Living in two worlds

By By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

When Latina/o immigrants come to the United States, they often feel like they are stuck between two worlds. They face a constant struggle to keep their traditions from home alive while trying to adapt to the ways of living in their new county.

Keeping this balance is especially difficult for Latina/o students who are the first in their families to enroll not just at an American college, but in any college, said Rina Benmayor, Latina/o studies professor at the University of California-Monterey Bay.

“It’s a growing phenomenon,” Benmayor said during a lecture in the Union Theatre on Thursday. “There’s a huge wave of new immigrants that have brought first-generation students to this country.”

Benmayor has been studying first-generation students who understand the transition between countries and cultures by interviewing them and holding “testimony” panels in a five-year project based in California.

Benmayor said that during interviews, she tends to focus on students’ cultural citizenship, which is how people organize their values based on their origins and cultural belonging rather than the formal status they hold as citizens of a new nation.

For example, Benmayor said she has noticed that many first-generation students are more concerned about choosing a major that will help provide for their “familia” and tend to overlook a career they are genuinely interested in.

“They’re trying to be in two worlds at the same time,” Benmayor said.

Also, students who come to college in the United States find traditions that might be completely different from those in their home country.

“When you’re in a space where you don’t feel you belong, you’ll do anything to feel you belong,” Benmayor said. “And sometimes this can sever ties with their family.”

Judith Carmona, an education, culture and society major, said living two different lives at the same time can be difficult, especially for college students.

“But it’s important to respect both of the spaces you are in, especially when they might be at odds with each other,” said Carmona, who moved to the United States from Mexico.

Silvia Ibarra-Garcia, an educational leadership and policy graduate student, said educating immigrants about the changes they might be facing in their new country is important to help ease the transition.

“It’s really important to share that knowledge so they don’t feel so alienated,” Ibarra-Garcia said.

Carmona and Ibarra-Garcia are both part of a pilot project at the U, “Telling Latina/o Testimonies,” which spurred from Benmayor’s cultural citizenship project in California.

The group, which is made up of 22 Latina women, meets once a week and will present a panel in April. Time and location for the panel are pending.