“Mi nieto va a ser un doctor en América y estudia en Harvard.” “El hijo de mi amiga es un estudiante en Harvard.” “Conocí a un niño que nació aquí en México y ahora está estudiando en Harvard.”
“¡Estamos tan orgullosos de ti! ¡Estás destinado para cosas grandes!”
Harvard, for most of my family, is the equivalent of Hogwarts. It’s a place that is completely unimaginable and beyond our grasp: one where only celebrities, the 1 percent, and Harry Potter and company drink champagne, talk about the latest market trends, and decide where in the world to travel for their next weekend trip.
So, when one of their own is accepted into this illustrious world, the whole family celebrates, from a tequila shot in Monterrey, Mexico, to tears of joy in Saint Louis, Missouri. The miracle news spreads from friends to coworkers to the random stranger that my grandma just had to tell. Soon enough, people from all over the country and world are cheering and telling everybody and anybody who will stop to listen that one of their own has made it.
For me and many others, we have achieved our parents’, grandparents’, and great-grandparents’ dreams. Their hard work has paid off. Their hardships, their sacrifices, their perseverance: It has all culminated in giving us better lives and opportunities than they ever had.
Yet, when you have hundreds of eyes on you awaiting greatness and success, you cannot help but be nervous. You represent them. You represent the generations that helped you achieve your current place. Failure isn’t an option — but at Harvard, where the classes are difficult and everybody is the best of the best, failure always seems to be lurking.
I understand that everyone feels the ever-present pressure at institutions like Harvard to perform well, in comps and classes alike. But the stress felt by me and other students, as products of generations of hardship and sacrifice, does not end when the final exam books close. It shadows us as the moral dilemma of whether we deserve to be here, with all of Harvard’s privilege and prestige, when many of our family members will never experience the same.
As much as I have loved my time at Harvard, I can’t help but feel selfish. I feel selfish for attending Harvard because I know my dad would have loved to do the same if given the opportunity and resources to reach that opportunity earlier in life. There is an emotional dissonance in me between loving Harvard and feeling selfish for being here. Hearing the stories of how my parents grew up, I wish they could have had the same opportunities they constructed for me when they were younger.
The irony is that, in a sense, my dad wanted this selfishness for me: He wanted to give me the resources and support that he never had, so I could fully chase my dreams. I am a temporary oxymoron, as both the egocentric Harvard student and the human record of my family’s history. But my family only ever intended for me to seize my dreams. They never wanted to shoulder me with the burden of the modern Latino Atlas, forever carrying a world of guilt.
Centering ourselves and putting our own oxygen masks on first does not mean the abandonment of family, friends, and communities that have supported us. It does not mean that when we become hotshot lawyers, doctors, or analysts, our families come second. It means that we have the resources for the life our parents could never have dreamed for us and that we can use those resources for others in the same shoes as our parents or grandparents or beyond. We can provide greater opportunities for Latinos from Monterrey, Mexico, to Saint Louis, Missouri. Ultimately, we have the ability to transform the individual saying, “You made it out,” into the global celebration of “We made it out.”
Mamá, Papá, Abuelitos y Abuelitas, los amo con todo mi corazón y un poco más. Estoy agradecido por los sacrificios y por el trabajo que han hecho por mi. Siempre voy a ser su niño chiquito. Los extraño y los veo pronto con un título de Harvard o Hogwarts.
Markus I. Anzaldua-Campos ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Neuroscience concentrator in Kirkland House.