I am a first-generation Jamaican-American, pursuing information technology and technical writing at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. My beliefs and academic motivations are rooted in my immediate family’s background and hard work. To further understand my parents’ expectations for my undergraduate education, I interviewed about their experiences immigrating to the United States in the late 1980s.

According to my father, Trevor, his mother, Hya, first came to the United States with a work permit. She had been working as a nanny in Maryland, eventually filing with immigration for one of her many children. At the time, my father was dating my mother, Rose. Hya urged Trevor to hold off on marriage because it would be easier to file for him as a single child.

My father vividly recalls his experience arriving in America, specifically at JFK airport and the vastness of New York. Because there was no GPS at the time, my father stressed, they would stop and ask others for directions to Hya’s humble place. Upon one stop, he noted there were so many cars parked on both sides of the street. It was a whole new world! In awe of the busy city streets in the back seat, Trevor recalls his father’s wife saying, “‘This is the Big Apple, Trevor. It’s the city that doesn’t sleep'”. 

At 23 years old, Trevor had four years of drafting experience, he was equipped to look for work in his field. “I was experienced with ink and mylar…so I passed the test. And they give me an offer for $6.25 an hour.”, my father explained. He was “ready to rock and roll the next Monday” with his first job in New York. As he still lived in North Jersey, “it was quite a challenge  to go downtown to get to work and to take four different types of transportation to get to work.

I complain a little about having to take the Rutgers buses to classes, but it seems like nothing after hearing of my father’s daily commute. My father’s quote summarizes the recurring themes of hard work: “It was a challenge, but to overcome obstacles, do what you have to do.” This perspective remained as he returned to Jamaica to marry my mother, Rose. He did this so that he could successfully file for her citizenship to join him in America. I have four older sisters.  My parents taught us to always be diligent and have integrity in all endeavors, especially academics. A solid education is the catalyst to a better life.

My mother, Rose, told me something interesting about how she cared for her family through primary school and post-secondary graduate education. As I grew up, I resonated with my parent’s expectations. Rose expected the most out of me, vocalizing it in ways that sometimes stressed me out but motivated me all the while. She hoped I would have a solid foundation to provide for myself and have a comfortable lifestyle. She said, “The goal is to learn, help yourself, and make a difference in society.”

As a devout Scarlet Knight, I particularly enjoyed my mother’s advice about becoming a decision-maker and being around like-minded, intellectual peers. She stressed that, “others have pathed the way and paid the price” for minorities to have the rights we enjoy today.

My father, on the other hand,  took a more relaxed approach but mirrored what my mother said. I was touched when he shared that I was surpassing his expectations. My father is happy I am doing good in school and commends me for “having a balance” i.e., not just studying but partaking in clubs/activities and seeing friends.

In conclusion, my upbringing and my parent’s hard work instilled my drive and love of academia. I recently presented my research poster on Black Health Inequalities for NJBWPA at Douglass Discovery Day. It was an advantageous experience to live out my younger self’s aspirations of being a scientist. I was delighted that my parents attended my presentation, and introduced them to my team. I aim to keep surpassing expectations as I always aim high.

Written by Tiffany Williams

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