En Su Espejo
Luna takes a fresh look at her life so far.
The first time I visited a college campus, I was six years old. I was there for my mother, not for me—or so I thought.
My mother, a first-generation Latina and single parent, walked into her economics class at a New York City college full of ambition and eagerness, with me in tow. She told me to read and say nothing until class was over. I took quick peeks at my mother, noticing how different she looked in the classroom. Eyes forward, hair up, she scribbled notes on everything the professor said. For the first time, she was devoting all her attention and focus to something that wasn’t me. I felt jealous. I didn’t understand my mother’s drive to finish college back then, because I hadn’t yet learned to see past myself.
Growing up, my mother fell prey to a common trap for children of immigrants—particularly women. Driven to provide for herself and help support her parents, she began working as soon as she graduated from high school, planning to attend college at the same time. But as a girl in a Latino household with traditional ideas about gender, she wasn’t encouraged to continue her education. Meanwhile, her parents constantly urged her brother to think big, telling him that he could become a teacher, doctor, or lawyer. And so my mom was disadvantaged early on, because she was never taught to prioritize her own education. Soon she stopped going to school to focus on work.
After I was born, my mother realized she had to go back to school to support us both. It was a long process, with multiple stops and starts. She spent a year in school when I was six, then left again to be more present in my life. Then, as I began high school, she went back to academia again, determined to finish her degree by taking one class a semester. And although I still missed my mom, I was finally old enough to understand what she was teaching my brother and me.
Over time, watching my mother balance school and her job made me adopt a similarly serious work ethic. My final year in high school often made me fantasize about extending the 24- hour day by a few hours or so. An average day consisted of high school and a sociology course at City Technology College, after which I would do a 360, transforming into a sparkling sales associate at Banana Republic for the remainder of my evening. As a food-service worker, I also experienced what it was like to wash dishes for pay, then come home to wash even more. I babysat and cleaned other people’s homes, and took orders from hangry customers—sometimes feeling more like a menu than a person.
During the last few weeks of my final semester in high school, I was so busy that I worried exclusively about myself, feeling that I’d taken on too much. Then I caught sight of my mother up late, making ash cards, and realized she had been doing everything I had—and much more—throughout my teenage years. In no way could I compare my hard work to hers. She didn’t have the luxury to worry exclusively about herself. In that moment, I remembered the lunches she had packed for me every day, the snacks and inspirational texts she’d sent when I felt overwhelmed, and how the question “How was your day, honey?” never failed to come out of her mouth, no matter how tired or busy she might be.
Adulthood begins when you are able to look beyond the person you see in the mirror. Now, as I get ready to go to college, I know how much I owe to my mom. Watching her strive to complete her degree while raising kids and holding down a full-time job helped me understand the true value of a good education, and showed me that balancing work and study—while difficult—could be done.
My mother’s drive came from her own confrontation with the realities of adulthood and motherhood. When she took me to that economics class years ago, she was learning to look away from the person in the mirror and toward the child who stood beside her. Now, as I look forward to beginning college this fall, I know that I do it for myself as well as my mother—who has done nothing short of everything to get me here.
Luna Rojas is a class of 2017 mentee alum from Brooklyn, NY.