Dodging the Bullet: Reflections of a First-Generation College Student
By Gauri Mangala, Contributing Writer
For many college students, college is a time of liberation. A time where we finally get to taste that American dream, that sea of opportunities; that time where we finally get to reach out fearlessly and touch their Dream.
Not me, though. I’m terrified. It’s not about leaving home or being ready to be an adult. I’m so scared because the America that I loved and was ready to be a part of is slowly crashing down around me. In 1996, my parents left everything they knew in India to embark on a better life here in the Land of the Free. In 1999, they had me. My parents always taught me to be proud of my heritage, but more than that, they taught me to understand that being American is just as much a part of my story as is the color of my skin or my family tree.
In 2008, the first black man was elected President of the United States, and I was mesmerized. I saw myself in Obama: someone who had been ridiculed based on ethnicity, someone who was called an immigrant (not understanding why that was such a dirty word in the first place). My mother and father love this country. My father built our home, his business, and his legacy here. My mother found her voice and her dream here. They are no less American than baseball and apple pie.
In 2010, both of my parents became citizens of this country. My father a Republican, my mother a Democrat, I finally got to see them participate in politics beyond debates in the living room. Everything seemed to look up: Obama was finally our President, not our Black President. ‘Finally,’ I thought. People were seeing past the color of his skin, my skin. How naïve I was.
In my senior year of high school, Donald Trump running for president went from being a joke to being a serious thing. He said things that made some people angry, but I was just scared. Some of my friends could not understand why I was feeling the way I was. But suddenly, the word ‘immigrant,’ a word that I hold with such high respect, had become an insult once more. People were chanting to block out people just because they are different.
After Trump was elected, I had to step back from a lot of people in my life who could not see what was happening to my family. There is a fear that all people of color experience when we go to a new area. We don’t know how we are going to be received by people — with open arms, or flaming pitchforks — but there is a peace that we feel in our own homes. With this election, however, the hatred was in our homes, in quiet stares, and on our TVs. It was as if I was six years old again, and the white girl on the playground told kids not to talk to me because of the color of my skin. I still remember being taught at such a young age that my skin color not only made me different, but less than. And now here I’m, 18 years old, about to embark on the rest of my life, and the President of the United States is saying the same damn thing.
For families like mine, our citizenship means nothing to this man. To him, my parents still belong to India. That was proved when Nazis and white supremacists stormed Charlottesville last week and were not condemned by the leader of the “free” nation. I was terrified of the thought of going to college. I wanted my sanctuary at home. But after I received the campus-wide email from President Riggs, I started to feel better.
She condemned these terrorists and stated that Gettysburg College will never be a place for such a thing. I realized that going to a school whose backyard is a constant reminder of the price Americans had to pay for equality is the best place for me.
While I am scared of what’s to come for our country, I have faith in myself, my peers, and my school. Go Bullets!
Editor’s Note: This article is the sixth of our series “Dodging the Bullet: The First Year Journal,” in which The Gettysburgian‘s staff members from the Class of 2021 share stories, reflections, and perspective on their first year experience. You can read the full series here. (BP)