A few weeks ago we discussed the dropout rates and the obstacles Latinas face in finishing high school. It is a real problem for our community, but thankfully it is improving because Latinas are starting to attend higher Ed at a rapidly growing pace. This fantastic news! However, even when Latinas are making strides in graduating from high school, they have an obstacle placed before them when it comes to earning their college degree. The obstacle being: Will my family be OK if I attend school away from home?
Many young Latinas that have been accepted into four-year Universities feel pressured (consciously or subconsciously) to forgo an education at their preferred school so that they can stay home and meet the expectations set upon them by their families and communities.
Of course, one of the greatest attributes seen in many Latino cultures is the strong sense of family. It’s common and normal for multiple generations to live under one roof. It is a strength and an asset to be able to depend on family to support you; many of us have benefited from these cultural norms. And I’m sure there are many that could expound on the benefits of staying at home while attending college (money being the main benefit). Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with not leaving home if that is your choice.
The fact remains, however, that there are expectations placed upon us, based on our gender, which can conflict with our life goals. Often the pressure to stay home is driven by a sexist belief that good girls don’t leave the house before marriage; or the idea that good daughters must always sacrifice for the family. These beliefs are hindering many Latinas from achieving their educational and professional goals.
Further, many Latino families tend to be overly-protective of their young women. They may impose rules and regulations on them that hinder their ability to experience milestones or discover their individuality. Many families also rely heavily on gender roles and expect the women to take on a care-taker role, which can impede that woman’s ability to take on new challenges or progress in her own life because instead she’s too focused on her care-taking responsibilities. In these situations, we have to make a choice–do we abide by these imposed customs or do we go on our own path?
Here are my two cents on leaving the nest:
Living without your immediate family while attending college increases your autonomy. It allows you to make yourself a priority; it gives you the time to set and meet your goals; and exposes you to different experiences, ideas, and opportunities that often don’t occur when you live at home and have to abide by the rules of the house.
This ability to put your goals and your needs above others is a vital skill to learn if you are interested in succeeding within the legal profession. It is vital, not because becoming a lawyer means becoming selfish or mean, but rather, in order to become a lawyer there will be many moments where your goals and your needs must be priority–not picking up siblings from school; not cooking dinner for others; not bringing in extra cash to help with the bills. The reality is that there will be times where you will have to decide–me or them? Or to put it less harshly, what is more important right now: studying for my final so that I do well and can find employment post-graduation or helping take care of my nephews because that is what’s expected of me?
It’s often difficult to put yourself first, especially if we come from traditional Latino families, but if we don’t get into the habit of making ourselves a priority then you may find yourself stuck when it comes to reaching your goals. It may not seem connected, but leaving home and allowing yourself to break from tradition can help you become comfortable in making tougher decisions down the line.
Leaving home for school also helps you become more involved in your educational community–you’ll build a stronger network and make deeper connection. The risk that occurs when you stay home is that you will self-isolate (becoming that student that goes home every weekend), and rather than building those college friendships and connection, you’ll just continue to interact with the same groups of people.
Finally, by leaving for school, you can help set a trend. You can help show your immediate family, other female relatives, and your community that you are committed to reaching your goals and are willing to bet on yourself. Ultimately, when those that care about you see your passion and drive to succeed, they will eventually come to terms with your decision and support you as well.