Somehow, I’m almost there. In a few weeks, I will be graduating with a degree in biomedical engineering and a minor in Spanish. I will be the first in my family to receive an engineering degree and the second to graduate from college. My parents immigrated from Mexico to a small town in Texas by the border more than 25 years ago and didn’t go to college. My father wanted to be an engineer himself, but chose not to in order to support his new family at the age of 18. He would later work in Michigan until he couldn’t do so anymore, eventually opening a small business with my mom. My mother began to raise my sister, who is now a physician and was the first to go to college. A few years later, my brother was born, and he would then become a businessman, learning the ropes of the family business he will take over in a few years. Then in the year 2000, I was born. Fast forward 22 years, and I am currently in Cleveland typing my last column for The Observer after writing more than 25 since my first semester here.
I honestly don’t know where to start. When I first came to Case Western Reserve University, I was scared. I was born and raised in Texas surrounded by people who looked like me and spoke two languages: English and Spanish. Living in a border town made me feel connected to my Mexican roots. Speaking primarily Spanish at home and commonly in public was second nature to me. When I came here, I had to make a hard switch. The language wasn’t an issue since I spoke and was taught in English, but it was the culture. I went from an area primarily Hispanic to a university that doesn’t have many Hispanics on campus. I was more than a 20-hour drive from home. All the experiences and stuff I was used to were gone. Add being the first to study engineering in my family, and you could imagine the anxiety and stress I was under. I could not mess up. My family had gone through so much and had high hopes for me. I did not want to disappoint them. My parents would remind me that no matter what happened, they would always be there. That they were proud of me for going to college. My mom would happily tell those close to her that I was going to be an engineer. My dad would perk up and pay closer attention to me whenever I would speak about my classes, asking questions whenever he could. He would remind me to focus on my studying, that he would figure out how to pay for my studies. I luckily had scholarships and grants to help, but it still tears me up knowing the support I had from family and the lengths they were willing to go to so I could make it to the finish line. They wanted a better future for me, even if it meant they would have to work even harder, despite everything they had already gone through. I don’t know how I will ever be able to repay that. I really am blessed.
Now, as I sit down and type all that, I can really think back on what has happened in the four years since I started. I joined the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and started to develop my professional, academic and personal skills. I participated with La Alianza, CWRU’s Latinx & Hispanic organization. I chose to study biomedical engineering because it was interesting to see how medicine and engineering can work together to make something great for a patient. I decided to get a minor in Spanish to stay connected with my roots and learn more about Latin American culture and history. I joined The Observer my first semester to help improve my writing skills and find my voice.
There is a lot to unpack. It’s not easy to summarize and reflect on my four years here. There were moments that I cried about a class and missed home. There were moments where I wished I had chosen a different degree because I was being overwhelmed and didn’t understand a concept. But, there were also moments of happiness and success. Because of SHPE, I was able to meet people with similar interests and backgrounds who mentored me to be a better engineering student. I was able to get such an amazing medical device internship because of SHPE that when I told my parents that I got it, my mom started to cry tears of happiness and my dad hugged me very hard, the hardest he has ever hugged me. I may have also shed a tear or two. Because of La Alianza, I was able to celebrate my Mexican heritage and connect with other students with Latin American roots. Because of my biomedical engineering degree, I found a place where I could make a literal difference in people’s lives and health using my engineering skills. Because of my Spanish minor, I was able to learn the history of my roots and be more appreciative of them. Because of The Observer, I became much more comfortable in writing and realized that I had a voice worth listening to. Because of supportive friends, faculty, staff, work colleagues and family, I was able to become who I am today.
If you had told me four years ago that I would have been able to accomplish all of that while at CWRU, I would not have believed you. I went from a scared 18-year-old to a much more confident 22-year-old who is ready to make a difference in his future career. I wish I could’ve done more, but I am happy where I am. I don’t know where I will be four years from now, but I do hope that I will be able to be happy and be able to repay my family for all the support that they have given me.
Los amo, y no hay palabras para describir cuánto los amo. I love them, and there are no words to describe how much I love them.