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— by SuChin Pak

The waiting is over for a lot of anxious high school seniors. The thick letters and the thin letters have all come in, and it's time to choose which college you'll be attending this fall. Let's imagine you got accepted into the college of your dreams, with a full scholarship, no less; this is what you've been waiting for your whole life, and you can afford to go! Pack your bags, and welcome to your new adult, independent life.

But what if your parents don't want you to go? What if your parents insist you stay home and go to a college close enough so you wouldn't have to move out? Would you do it? Could you sacrifice your college dreams to make your parents happy? What if college was getting in the way of what your family said they needed from you? Could you leave?

Dig Deeper On This Topic
 Read: "Are Women Smarter Than Men? College-Enrollment Trends Suggest So"

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 Learn more about current trends among the Latino population when it comes to college choices.
Meet Sonia. She's a 19-year-old Mexican-American college student who was on her way to a university, but decided to obey the wishes of her traditional parents and stay home to attend a local community college. For Sonia, the priorities are clear: While she is American, she cannot sacrifice the values of her Mexican culture. And that means, according to her parents, living at home, helping with the cooking and cleaning, taking care of her younger siblings and above all, respecting her parents' wishes.

Sonia's day is spent juggling a full-time job, studying for exams, cooking dinner, helping her brother with his homework and, on top of all that, recently she was asked by her parents to plan her sister's quinceanera, a kind of cultural sweet 16 — essentially, the biggest day of a Latina girl's life. As her grades are plummeting, she's realizing she cannot do it all. Something has to give and a choice must be made.

For me, not going to college was never an option, but the decision of which college I would attend was not mine alone — it was ultimately going to be decided by my parents. I went to Berkeley because it was a great school. But also because it was 30 minutes away from home, there would be no dorms, no planes, not even a leisurely drive to get to my school. And that 30 minutes was even too far for my parents. During my sophomore year, my parents left my childhood home and rented a small two-bedroom apartment 10 minutes away from campus so I could live at home and attend school. Come to think of it, had I got into Harvard, I would have probably been the only college freshman to move to Boston with her entire family.

When you're straddling two different cultures, when your parents are from a different country, it's a different set of rules, a different value system. There is no sense of the individual in many immigrant cultures. The decisions I made and still make must take into account the well-being of my entire family. I've never done anything without considering how my parents would approve or disapprove. It's the same way with Sonia. A lot of people would look at her story and question her sanity. Is this all-American girl, born and raised here in this country, the first one in her family to attend college, actually considering dropping out of school because it's getting in the way of her family obligations?

What's the alternative? She cannot leave her family, turn away from parents who sacrificed their entire lives to give Sonia a better one. She cannot abandon her brothers and sisters who will in turn need help filling out their college applications one day. And she certainly will not reject a culture and a community that has given Sonia an identity she is very proud of and committed to.

It's a tough choice. There is no clear answer and the only certainty is compromise. Can Sonia be the perfect Mexican daughter and still achieve the American dream? On the next episode of the documentary series "My Life Translated: College Dreams," premiering on May 23 at 6:30 p.m. ET, follow Sonia as she struggles to strike a balance and makes the biggest decision of her life.


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