First-generation celebration honors and uplifts students

The First Generation Celebration was held on Nov. 8 in the Student Center to honor the 51 percent of first-generation undergraduates currently enrolled at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB). Hosted by the Otter Cross-Cultural Center, the Otter Student Union and several other academic support groups, the event sought to build a community of shared experiences and provide resources to those who are alone in their college process. Nov. 8 marked the 53rd anniversary of the creation of the term “first-generation” by the TRIO community.

The highlight of the event was a keynote speech by Alejandro Espinoza. Espinoza, who was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and moved to East San Jose when he was 14, told stories of hardship and strength in becoming a first-generation student. His anecdotes were incredibly vivid, a delicate mix of touching and funny. One notable story recalled Espinoza’s first bus trip to the UC Davis campus, where he watched sorority girls pour out of a house during rush week without context. “I thought I was going to die,” he said, which was met with audience laughter.

His presentation drew on audience participation. Many segments required the crowd to self-mediate on questions and write down their answers. In between, he gave inspirational tidbits about family sacrifice and self-worth. “When he said ‘you were someone’s dream 30 years ago’… that hit me in my heart because, you know, it’s true,” said second-year Jonathan Ordiano.

Lastly, he shared his advice on how to survive college as a first-generation student, which mainly revolved around self-preservation and staying focused on one’s goals. “I wish someone would have told me the things I would encounter, so I wanted to come here and share the things I wish someone would tell me,” Espinoza said. In addition to Espinoza’s talk, several informational workshops were held throughout the day to support students in vocational, financial and health-related pursuits.

There were also workshops focused on first-generation visibility. Among these included a first generation student and alumni panel, a seminar on fighting cultural assimilation, and a guided lesson on crafting slam poetry. The latter encouraged students to identify and express the overcoming of the “brick walls” between themselves and their education. “I feel like we all struggle and I feel like this is a good opportunity to find those common themes amongst each other,” said third-year Miguel Garcia.

Overall, the celebration united CSUMB’s first generation population. “We sometimes see being first generation as something that is a struggle, which it is. But sometimes we don’t get the chance to celebrate us, to celebrate who we are … this is such an important time to celebrate ourselves,” Espinoza said.

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