‘My stepdad always told me I was bad luck. I never fit into his picture-perfect family. To avoid fights, I’d lose myself in a book or math problem. School was my safe-haven.’: Woman determines what the ‘American Dream’ means for her family

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“I sit in front of my desk and stare at the piles of paper scattered all over. Did I answer that email? What are we eating for dinner? Did I turn off my flat iron before I left home? Did I take my antidepressants? I still need to work on that chapter 3 for my dissertation, don’t I? I should drink more water, my milk supply is decreasing.

Courtesy of Brenda Galvez

People ask me how I do everything that I do. I think it’s my anxiety that doesn’t let me sit still. I guess it is a curse and a blessing. How can I go to graduate school full-time? When do I find time to spend it with my baby? How do I have the energy to work 8am-5pm Monday through Friday? But how can I not? It’s the American Dream. A dream that we all hear about but don’t quite know what it is.

I consider myself to be a lucky person. I have been lucky to have a strong support system and been introduced to certain opportunities. Some people like to say I’m lucky in all that I have accomplished, but I really do believe ‘luck’ can undermine the hard work someone dedicates to reach their goals. Yes, sometimes we encounter individuals and situations by chance, but not all is determined by luck. I strongly believe that more than luck defines my accomplishments, and here is why:

Having the opportunity to be a US citizen happened by chance. My parents were field workers who had to relocate every three to six months in order to follow the agricultural seasons in California. It just so happened my mom gave birth to me while working during grape season in Indio, California. A few days after my birth, I was taken to Mexico to be raised by my grandmother, or as we call her, Nana. Growing up in Mexico holds some of the best memories I have; it was beautiful and it was simple. It was waking up every morning to the smell of moist unpaved roads and fresh coffee with buttered bread. Her kitchen was always full of fresh fruits and vegetables from the supply of our family’s recent pickings. It was a life I never wanted to give up.

Courtesy of Brenda Galvez

As luck would have it, when I was 12, my mom left her job as a field worker and remarried. We would have to relocate to Riverside, California, away from my family and friends but most importantly, my Nana.  According to my mom, we were lucky to get the chance to live the ‘American Dream.’ However, living with my stepdad was far from any American Dream I had heard of; he was an alcoholic full of uncertainty. To him, meeting my mom happened by chance, but her children were a sign of bad luck. My sister and I did not exist in his picture-perfect family, his American Dream. 

It was then that school became my only safe-haven. I never considered myself a smart person, but I always worked hard. I worked hard at losing myself in a book or a math problem so I did not have to face the daily arguments we had at home. It was also then that I stopped believing solely in luck. During that time, I was the most unlucky person. I was taken away from my family and from a life that I missed every day. I understood that if I were to leave home, it was going to take hard work.

All through high school, I was introduced to what going to college meant; I began to understand that in order to accomplish anything in life, I had to get an education. I did not care which college I went to or what my major was as long as I went away from home. I had defined my American Dream: an education. Not to gain money or wealth, but to prove a point. To prove that I would become something more than another statistic. To show my siblings that hard work can get you somewhere; that you do not have to sit around and wait for luck.

Ironically, I dropped out of high school during the spring semester of my senior year to help my mom support my brother and sister. We lived in the only place we could afford, a room in a house with a shared bathroom with six other people who lived there. I started working the night shift at the nearby Mexican restaurant and going to Family Court every morning with my mom to help her file for divorce. I felt like the American Dream had defeated me and I would become another statistic, another dropout.

Weeks after I had left high school, my counselor called me for a meeting trying to encourage me to come back to school. College decisions would be posted soon and I could not afford to fail my last semester of high school. ‘If I work something out with your teachers, can you agree to come back?,’ she asked. The decision I made during that meeting thirteen years ago would be one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Days later, I found out I was admitted to my dream school, UCLA. Life could not have been better; through the hard work and perseverance of my family, we were lucky enough to be given a second chance.

Courtesy of Brenda Galvez

Today, I can say I’m an accomplished individual. I went to UCLA to get my bachelor’s degree in Sociology, to USC to get my master’s degree in Educational Counseling, and am in the process of pursuing my doctorate in Educational Leadership back in my dream school, UCLA. I’m a full-time student, full-time professional, and most importantly, a full-time mommy to baby Audrey. I’m also in the process of starting my own business with my best friend and my sister. It sounds like a lot, but somehow it feels like it is the least I can do.

Courtesy of Brenda Galvez

I do understand that I am lucky to have been given opportunities and encountered the loving people in my life. None of the things mentioned above would have happened without the support of my family, friends, and teachers. Getting closer to my American Dream has been nothing close to a walk in the park, but in addition to luck, I believe that it has been the hard work, dedication, and even tears that have made me the accomplished person I am today. And now, I get to sit in front of piles of paper scattered all over my desk trying to define what the American Dream means to me and my family.”

Courtesy of Brenda Galvez

This story was written by Brenda Galvez of Los Angeles. You can follow her on Instagram here. Submit your own story here and be sure subscribe to our free newsletter for our best stories.

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