College Beat: First-Gen Rooted in Community, Creating Social Change

By Irene Franco Rubio

As a first-generation college student and first-generation American, I had a difficult time navigating the college process. Quite frankly, I didn’t know how or even if I was going to go to college – I mean, how could I possibly afford it? There I was living in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Phoenix, AZ, with hopes, aspirations and an uncertainty about what my future holds. As a low-income, underserved youth of color, I lacked access to resources, guidance, and opportunity. I did not recognize the value I had to offer the world simply because no one took the time to invest in me, but I soon recognized my own potential. I felt incredibly fortunate to have the privilege to go to college as it’s an opportunity so many within my community are often deprived of. Recognizing this injustice inspired me to devote my efforts to serve the underserved and make the most of my collegiate experience.

Upon my arrival at the university, I navigated the college system by actively searching for professional development opportunities beyond the classroom, routinely applying for scholarships, and developing a vital network of support. As a freshman, I worked two part-time student-worker positions as an English tutor and office assistant. All while remaining heavily involved in the collegiate community through various student groups and organizations, I had the luxury to gain career-oriented work experience as an editorial intern for a city-wide magazine and as a communications intern at a leading Latinx civic engagement non-profit. These multifaceted experiences and a positive work ethic soon landed me the opportunity of a lifetime. I spent the first semester of my sophomore year in Washington, D.C. interning at the U.S. House of Representatives through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. CHCI provided me with the necessary access to opportunities I knew I deserved; I just didn’t know how to access them. Through this congressional internship program, I was able to further recognize my potential, invest in myself, and return home with a newfound understanding of uplifting the Latinx community.

Joanna Alvillar (left), Irene Franco (center) & Alexa Fuenmayor (right).

Throughout my collegiate experience, I have not only grown as an activist, writer, and change-maker but also as an intersectional thinker and media professional. As a progressive young person committed to bringing about positive change among historically oppressed populations, I have developed a holistic approach in uplifting an all-inclusive movement that bridges communities of color closer together rather than further apart. As a young woman of color of Guatemalan and Mexican descent, I have developed an understanding that not all Latinx issues are exclusive to the Latinx community. Underserved communities across the U.S. should be uplifted as we advocate on one united front, even if it does not directly affect us.

College inspired me to think holistically by learning from a variety of unique perspectives and diverse backgrounds. The university as an institution itself did not necessarily equip me, but rather the mentors, friends, and leaders I have met along the way did. As a student-worker, I had a supervisor who taught me valuable life lessons and what it means to take care of myself first in order to better serve others. I had a coworker, who is like an older sister, taught me the ins and outs of college, and supported me in every endeavor. Suddenly, my college experience didn’t feel so overwhelming, nor did I feel alone. I had a space to ask for advice, vent, unlearn to learn, and ultimately grow. I could share my wildest aspirations and not feel judged, regardless of how far-fetched they seemed. Both Latinas, they inspired me to lead my uniquely intended path by teaching me what it means to be strong, independent and determined women of color.