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Author explores themes of first-generation trauma in memoir

A Los Angeles-raised author is sharing her firsthand experience of growing up as a first-generation student who successfully navigated through obstacles and eventually worked for the Obama administration in the White House.

Alejandra Campoverdi’s memoir, “First Gen,” is about the pressure and guilt that comes from being first generation. 

“First generation can be first-generation American, first-generation college student, first generation to break a cycle of poverty,” Campoverdi said. “It means you are the first to cross a threshold and that could be physical, societal or emotional.”

Campoverdi shared her story with students at Scripps College in Claremont — a story of being raised in Los Angeles by a single mother who immigrated from Mexico, being on welfare, attending the University of Southern California and landing a job at the White House under former President Barack Obama. 

“I did go to USC and later to Harvard and worked for President Obama in the White House before running for Congress myself — but when I say it quickly like that, it sounds so smooth and linear,” Campoverdi said. “And that’s the point of the book, that all the spaces in between those bullet points are where the real story is.”

This story is about dealing with anxiety, guilt and at times “Imposter Syndrome” — leaving those who are first generation to ask themselves how they “fit in” in new spaces and with their families and friends in their home life. Campoverdi said there are also more pressing issues. 

“While Imposter Syndrome really is a thing, let’s also center the financial trauma and the loneliness that these students feel because that’s how we can best support them,” Campoverdi said. 

Campoverdi’s message resonated with students at Scripps College. 

“I’m the eldest daughter, so there was a lot of pressure for me to kind of be the best because in that I opened opportunities for my younger siblings,” student Angeles Soriano said. 

Another student, Reyna Manriquex, touched on showing emotion while being first generation and the stigma surrounding mental health within the Latino community. 

“Growing up, my mom would never allow me to cry or even say how I feel because she would be like, ‘No, you came here — you have to keep pushing, this is all you could do,’” Manriquex said. “But I feel like really nice, like Alejandra being able to talk about it because I feel like we don’t really talk about it.”

Manriquex said that mental health is “very important in the Latino community,” especially because a lot of Latino parents “don’t get it, they say it’s all in your head, but it’s not.”

To better cope with first-generation status, Campoverdi said individuals should remember that their differences from the rest of society are actually “superpowers” that should be emphasized.  

“Because I know when I was at the White House, I eventually worked as the deputy director of Hispanic Media,” Campoverdi said. “And when I was at those tables where I came from, the fact that we had been on Medicaid when I was a child and we were working on healthcare at the time, and my understanding of how to culturally relate to my community, that helped me bring more to the table, that helped me be a more effective contributor.

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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