I’d spoken to several parents and emailed a few, but Marta was the first parent I’d met in over 4 years working at [science program].
Jorge, a junior, was one of our rising stars. Along with several other students, he was presenting his research at a national conference in Anaheim. Marta, who lived locally, attended the community day portion of the conference on the final day.
I got to Jorge’s poster first. Rather than talk about his research, which I wouldn’t understand anyway, we discussed his experience at the conference. His mother stopped by mid-conversation. He introduced us before turning to the woman who was there to judge his poster.
I had a short conversation with Marta. I learned she was from Guadalajara and had a couple other children who looked up to Jorge.
“You must be proud of him,” I said in Spanish.
She replied enthusiastically, and then confided that she wasn’t sure what she did to get her son to UCLA. Even her family wanted to know her secret.
“¿Qué le diste de comer?” they’d ask.
I smiled at the thought of Marta feeding Jorge a heaping plate of talent for math and science coupled with a tall glass of ganas.
I admitted to Marta that I was also the child of Mexican immigrants and a first generation college student. In my pocha Spanish, I tried to convey what my parents “fed” me. I didn’t tell her that she reminded me of my father in her humility over the role she played in her son’s academic success.
In February, I interviewed my dad about his “little life” and family. Toward the end of the interview, he asked a question:
You always had a tremendous amount of drive, and you started at a very, very, very young age, setting goals and setting your expectations very, very high. And it’s always something that I’ve admired very much about you. Of what you’ve done and what you’ve been able to accomplish, and the responsibility and the woman you’ve become. Um, where did it begin? Where did it start?
I paused for a moment before answering, “I don’t know.” And then I couldn’t be shut up as I rambled about my desire to make him and mom proud, my curiosity and love of learning, being tracked in to the gifted and talented program, and going to school in a somewhat competitive environment with other college-going kids. Somewhere in there, I finally brought up him and mom.
I thought, ‘wow, my dad’s exceptional. That’s the family I come from.’ … You and mom also made it very possible for to meet my goals. I’ve never thought it was just something that came from me. I did my homework, but you and mom set up that environment for me. You and mom took me to places, you gave us the tools to you know, fly (to be cheesy). You took me, you took a Saturday off to bring me to UCLA or to go take my SAT at Whittier College. I think, you know, in the end it says my name on my degree. It’s gonna say my name, but, I think that last name is really what matters… Whenever I see my accomplishments, I see them in this context, that I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish them without all the support I’ve always had from my family.
I really don’t know what Marta did to support Jorge, but I’m pretty sure she was like my own exceptional parents who made it possible for me to reach my goals.