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First-Generation Student Brandon Brizuela

Brandon Brizuela
Undergrad: San Diego State University

Q. What is your background? Where did you grow up?
Both my mother and father emigrated from Honduras to the United States at 17 with hopes of seeking a better life for themselves and their family. With their immigration status, minimal education, and limited English, my parents were forced into manual labor-intensive jobs for low compensation. The financial constraints restricted them to a community where life beyond our apartment door revolved around gang violence, teen pregnancy, and poverty. However, it is in the community of City Heights, San Diego, where I became immersed and embraced the richness of America’s melting pot. 

Q. Why didn’t your parents attend college?
Growing up in a third-world country presented many socioeconomic adversities for my parents. At the age of 8, my mother was forced to end her education at a third grade level in order to provide financial stability for her home. My father was also forced to end his education prematurely in order to manage his father’s crops and secure the livelihood of their family. Although both have expressed they wish they could have continued pursuing their career aspirations through academia, they were compelled to make the necessary sacrifices in their life for the well-being of their families. 

Q. What made you decide to attend college?
From an early age, my parents instilled in my sisters and me the importance of utilizing the resources they did not have the same access to, such as public education. Throughout different experiences in my life I have come to realize that education is the “great equalizer” in gaining upward mobility for my community and me. 

Q. Did you know you were a first-generation college student?
I learned at a young age that I was a first-generation American and the limited education my parents received would make me a first-generation college student. It was in high school that realized I would have to overcome more administrative and bureaucratic roadblocks to obtain the same academic and financial opportunities as my peers.

Q. What were the biggest challenges you faced as a first-generation college student?
A. I was constantly reminded of my status as a first-generation college student every time my accomplishments became attributed and minimized to my skin color and tax bracket. I consistently experienced micro-aggressions from peers and individuals in positions of power where I was expected to feel complimented by statements like “you’re not like the others” or “you’re smart for a [fill in the blank].” Although I am very confident in my work ethic, I found myself questioning the validity of my successes and trivializing if they were based on merit versus pity.

Q. Why did you enroll in the Health Science Intensive program?
A. What attracted me the most about the Health Science Intensive program was the fact that they believed in my potential of fulfilling my aspirations of becoming a physician. I also appreciate the importance of fostering community among my cohort and being fortunate enough to listen to a plethora of stories from now-built lifelong friendships.

Q. How does being a first-generation college student affect you now in the Health Science Intensive program?
A. My transition into this program has not been the smoothest. There has been a lot of financial uncertainty regarding affording tuition and books, as well as the cost of living in a wealthy county. It took me a while to overcome my imposter syndrome and sense of not belonging in the program. With the help of some classmates I was able quickly realize I offer a narrative that is seldom seen but needed in higher education. The biggest struggle I have faced while being in this program is overcoming the guilt of making a decision I deemed selfish. For the first time in my life, I was going to be extensively separated from my family. This raised many concerns, such as financial instability because now there was one less income in our house, or one less person to rely on for any doctor appointments. Despite receiving their blessing to pursue the opportunity of a lifetime, I felt I abandoned my family. However, once I got here, I was reminded that opportunities such as this are the sole reason why my parents endured the arduous journey to United States and make their American Dream of a better future a reality. 

CATEGORY: Academics