I was back home for winter vacation my second year at UCLA. My best friend, also from Utah, had come back for winter break from Stanford. We decided to celebrate the new year together.
I invited her to my home. My father carries the tradition of his late mother – homemade pizza, music and laughs. As my father prepared the pizza crusts, he engaged in dialogue with her and me.
He asked me for something, and my response was one of attitude and “Do I have to?” My father laughed and asked my best friend, “Do you treat your father like this?” Quick to respond, she stated: “I do not know, I never had a father.” Naturally, she and I laughed, but in that moment, it left my father speechless and stunned. To date, my best friend and I joke about how she is one of the only people that has ever left my father speechless.
While we may joke, I have had the privilege of having my father in my life. Like my best friend, my father’s father was absent from his life.
My father to me, is the father he never had.
I began to reflect on my relationship with my father through my dissertation work, which was a comparative study on Chicana/o and Puerto Rican college-educated families to advance narratives of intergenerational achievement and college readiness. During data collection, my colleague, Dr. Rebeca Mireles-Rios, and I often bonded over the role our Chicano fathers had in our lives despite stereotypes of them as absent, abusive, uneducated, imprisoned or macho.
Contrary to those stereotypes, our fathers both held advanced degrees and were present in our everyday lives. Due to the educational status of our fathers, we were granted specific benefits such as attending private Catholic schools for our K-12 education, middle-class households and early exposure to four-year institutions throughout our upbringings.
We knew we needed to write our fathers into existence. In our forthcoming article, “Pláticas of (out)rage: College-educated Chicana/o daughter-father relationships,” we undertake intergenerational exchanges with our own fathers to examine our daughter-father relationships and factors that contributed to our college readiness.
Through my dissertation work and our article, I found that Chicanas with parents who attained a baccalaureate degree in the U.S. were often ashamed to share with their peers and others this information.
I felt the same as an undergraduate. I attended the same undergraduate institution my father did. At the time I attended, he was the Director of the Multicultural Student Affairs Center on campus, which was something I actively did not tell anyone.
At times, I ascribed to meritocracy. If I “worked hard” and did not let anyone know who my father was, I would advance in my studies and get the recognition I deserved. That did not last long, as I began to understand my positionality as a woman of color navigating a predominately White institution. I came to understand that I needed an advocate who knew how to negotiate institutional racism and create sustainable change. I had the privilege of turning to my father for help and still do to this day.
I have learned through my personal experiences and scholarship that in having a college-educated father of color, I do not need to feel ashamed. In fact, legacies are celebrated in Ivy League Institutions but have traditionally privileged White student populations, as they historically have been represented in these institutions since the founding of Harvard in 1636.
What does this look like for Latinx/a/o families? I am in the process of researching and documenting the intersections of college-educated Latinx/a/o parent-child experiences to forge new visions for school “success” and “achievement.”
I owe my father the bulk of my success. While he did not have a model to go by, he became the ideal father. And in lieu of Father’s Day, there is no better way to honor him than by saying thank you. Thank you for all the sacrifices you have made so that I could have a better life. I love you.
Dr. Nichole Margarita Garcia is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. You can follow her on Twitter @DrNicholeGarcia