Black Sheep

Andrea Montoya pictured with her mother Carolina Montoya at her community college graduation.

My aunt once told me, “I knew you were unique when as a child you would ask to eat broccoli.” She said this years ago but it made an impact on my sense of identity. I would often think about the real significance behind it. I knew this metaphor was her gentle and loving manner of stating the obvious: I am and always have been the ‘black sheep’ in my family.

Perhaps I was the ‘black sheep’ because of my different upbringing. After all, I am a first generation born American. Maybe it was the vast age difference between me and everyone in my family. Whatever the reasons, I did not like being considered the ‘black sheep’.

Throughout my childhood, my family frequently asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Depending on my age and my inclination at the moment, my answers varied from a teacher, a chef, to a make-up artist. My initial excitement for self-discovery quickly became a chore of getting my family’s approval. From a young age, I was geared away from any occupation that was not either a doctor, a nurse, or a lawyer. I always knew this biased imposed by my family was for my best interest.

It all started when my parents left their home country, Peru, almost 30 years ago in an attempt to escape a civil war. My parents for a short while settled in Queens, New York, where my mother worked at McDonald’s and my father was a taxi-cab driver. After years of financial hardship, my parents, along with my aunt and uncle, obtained the American dream by becoming a software engineer, a doctor, a nurse, and a medical scientist. I have always acknowledged their efforts to offer me the opportunities I was raised with. It was because of this that I took it upon myself to become something that was expected of me.

By the time I was 13 years old, my answer to the frequented question no longer varied from teacher to make-up artist, but remained stagnant with an “I don’t know.” I looked to find the balance between what I and my parents wanted for myself.

When I was 16 years old, I graduated high school early. I enrolled at my local community college. I spent many semesters seeking a major that was sure to receive my family’s approval. In summer of 2014, I enrolled in my first interpersonal communication course. Through this class, I became fascinated by the amount of training and skill required to effectively communicate. I initially had underestimated this field, but I quickly saw how essential it was not just for a society but for oneself. It was here that my passion for communication was ignited.

I arranged to speak with my family so I could enlighten them of my new discovery. I explained the benefits of being a communication major and how it is a universally sought after skill. My uncle admitted that it seemed like a great opportunity but that it was too competitive. I was back at square one with no sense of direction, so I continued to take courses that seemed interesting to me.

During the same time, I began working as a cashier at the corporate food chain, Pick Up Stix. Within three months of employment, I was promoted to a shift manager position. At the time of signing the paperwork, the regional manager mentioned that the reason for my promotion was not only due to my cash handling skills but also because she began to see an increase in regulars. She suggested that I continue to expand my customer service as it was an asset to her and her business. I worked close to forty hours a week all while being a full-time student at my junior college. I found myself taking care of all customer relation situations and was responsible for sending emails to corporate. This experience led me to realize that I was meant to work in the communication industry and I was going to prove it to my family.

I transferred to California State University, Fullerton in Fall of 2015. I finally found myself among other individuals fueled by the same passion. I started working at the Titan Recreation Center and a year later, my supervisor created for me a new position titled Customer Service Supervisor for the Business Department. This progress reassured me that I was on the right path and to continue working towards my goals.

Although I was working towards a career that made me happy, I still hoped to gain my family’s approval by spending more time with them. Last weekend I decided to go with my aunt and uncle to the beach. While sitting comfortably in the back seat of their car, I told them of my experiences at a four-year university. After what felt was like rambling about interesting assignments that I had completed, my uncle interjects with his own speech. He explains the difficulties my family had trying to give me advice because of their lack of knowledge about communications. He then said,“You are pioneering a new way in our family, sweetheart.”

It was at this moment I realized my family had been trying to gear me towards their careers because it was all they knew, not because they did not support me. They did not understand my dreams but knew I was following them. It is because of this that they are so proud of me. My parents, along with my aunt and uncle, are now embracing my future field of work. They look forward to the unknown. My journey to success and who I will become has just commenced. My story continues to be written. However, through the challenges I have faced thus far, I have learned that just because I am the ‘black sheep’, it does not make me any less of a sheep. Instead, it gives me the opportunity to pioneer new ways for my family and to continue to be the unique girl who would ask to eat broccoli.