“What are you going to do? Open an English store?”
I bristled at my dentist’s response to finding out I was an English major. I sat in the examination chair, my neck sore and my mouth stinging. My eyes passed over the beige walls, decorated only with a small painting of a sailboat and two diplomas with my dentist’s name on them.
I understood his sentiment: An English degree isn’t necessarily a hot commodity.
He wasn’t the first one to question my choice of major and career path. My parents and a good portion of my extended family came to the United States from Guatemala in search of a better life. Theirs is the typical immigrant story: They wanted a better future for their kids, and America was financially stable and full of opportunity.
In their eyes, the path to achieving the American Dream meant pursuing a career that would automatically lead to financial stability, like law or medicine. A creative career wasn’t a plausible option. The goal was simple: Get on the fast track to economic success so you can have better opportunities than the family members before you.
I wondered if my dentist was raised similarly.
Guilt gnawed at me as I made the long trip home from the dentist. That was years ago, but the feeling that I was possibly letting my family down has stuck with me.
I grew up with the pressure of exceeding the accomplishments of my immediate and extended family, hearing, “When you strike it rich, you’ll buy us a mansion!” and “When you start making lots of money, you’ll just maintain us!”
I’m the first child to finish college right after high school without interruption, and I’m the first person in my entire family to get a master’s degree. (It’s an equally useless degree in art history, depending on who you ask.) My relatives respected me for getting so far, but they didn’t completely understand why I chose my fields.
When my father passed away unexpectedly without leaving a will, my mom was tasked with sorting out everything and paying for the house on her own while raising me. I was only 12, and I knew I’d have to help out.