Cost was not the only reason why Evelyn Escobedo didn’t want to leave home when she went to college.
“Staying close to home was my sense of security and not losing myself,” she said. “And having a safe haven to always come back to.”
Escobedo is one of many Latinas not leaving the nest for college. Though they are attending 2- and 4-year colleges in greater numbers than their male counterparts, many wind up choosing schools near their parents. While finances are a commonly documented factor in that decision, some research and anecdotal evidence has indicated there is an underlying issue: family responsibility.
And while that may sound negative, some research has shown that the opposite is true. Families reveal an important source of support.
Staying close to home was my sense of security and not losing myself. And having a safe haven to always come back to.
- Evelyn Escobedo
“In most non-traditional school settings, you have very few Latinas who are in school full time,” said JoAnn Canales, the Interim Dean at the College of Graduate Studies at Texas A&M in Corpus Christi. “They have to take care of their six siblings or their older parents. Some of them are mothers and they need their family’s support to keep going to school. It’s so incredibly complex for them. But without the support of home they might not be able to finish.”
In October 2010, there were 561,000 Hispanic males enrolled in 2-year colleges compared with 611,000 Hispanic females. About 567,000 males were enrolled in four-year colleges, while 769,000 females attended four-year colleges, according to data provided by the Pew Hispanic Center.
“Anecdotally, you often hear it said they enroll at schools close to home because of family obligations or parental aspirations,” said Richard Fry, Pew Research Center, senior research associate, who added they don’t have data to support that claim.
Melissa Martinez is the only child to Dominican immigrants. Her parents wanted her to go to college but were hesitant to let her go far.
“When I told my mom I wanted to go to [Florida State University in Tallahassee], the first question she had ‘was how far away is it?’” the Boca Raton resident recalled. “Then she said, ‘Oh is that a nice area? Would we like it there? We could move there.’’”
Martinez decided to go to a local community college, a decision that scholars say is common. Studies have said that even if academic preparation and cost were factored into the decision, Latina students would continue to choose local community colleges over 4-year universities.
“My other friends felt a tremendous amount of pressure to stay home because their family relied heavily on them,” said Ariana Allen, founder of the educatedlatina.com, a website devoted to helping first-generation Latinas and their families understand the college lifestyle. Allen, a New York native, wound up going to Loyola Marymount in California, where her father lived. She stayed in a dorm for her first year but moved in with him for her last three years of school as she finished her bachelor degree in women’s studies.
Andrea Gomez Cervantes, a graduate student at the University of Kansas, studied Latinas and their decision to attend college. She analyzed national data and also conducted interviews and expected to find more parents like Martinez’s who were also unwilling to let their daughters go far from home. She found the opposite. Parents on a national survey said that they would be willing to let their girls go away for school, but not for any other reason.
“Marianismo is so important – that is when a woman is expected to sacrifice their own life for the family and take care of the household,” said Cervantes. “The parents’ responses might indicate that marianismo is just a myth. Or, it could also mean that it is transforming into something a little different. Now maybe the sacrifice [in parents’ eyes] involves going to college.”
Escobedo, whose mother is Guatemalan and whose father is Mexican, had to learn to set boundaries and her family had to learn that giving her space was the best way to support her. But that wasn’t easy for the first-generation college student.
“During my senior year in high school I would come home in the afternoon, go to work for a couple hours have time to help with things, with family events,” she said. “In college, they perhaps saw me and had expectations of me … they will say ‘hey can you help with the dishes?’ I had no way of explaining I had a final the next day.”
Escobedo, who now does administration and front office work at an urgent care clinic, still lives at home and her younger sister who is now contemplating college is considering following the same path.
“As a Latina, you have this sense of respect for the family. You feel like ‘I’m living at home, they are helping me out, I have to ask what they need of me. I have to give back.’”
For Martinez, staying at home has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, she said she is able to save money and has developed a deeper relationship with her father, something that the only child thinks would never have happened had she left. Still, the juggling act is hard.
“It kind of drives you nuts a little,” she said. “There is so much pressure and stress. My American friends think my parents are crazy but my Hispanic friends, they understand. They think: ‘Yeah I get it.’”
Soni Sangha is a freelance writer based in New York City.