Tuesday, April 17, 2012

First-Gen, Working Class and Proud of it

“Well you must be making a lot of money at least.” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that line. Of course, out of context it’s relatively harmless and maybe even a little hopeful, but in reality it simply hammered home the disconnect between middle class and working class.
On one of my 11-hour days I stopped by a Regina’s (names have been changed for privacy reasons) place for dinner during my break and we were discussing why I couldn’t stay longer. I explained that I had to go back to work and listed off my typical Wednesday schedule. She was taken aback to say the least, and positively replied, “Well you must me be making a lot of money at least.”
I wasn’t and I still am not. I’m making rent each month, but I had to take on another side job to have any sort of spending money and I’m unbelievably grateful that my parents offer to pay for groceries each month. The comment truly stung; I held at least one job, usually two, throughout my college experience and she was oblivious to the fact that I would still have a pile of debt when I graduated.
This exchange yet again opened my eyes to the misunderstandings between the middle and working classes. She could afford to cook dinner for friends, and even offer wine, without asking any of us to contribute. She could afford new outfits whenever her heart desired. She could afford to completely refurnish her new apartment. It was never a necessity for Regina to have a job during college, and she never did. Much of her life was relatively unfathomable to me.
While I sometimes longingly wish I were a trust fund kid after moments like these, it can be very empowering to be a first generation and working class student from time to time. I have the strongest work ethic of anyone I know, besides my dad. It was instilled in me through comments from him such as, “Keep studying hard, you don’t want a job like mine,” which were usually said when his hip acted up and he had to limp a bit to comfortably walk.
My work ethic motivated me to quickly gain experience too. While the money was important, building my resume was far more imperative. I knew that if I wanted something, I had to go out and get it, truly show that I longed for it, that I craved it. If you were to compare Regina’s resumes and mine today, you would see the difference, and I’m proud of that.
It can be a challenge to feel pride in being working class, but during a time when many older generations peg my generation as ‘entitled,’ I can proudly say I work for what I earn. Just the other day I explained my previous line-painting job to a recruiter. He was quite surprised that for two summers I shoved around a 300lb. machine from 6 p.m. – 2 a.m. He quickly understood that I didn’t think I was entitled.
It’s uplifting when I interactions like this occur; it reminds me that someday my hard work will pay off. So keep your head high my fellow first-gen and working class students, and never stop reaching for the stars.