Being a first generation student

Center for Latin@ Studies features "First Voice First Generation"

On Oct. 3, the Center for Latin@ Studies showcased the film “First Voice First Generation” by director Cynthia Martinez.

The film features three Holland High School Latino students during the global pandemic as they navigate through high school at home and virtually. They use the Trio Upward Bound program, a federally funded program that helps first generation students with college.

The film shows three high school students as they persevere through racism, the pandemic, poverty and other common problems high school students face today. With the assistance of Trio Upward Bound, the three students graduate and are all accepted into college.

Martinez is a first-generation college student that was born and raised in Holland, Mich. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in aviation business. She is also a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Her grandparents were Mexican migrant farm workers and her parents had her when shortly after they graduate high school.

“My parents told me as a kid that if I wanted to get new school clothes at the age of eight or nine years old, they said I must help them pick blueberries in the field and help us contribute to the family’s income,” Martinez said. “It was challenging work, and I was confident that was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life which sparked me to be a little more interested in my education.”

Though Martinez was interested in expanding her education, she believed that her parents didn’t have the resources that could help her with schooling. After realizing her education was on her, she decided to get her grades up so that she could get into a good college. It was then that she enrolled in Upward Bound and tutoring.

Director of First Voice First Generation Cynthia Martinez Photo by: Kathleen Camp

As the program helped Martinez get through high school and into college, it also played a large part in her film. After college, she reached back out to the Trio Upward Bound program and asked if she could document how students in the program were doing during the pandemic.

“I just knew I wanted to bring awareness to these students and what they were going through,” Martinez said.

Martinez believes that her film is truly relatable to all students and especially to those who are first generation. She hopes her film plays a role in changing things for the better for first generation students.

“There is a financial barrier of higher education and I feel it should be more accessible to anyone who is first gen, but that starts at a national level,” Martinez said. “I am hoping this film can inspire legislation that can be incorporated into our government. I also want to create awareness with the colleges and universities, what work that they can do to make it more accessible to first gen students.”

Aside from raising awareness to the financial aspect of college for first generation students, Martinez also wanted her film to represent Latinos.

“Latinos are the highest population that are first gen,” Martinez said. “The film is from the Latino lens first, but you will see that resonates with anybody.”

Director for the Center for Latin@ Studies Sonia Trevino wanted to bring back a film showcase in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month because students have enjoyed it in the past.

“When I learned about Martinez’s film, I found out she was from Holland and did her documentary on students from Holland I thought that was a great tie into our area,” Trevino said. “So, we wanted to invite her to come out and show her film. It has been winning a lot of awards, so we were excited to have her here.”

Digital animation and game design senior Ivan Flores is a first generation student who came to see the film. He has been a member of CLS his entire time at Ferris, but has participated in any of their events. Every year he makes a vow to watch a new movie, this year he decided Martinez’s would be the one.

With the help of her film, Martinez hopes to bring awareness to what it’s like to be a first generation student and to make a change in the education system for them and others.

“Education is the pathway to social mobility,” Martinez said. “We want to help get out of the cycle of generational poverty and flourish as a society which starts with education.”