The chase for the American dream; pressure among the 1st generation


Frida Ruiz photographed by Isabella Kneeshaw.

Frida Ruiz, Staff Writer

First-generation American guilt is something that sounds simple yet feels so complex. It’s an internal battle that I think is an inescapable truth for several if not every first-gen American.

 As a first-generation American, my parents coming to America is something I often mention; their sacrifice and hard work are what bring food to the table, puts shoes on my feet and funds the laptop I rigorously typed this on. 

All any immigrant family has ever wanted is that classic American dream for their family. With our parents’ valiant efforts to chase that dream, we must validate it by chasing it too. What we were not told is how tiring the chase will be and how scary it is, with the fear of failure and disappointment clouding over us. We run after it even while it rains. 

 Our job now is to be the success story to be plastered on our dad’s Facebook, with his message to all of our friends and family being, “Ponte las pilas” – something we will be told for what seems the rest of our lives. Everything we now do is to uplift our parents, an attempt to fulfill every opportunity that comes our way. 

At some point, the pressure we place upon our shoulders becomes overbearing. This creates a new wave of countless mental blocks, that could potentially: 


  1. Lead to burnout, which is then compounded with depression and the anxiety of failure follows us. (This burnout will either create a mindset of “Do your work, think later” or cause us to enter a phase of “I just need rest,” causing us to slip into a deep sleep when we get home from school).


  1. Create a strain between us and our parents. The resentment will come in and we will become frustrated by the number of significant sacrifices our parents had to make.


  1. Cause us to crack under the pressure to break the cycle of disadvantage, the pressure to build generational wealth and, if you’re the eldest sibling,—the pressure to be the example for younger family members.


One of these three reasons (or more) chips away at us, and we become a perfect cookie-cutter shape for our parents to indulge in. This is something our parents desperately tried to avoid placing on us, but we are now unhappy. Our mental health issues now seem unreal. We’re on our phones too much, we don’t drink enough water and we don’t call abuelita as much as we need to. That is the problem:—not the number of tabs open on our laptops, not the endless number of IAs we owe and not the math test that cripples us as we try so hard to recall what the hell module 5 is. But we keep it to ourselves because bringing it up with our parents doesn’t seem worth it yet – not when we have an essay due at 12 a.m. to focus on. 


Luckily, this isn’t always the case, but it is for plenty. I consider myself lucky. I have parents who understand my vast dreams and siblings to look up to; they are my examples of success even at their lows. Something that I think every first-generation American student needs to learn is how we were not born to fulfill any goal, no matter who placed that burden on our shoulders. Being honest about our emotions and seeking out professional help when we need it is not a failure, but a win that belongs to us.