By Lizeth Urdiales
I look back at my life in admiration and forward in desperation. I use to be the biggest badass I knew. My second year of college I fought to maintain in-state tuition in Texas for undocumented students and won. My third year of college I introduced Hillary Clinton at a national conference in Washington, DC during the 2016 election. My fourth year I was a guest speaker on Al Jazeera and was awarded the Rising Start Grant by GLAAD. Literally the biggest and baddest queer, undocumented, Latinx bitch in the game.
Since then I’ve graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, become a wife to a White cishet male, became a permanent resident and work at one of the largest tech companies in the world.
Even as I’m entering a new stage in life, I remain a child of immigrants. My parents, still being undocumented, depend on me financially and will continue to do so as they approach retirement age. My youngest sister will soon approach the age of 18 and she will be unable to use Medicaid to cover the expenses of her disability. My brother financially depends on me to help cover his tuition since he’s an undocumented student who works 40 hours a week and is unable to receive financial aid. I need to hustle for everyone.
I’m covering the expenses of children that aren’t even mine. My dream was to work at a nonprofit organization or create my own. That has been put in the back burner, possibly for eternity, “in the pursuit of my family’s survival.” This is often the story of first generation folks.
Given this transition I thought I would write about the experiences one might encounter in their shift from fighting in the streets to surviving in the corporate world.
- Imposter Syndrome
- Upon entering the corporate world as a former activist, there is an immediate sense of not belonging in this new environment. It seems like everyone around you holds some sort of privilege: financial, racial, gender based, religious, etc. Privilege not held by you. Immediately there is a sense that you don’t seem to quite fit in the way others around you do.
- There is a difference between being an introvert and being shy. Being an introvert requires you to take time to recharge by yourself without outside interruptions. Being shy means being afraid of the reactions of others around you. Working in a new space means having to uncover the landmines that will set others off, which lead me to become uncomfortably shy.Let’s be honest, bringing your whole self to work is not determined by you, but rather, how much of you others are willing to deal with. There is no room to challenge the status quo because your presence itself is challenging to those around you. Being openly queer, a women, Latinx, and formerly undocumented, it’s hard to get people to accept all of my identities. They can accept my queerness, but not like the fact that I was undocumented. They can accept that I am a woman, but find it difficult to understand my bisexuality in a heterosexual relationship or even accepting the oppressions I face as a Latinx individual. I went from figuring out strategic ways to get my point across as an activist, to measuring my words carefully so as not to stir the pot. Causing too much disruption can mean risking your employment. Even if there are some folks around you who want to get a better insight into who you really are as a person, your fear of losing your job is enough to limit your interactions.
- Complacent and complicit
- When facing institutions of power, whether that be through academia or the corporate world, you will often witness underrepresented populations becoming targets of unfair situations. Standing up for either yourself or your coworkers is a risk no matter what environment you are in. As someone who had no issues standing up to injustice beforehand, doing so now risks more than it used to before. I would fearlessly take down oppressive systems during my collegiate career, but now standing up to the white person making racially backhanded comments suddenly seems like the scariest thing in the world. This is because I went from having nothing to lose to having everything to lose very suddenly. This often leaves one feeling quite powerless to their surrounding environment.
Pros of working in the Corporate World (AKA money):
- Paying the bills early
- Growing up in poverty my biggest satisfaction of gaining a job in the corporate world is knowing that I don’t have to worry about paying the rent the way my parents always did. Whenever I’m stressed I often focus my efforts on budgeting or paying the bills early because I know I have money. I don’t have to fear being without money any longer, which temporarily subsides some of the issues I suppress when working.
- Paying my momma’s bills
- As a child of immigrants, the biggest satisfaction of having a well paying job comes when you’re able to help out your parents. Proving that the sacrifices of their entire lives to provide you with a better future were worth it. Being able to tell my family, “I’ve got this,” is by far the only thing that keeps me going.
- For the first time in my life I have centered myself around physical, emotional, and mental health. I’m able to pay for a gym membership, my psychologist appointments, and to take care of any health issue that may arise. These are things I do not take for granted. The most difficult part is that I know a lot of folks from my same background will have to worry about these issues until the day they die, and not having this same privilege could be what causes that death. So I take the time to look out for myself now that I can finally afford to do so.
- Self Care
- Finally, having this sense of work privilege provides me with the opportunity to give myself time to treat myself. Whether renting out a kayak for an hour, going to brunch with my friends, or getting my nails done I can finally do it without breaking the bank. I have more room to take care of myself than I ever did before. While I do admire the person I used to be, that person over exhausted herself physically, emotionally and mentally with the activism she participated in. I try to live my best life now because I know I couldn’t afford to do it before.
I’ve learned in this transition that I have to provide myself with a lot of self-forgiveness. I may not be as mentally strong as I was before, but I can build myself up to it. I can relate this to going through academia in a predominantly white university. If I could figure out how to make it through college as an activist, I can figure it out in the corporate world. The best advice I’ve been given is to look at your job as only means to make money, not as a way to define your life. In your free time, do the things that make you want to keep going. Volunteer for your favorite causes or even build a side hustle that could eventually become your full-time, fulfilling career once you’ve built up your desired skill set. Currently I’m focusing on improving my physical and emotional strength to be around longer for the people that need me. I don’t feel at all alone for making the choice I’ve made. I’ve seen plenty of folks who have joined the corporate environment who have been burnt out from the nonprofit world. This new environment just feels completely different than the life I imagined for myself and that is ok. This is simply a stage in my life and I won’t let it define my value as a person.