​​A letter to my immigrant parents

April 28, 2024

Design by Madeline Jones

Today, I write to commemorate all immigrant parents, especially my mom and dad, who sacrificed their lives and comfort to ensure their children got an education. This May, the Class of 2024 will celebrate their graduation with friends and family from all over the world. Graduation is especially important to me as a first-generation student and a daughter of immigrants. This letter and my degree are for all those immigrant parents who have watered and cultivated our hearts and souls through their love and dedication. 

It feels like just yesterday I was telling my parents my plan to move across the country and start a new journey, one filled with novel adventures, lessons, and hardships. Along the way, I carried a suitcase full of their lessons. My mom always taught me to never give up, and if one door closes, another will always open. My dad taught me the beauty of accepting who you are and how you come to be. My parents’ resilience and dedication gave me and my sisters, Ashley and Araceli, all the options and opportunities they were never given. 

My mom grew up in Mexico, where she received a university education in pedagogy. Shortly after, she left her job as a teacher and moved to the United States. My mom was 20 years old when she had me, which meant we would grow up together. Despite migrating to the United States with one blanket and $200, she created the life she wanted. It takes strength to leave behind everything you know in hopes of creating something bigger. These past four years of university would not have been possible without the power of my mother’s warmth, encouragement, and rooted belief in me. Speaking to other Georgetown students with immigrant parents, we share the same sentiment that our mothers continue to help us grow—even from a distance. 

My dad grew up in a poor family in a small town in Mexico, where he only attended school until the seventh grade. When I was little, I was scared to fall asleep in the dark. My dad would lie beside me and tell me his childhood stories until I fell asleep—stories of long nights herding cattle at 3 a.m., starting from the age of 10, to make extra cash before heading over to school. In these rare, brief moments, I saw my dad as a child. He dreamed of becoming an architect. Unfortunately, my grandfather clipped my dad’s wings. He believed that education did not matter, and, even so, obtaining a university degree seemed economically impossible. Instead, my dad left his home country at around 16 years old, in search of a higher-paying job. At that same age, I was preparing myself for the college application process. It never crossed my mind that I could handle leaving behind my home as a child. I often find myself glancing over at the construction workers across campus and D.C., greeting them—they remind me of my dad, of what I left behind. I can’t help but wonder about their stories. I see the faint smiles on their faces, their humanity beyond their labor. Through each of them, I water my dreams and hopes for my future. 

The vast difference between the life my parents gave me and the life they had leaves an ache that I will carry with me endlessly. I had to navigate college as a first-generation student courageously, because how do you tell your immigrant parents you are suffocating? I’d tell myself that the weight of figuring it all out had to be lighter than that of leaving your homeland. There were days when my heart felt heavy and I felt myself falling—but I know that we first-generation college students simply don’t get that privilege. Your strength, Mom and Dad, pushed me through every semester of college, through every milestone; even from 2,500 miles away, I felt you near. 

My family and I all knew that to build the life we wished for we would need to protect and uplift one another. My parents planted the seeds of our dreams, and through the years they tended, illuminated, and protected me and my sisters. They ensured that no matter what challenges faced us, we believed we could get up and try again. Limitations and excuses did not exist in my household. They found strength within the constraints attached to impoverished people and immigrants. 

My parents never denied the difficulty that came with their circumstances. Their hard work paid off, and though we are not a wealthy family, we have come a long way from the one-bedroom apartment we slept in. Through every lesson and struggle, my parents’ strength was unwavering. Even when there was no sunlight around me, I could count on them to guide me along the way. My mom, who always has a solution for everything. My dad, who somehow always checks in on my hardest days and reminds me why I am here. They’ve dedicated themselves to ensuring that I can accomplish my dreams. Immigrant parents around the country, and among our Georgetown community, continue to share their power and magnitude while standing aside to watch us flourish and step proudly into their shoes. Even so, many immigrant families and students are left behind, failed by an increasingly brutal legal system and a lack of access to educational spaces. This is for them too. 

I could write books expressing the love and respect I hold for my family. Every single one of my successes is for my sisters and best friends, Ashley and Araceli, and our parents, who gave us everything and more. To my family, I thank all of you for holding me up every step of the way and encouraging me to reach for the stars. With this, I give the greatest congratulations to the Class of 2024 and commemorate those who came from unconventional backgrounds and pathways.

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Ashley Vazquez Romo

This is a masterpiece.