English, Department of


Date of this Version



The New York Times, Sunday Review, August 22, 2015


Copyright (c) NYT 2015. Used by permission.


I was a first-generation college student as well as the first in our family to be born in America — my parents were born in Cuba — and we didn’t yet know that families were supposed to leave pretty much right after they unloaded your stuff from the car. We all made the trip from Miami, my hometown, to what would be my new home at Cornell University. Shortly after arriving on campus, the five of us — my parents, my younger sister, my abuela and me — found ourselves listening to a dean end his welcome speech with the words: “Now, parents, please: Go!” Almost everyone in the audience laughed, but not me, and not my parents. They turned to me and said, “What does he mean, Go?” I was just as confused as they were: We thought we all needed to be there for freshman orientation — the whole family, for the entirety of it. My dad had booked their hotel through the day after my classes officially began. They’d used all their vacation days from work and had been saving for months to get me to school and go through our orientation.