Documenting my family as a first-generation American

(Photo by Iaritza Menjivar/GroundTruth)

Growing up, my parents always had one message. It was something along the lines of, “I sacrificed everything: family, friends and my life to come to this country. I wanted to give my family back home a better life and, for my children, the life I never had.”

My family immigrated from El Salvador and Guatemala. They ran away from their violent and poor communities. Being here, they were able to earn a life for themselves and for us, the first American-born generation. Our parents have given us a great life – the life they never had. The abundance of food, clothes and technology our parents have earned through hard work is overwhelming. This fact was always an inspiration to me and to my generation.

But, as one of the oldest children from the first generation, I culturally grew up alongside my parents. At an early age, I would help with an array of things: from translating paperwork to helping my family make a call back home on the new iPhone. Assimilating into American culture wasn’t easy for them and it has not been me, a part of the first generation, either – our identity is between two cultures. Now that the first generation of my family is older, it is difficult for us to make our own independent lives because, even though most of my family has lived here for more than 20 years years, they still rely on us for many things – especially since we have attended college and are now more educated than they could have ever been.

The pressure to be successful in a family like mine is extreme. Of course, we wanted nothing more than to make our family proud. At times, I feel that my generation has been forced to accept a sacrifice – one we didn’t choose – but I still hope that, one day, I am able to provide for my parents with the same care that they gave me. I want to buy them the home they’ve always wanted.

Photographer’s Note

This photo series is about the many important family events that have occurred in recent years, like the birth of my baby sister, Paula Nora. The morning after her birth, my father laid down on the hospital couch and I wanted to say to him, “Dad, I know that this year has been a rough one, but regardless of how weak you might feel, to me you are still the greatest father of all,” but instead, I took the photograph.

We don’t have to say much to each other – it’s how it has always been. This past year, my maternal grandmother was able to visit from Guatemala for the first time. It was a touching moment when her and my aunt were able to hug each other after 20 years of not seeing each other. My aunt had been going through a tough time – she had been evicted from her home. When my grandparents visit, they seem so proud of my parents. They feel the difference of an American household compared to the ones in their home countries. My grandmother could not stop bragging about us to the rest of the family in Guatemala.