Seeing the Unseen Challenges that UGA First-Generation Students Face

 Why It’s Newsworthy: Students who are the first in their families to pursue higher education have challenges. Pressures from family, friends and themselves influence their choices in all fields, varying from financial to career to social life to major. 

 

The University of Georgia’s Division of Academic Enhancement states that “a first-generation college student is a student whose parents/guardian does not have a college degree.”

As the first American-born daughter of Mexican immigrant parents, Amy Guzman-Reyes, 18, said she is amazed that she has the opportunity to attend the University of Georgia knowing where she comes from. According to, the National Center for Education Statistics, Guzman-Reyes is a part of the 30% of all entering freshman who are first generation-students.

About 19 years ago, Guzman-Reyes’s family immigrated to the United States from Mexico. Her parents made a significant sacrifice when they moved from a familiar city in Mexico to a small town in America. Her family left behind all belongings, family and friends to start a new life from scratch in the hopes of pursuing the American dream for themselves and their children.

Guzman-Reyes’s dad, Rene, was the first one to arrive to the United States when he was 20. He used to come for periods of six months a year, two years at a time, and send money back to his family.

“You cannot be afraid of what has not happened yet, and you cannot let money stop you. If I had been afraid like twenty years ago of what could have happened or where I was going to pull the money from or how I was going to pay people back,” Guzman-Reyes’s dad, Rene, said. “I wouldn’t have gotten anything done. So, there is no point of being afraid of something that you are doing to better yourself.”

Amy Guzman-Reyes, 18, is a first-generation college student from Rome, Georgia, whose family immigrated from Michoacán, Mexico. (Infographic/Alexandra Rios)

“He was in and out because that was the only way due to economic situation,” Guzman-Reyes said.

With only one working parent, supporting a family of four children has been rather difficult. Guzman-Reyes’s father worked in the fields; because of that, he was able to gain his residency through the Reagan administration. He applied for paperwork to bring the rest of his family across the border. Eventually, Guzman-Reyes was born after they made it more plainly. Without these efforts, Guzman-Reyes would not be an American citizen and would not have the opportunities attached to this status.

“Growing up as a Mexican-American, I feel like you get a different perspective,” Guzman-Reyes said. “You learn how to value things a lot more just by being here.”

Life in America has not always been simple. Living in America under the low-income, minority label caused Guzman-Reyes family to face many economic conflicts.

I remember my mom baking sweet potatoes in the morning,” Guzman-Reyes said. “She opened the oven because we did not have central heating to keep the house warm.”

Guzman-Reyes’s mom heated clothes on the stove because it was cold.

“She would put the clothes on me, and I would smell like tortillas on the way to school in the morning,” Guzman-Reyes said.

Yes, financial resources have been scarce for Guzman-Reyes’ family, but she said she will not let that interfere with her education. Guzman-Reyes’ parents always pushed her to always do the best that she can in everything.

“Going from [heating clothes on stove] to being in a dorm room at the University of Georgia,” Guzman-Reyes said. “It’s insane! It’s such a blessing to be here.”

Therefore, she works hard every day to make them proud of her and for them to know that she appreciates their efforts.

I know so many people that this is just their norm, but this is such an incredible opportunity,” Guzman-Reyes said. “I guess I am just really grateful to appreciate it. It is insane how those two existences can coincide in one person like that.”

Guzman-Reyes takes her education very seriously with hopes of being an example that one can do whatever one sets their mind to, regardless of where one comes from.

“So, my sister always says you are either going to be working for somebody or you are going to have workers,” Guzman-Reyes said.

After graduation, Guzman-Reyes hopes to run her own business one day so that she can help other people. She was inspired by her sister to earn a degree in international business and marketing.

Alexandra Rios is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. 

 

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