First, sorry not sorry, but I can’t get off the Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter train–it was just such a good book! But it definitely has kept me thinking–in the novel, the imperfect daughter, Julia, struggles with meeting the standards her family sets and is more focused on creating a life for herself that’s different than what her small neighborhood has to offer–she wants to be a writer, go to college, see the world. Her parents don’t get why she can’t be happy to have a steady job and stay at home with her family. There were so many scenes where I was rooting for Julia and became just as upset at her parents as she was–why couldn’t they be supportive? Why wasn’t her desire to go to college and aim high (not just for an office job) applauded and encouraged? The scene where her mom destroys her poems just tore at me (and I’m not even an artistic person that likes poems!). But it highlighted how vast the divide was between her and her parents. It kind of dawned on me that her parents were so focused on making ends meet that they didn’t have the time or emotional health to provide the support she needed. For many of us whose parents work low-wage jobs, the struggle may seem familiar.
Many of us may have parents and family like Julia who want us to be educated, but may not feel as comfortable encouraging us to set high goals for ourselves. Maybe they want you to go to college, but don’t want you to leave the house. Or they want you to succeed in school, but don’t understand why that means you have to participate in extracurriculars. It can be tough.
And reading this book, reminded me of this struggle. More importantly, it underscored how important it is to remind yourself that your goals are important. I repeat: your goals are valid!
You are allowed to think and plan and dream beyond what you see. Even if your parents say no.
And there maybe times where no one gets why you’re putting in this work. When the work you’re doing to achieve your goals intervenes with family obligations and you have to make a choice. A choice that perhaps put your goals above the family. That is when the going gets tough. This is when you will need to have faith in yourself and in your plans, and have the discipline to make your goals happen even when those closest to you don’t get it.
But remember, even when they say no try to give them a little grace. For our parents, who work long hours in low-wage jobs and are abused and mistreated by people and systems, often they are acting defensively. They likely want to protect you and their perspective is one of protection. They don’t want you to be dismissed and misused like them. It’s likely that they think that if they reign in your expectations they can shield you. Take the time to educate them on the system, your ideas, and plans–help them grow along with you. It’s not easy–if, for example, your parents don’t want you to go away to school because they believe women should stay at home, then you have a hard battle where you can try to dismantle these dangerous gender norms and/or become comfortable in knowing you’re going to buck the trend and perhaps upset them. Again, not easy.
Ultimately, the most important thing to remember and what can get you through these tough talks and arguments is that your education is for you. Even when we talk about community and the change you can create, your education is for you. You can’t fear setting high standards and goals for yourself. You can’t fear moving beyond other people’s expectations. I can assure you that by becoming an attorney you will be defying expectations in small and large ways on the daily. So now is not the time to shrink yourself. Remember, tu si puedes. I know you can!