Getting to college as a first-generation Latina

Daniela and Isbeidy are cousins who grew up living two very different lives. But, they both have the same goal — to be the first person in their family to go to college, an opportunity their parents never had.

Daniela (left) and Isbeidy (right).

Daniela has lived in Oregon her whole life. She is the oldest of three siblings, soon to be four. She grew up in a crowded home which housed three families. When she was in 3rd grade, her family moved into their own home in Forest Grove. Her father works in construction and her mother worked at a meat packaging company, although now is a stay-at-home mother since she is pregnant.

Isbeidy was born in Oregon, but at age five her family decided to move back to Mexico.

“Over there, life is impossible,” says Isbeidy. “When you’re there, everything is different. School is different there. People treat you different because you come from the United States. They think you are superior and they start treating you differently. And it’s kind of dangerous. There’s a lot of violence and corruption.”

Before entering the 7th grade, Isbeidy’s parents helped her move back to Oregon so she could get a good education. She moved in with Daniela and her family. “I get lonely every once in awhile, but then I remind myself that I’m here for a reason — to continue school and make sure they are proud of me,” says Isbeidy, “And I have her,” motioning to Daniela, “and she is always there for me. We hang out all the time. She reminds me that I have family here that can comfort me and make me feel like I’m a part of their family.”

Daniela became part of our Chicas Youth Development Program when she was in the 3rd grade, and Isbeidy got involved after she immigrated here in 7th grade. “They make us want to be a part of our culture and our race,” says Isbeidy about Chicas.

But they both say the importance of going to college has been the most vital thing Chicas has taught them. Their parents instilled in them early on that education was important, but since they themselves never went to college, they didn’t have that knowledge to pass on to their children.

Daniela and Isbeidy being highlighted at a Chicas end of the year celebration.
“With Chicas, they helped us learn more about [college] and learn about the opportunities for applying to scholarships and how to pay for it,” says Daniela.

They have their sights set on Western Oregon University. Isbeidy knows the medical field is calling her name. She either wants to be a nurse or an orthodontist. Although Daniela has a strong interest in helping children, her plan is to take as many classes as possible to see where her interests lie.

Of the families in Chicas, 90% are low-income and first and second-generation immigrants. For Latina girls, one of the biggest obstacles for getting to college is being able to pay for it. In Mexico, Isbeidy’s father is a mechanic and her mother stays at home to take care of Isbeidy’s four siblings. For both Daniela and Isbeidy, relying on financial help from their families isn’t an option.

This is where Mike and Pan Moore come in.

Mike has been following the work of Adelante Mujeres since the very beginning, and together with Pan, they have become major supporters of our Chicas program.

“It’s a very high quality group of people that have come together to do good work for people that really need the help, and sometimes doing work that doesn’t necessarily generate a high profile in the community. Adult Education is not a particularly glitzy activity. So I admire their tenaciousness in sticking with something that had meaning, but not necessarily a lot of notoriety,” says Mike. “And also, Adelante Mujeres has been recognized as one of the charities that does the most with the least, and that to me is very desirable.”
Mike and Pan Moore.

Mike and Pan were drawn to the Chicas program. They began learning about the successes of the students who stayed in the program.“It’s more than just an after-school program,” says Mike. In fact, 100% of high school seniors in the program graduate high school and enroll in college.

So, they decided that they wanted to help. Together with our Chicas team, Mike and Pan started our Chicas IDA (Individual Development Account) program. For every dollar that each Chica saved up for college, Mike and Pan would donate an additional $3. “It would just give them a good start,” says Pan.

They decided they could offer this to two Chicas who are currently Juniors in High School, and through written essays and an application, Daniela and Isbeidy were chosen.

Mike and Pan meeting Daniela, Isbeidy and their family.

At a dinner hosted by our Chicas team, Mike and Pan met Daniel, Isbeidy and their family for the first time.

“You couldn’t think of any families that are more different than us,” says Mike. “They lack the education and they lack the money, but you can tell they don’t lack the spirit and the willingness to push forward. We tend to be inspired when we see other people willing to push, because we had to do that.”

Pan talking with Daniela and Isbeidy’s family.

Pan immigrated to the U.S. from Thailand when she was young to attend college. During the summers she worked for a wealthy family in Washington cooking and cleaning for them. She met Mike at the University of Oregon and they got married. They both had very little money, but they had determination.

After college, Pan eventually got a job at the local hospital in Forest Grove and Mike started his own law practice. They’ve lived in Forest Grove ever since. “We’ve earned our living in Forest Grove,” says Mike. “So, we felt that we wanted to support a charitable activity in the community where we lived and worked.” Since discovering Chicas, Mike and Pan have poured their hearts into the Chicas IDA program, helping to spread the word about its importance.

“I hope one day they will be successful and then fund other students, just like we funded them, and that it will keep on going,” says Pan.
Daniela and Isbeidy meeting Mike at the Chicas IDA dinner.

Daniela and Isbeidy are taking full advantage of their 1:3 matching from Mike and Pan. They are both working part-time at a Mexican restaurant while going to school, and during the summers they add on a part-time job at Subway and a part-time internship at Adelante Mujeres helping with the Chicas summer camps. They want to save up every penny they can.

“We’re just really grateful that they chose us,” Daniela says about the IDA program. “It’s a life-changing opportunity for us.” She hopes the IDA program will be able to assist more girls in the future. “[First-generation Latina girls] are scared of even going to college because of the money. I feel like this help will encourage them to go,” says Daniela. “Being able to pay for college encourages me even more to go.”

Mike and Pan attending Daniela and Isbeidy’s Chicas end of the year celebration.

Being the first person in your family to go to college is not easy to accomplish. It is an uphill climb. But Daniela and Isbeidy are working hard to break stereotypes for Latina girls and women. And with the help of Mike and Pan, college is more attainable than ever before.

“A lot of people expect so little [of Latina women],” says Isbeidy. “People say ‘Oh yeah, well they’re going to end up pregnant and end up not doing anything, just staying at home and being a house wife.’ And I don’t want that to happen. I want women to keep studying to prove them wrong.” Daniela, Isbeidy and hundreds of girls in our Chicas program are doing just that.

A special thank you to Mike and Pan for generously donating and helping to create our Chicas IDA program.

Learn more about the Chicas IDA program here.