June 20, 2024
As the daughter of immigrants, I've had to be the maid, the scholar and everything in between.

Editor’s note: This story is part of the annual Mosaic Journalism Workshop for Bay Area high school students, a two-week intensive course in journalism. Students in the program report and photograph stories under the guidance of professional journalists.

I dislike being the daughter of immigrants.

Not because I hate my culture, but growing up as a first-generation American and living with my single mother, was more difficult than you might imagine.

I love her and my grandmother dearly, but none of them knew how this country functioned. I had to figure things out by myself. I’ve had to grow up quickly. I don’t know how to apply to college, or how to succeed in life. They can’t really help me in those ways, yet I have to live up to their expectations.

At an early age, I became the interpreter for my mother and grandmother in an English-dominant country. Everywhere they went I went, and I had to translate — at the doctor’s office, teacher meetings and with the landlord. The toughest were legal documents. They were all up to me. If something I said was wrong, it would be my fault.

“Why do you go to school then?” my family would ask. Or “Do you not know English?”

I was only 8, the age you’re supposed to be playing outside or with toys. I had to grow up early, take care of myself, do my hair, walk to school, and do my homework alone. No one looked after me.

I’m not blaming my mother.  Her hard work and long hours were the only way she could provide a roof over our heads.  God bless her for all the struggles she overcame throughout her life.

After she gave birth to me she worked two jobs and to this day she still does. Once my mother married my stepfather I thought things would be different. I thought I would get a break, finally be able to be a child. But then they had two children together, creating two more responsibilities to add on to mine.

In the summer, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., while my parents were working, I’d look after my little sisters. When I turned 11, I was the cook, maid, babysitter and my mother’s only hope. I was filled with stress. I was tired of what my life was becoming.

It could have been different because I had an older sister. You would think she would have given me some relief, but she took a wrong path in life and left us at 19. That left me with the burden of becoming the family success story.

I am now my mother’s hope. I am the life she never got to experience. And whether I like it or not I will live up to them, because if not I will be a complete failure, not only in her eyes but now in mine.

At the age of 10, I declared my career to please my grandmother. I was going to be a lawyer, with no idea what I was saying. Now everyone is expecting me to become one. For them, it is all about the money, being stable and not having to clean bathrooms for a living. Every day I get reminded of how UC Berkeley is a great school. Stay near the family, they say, stay in Northern California.

But I want to do my own thing. I want to travel the world, major in history, and study abroad.

My mother dropped out of school in the third grade in Mexico. How is she going to help me write a college essay? I sit alone in my room trying to figure out how I’m going to get into college, with no experience, no connections, and not much help. Telling me to go to college is easier than showing me how. Getting a B-minus on my report card makes me a disgrace.

Right now I am the future of my family, the maid and the scholar and everything in between.

I love my mother to death and would never change her for anything. But at the age of 20 I hope to be out of the house.  I wish to heal, graduate from college, travel the world and feel free. To have no burden and just take life slowly.

Elda Alvarez is a student at Latino College Preparatory Academy in San Jose.