For some, this is just a piece of paper. For us, this is more than that and we are all so proud of you. This is a dedication to my hard-core Latina kicking ass women.

Dear Fuerte First-Generation Brown Mujer,

Throughout these college years, you became stronger, your voice got a lot louder, and you became the chingona that you once knew at a younger age. You were not always like this—the white people intimidated you in your classes, constantly had you questioning your validation of belonging, thinking you were not good enough. Listen mija, it took a while for you to realize that you did not have the same educational background as they did. Remember those nights in the library? Laughing with your few hood friends that kept you alive in this prestigious school. Constantly procrastinating because no one really taught you how to study before college, yet these nights became irreplaceable. These friends, these women of color, became your hermanas through thick and thin. The ones you can talk to about those Beckys in your classes that made you feel like your brown skin did not deserve a good grade on that assignment. These brown and black sisters reminded you that your thick accent is sharp enough to kill the system.  In a room full of gringos that saw you as a stranger, you found love and comfort amongst these strong independent professional women. Don’t worry mija, these hermanas will by your side forever.

I know how hard it was for you get here, getting through the anxiety and deadlines, while also having to call your parents late at night, after they got off their long shifts, so they would not have to worry.  I know how it feels to have bags under your eyes, not sleep for two nights straight, and have your parent’s call you to say, “Get some rest, mija. You can finish it tomorrow.” Even though they did not get your struggle of what being a student was like, they always wanted the best for you. Just a phone call away, your madre always tried to give you the best advice. “Estudia, que la educación es lo no único que no te pueden quitar” they used to tell you. The days you were so upset because you got those bad grades, your parents were there to remind you that you are still doing the best you can and that you are blessed to have an education they never had access to. And I know that their words always kept you going, no matter how shitty your days were. They taught you what hard work and dedication meant. They taught you to never give up. These degrees are for them—for those that could not afford a plane ride to see you, for those that cannot come due to their immigration status and for those that are not in your life anymore, but rather in heaven, watching you proudly cross that stage.

This is for the nights of having to translate from Spanish to English to write a paper. This is for the days you came out of class ready to fight someone because they said something problematic as fuck. This is for the days you thought you were never going to get through this because of depression and anxiety. Look where your broken English got you and where it will take you, love. The struggle of finding a job will come later. I know how badly you want to help your family; I know how much it means to you for wanting to help your gente, but this day is about you. Celebrating that you got this far when the system tried to do everything possible to try and stop you from crossing that stage. If you look back, “freshman you” would have been so proud of you for being the revolutionary and evolutionary mujer you turned out to be. Keep growing, hermana. “Primero tu, despues el mundo.”

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