persuade buyers, while my mom taught me to value my morals. 

What I would tell my first-year self: I think my first two years would have been so much easier if I had learned sooner to throw away the idea that asking for help was weak. Since my family taught me the individualist perspective that made me feel like I didn’t need anyone else, it was difficult for me to go to the on-campus resources that were made for disadvantaged students like myself. I would also encourage myself to seek off-campus therapy, and I would have taught myself how to budget!

The best thing about my college experience was: So far, the best thing about my college experience has either been learning new perspectives from people not from Los Angeles or learning more about what I’m truly passionate about in life to overcome unhealthy mental processes. Overcoming harmful self-talk allowed me to start expressing myself artistically again. Rediscovering how much I love painting and making music changed the quality of my life.

How being a first-generation student influences me (and/or my work) now: Being a first-generation student gives me a sense of pride that money can’t buy; knowing that I’ll be the first one in my family that will be able to relate to my little/future cousins makes me feel proud of myself and my parents for teaching me to enjoy educating myself.