UPLIFT: the job of the immigrant, the parent, and the teacher

I am a scientist because of my stay-at-home dad.

He’s now a high school chemistry teacher and the chair of his department, but until I was in middle school, Dad spent his days taking me and my younger sisters to parks and science museums, and making learning fun—really fun. I grew up with a curiosity that manifests now as my pursuit of scientific research, and what confidence I have as a student, an athlete, and a young woman comes from those early years running around with Dad.


It wasn’t until very recently—in fact, this summer—that I realized what kind of choices he had to have made to build my life the way he had. He grew up in Union City, the youngest of five children in an immigrant family living the American dream. He found his way to the University of California, Riverside, as a biochemistry major; he was the first in his family to pursue a bachelors of science. After an undergraduate career filled with graduate level classes and research, Dad returned to the Bay and entered the burgeoning biotech industry. Eventually, he left it all behind to stay at home and raise my sisters and me.

Every time I come home now, Dad promises me sushi in return for telling him about everything I've learned that quarter in chem. He always grows misty eyed at being able to geek out about chemistry with me—something he never got to do with his dad, who never got more than a third grade education in Mexico. My grandpa was amazing for many reasons, but best of all he enabled his kids to go to school. However, when my dad failed classes or had a breakthrough in his research, he could never share that with his parents.

I've been able lucky to lean on him when I failed ochem, and share with him my excitement when I finally understood why mercury is a liquid (tldr; relativity) or when I first saw nanostructures I synthesized under an SEM. My degree hasn't been as easy as it coulda been, but my dad was able to make it easier than his was, and that's how the first generation lifts up the second generation in an immigrant family.

The past couple of quarters I've really appreciated how much that means to my dad, so I've been sharing my upper division chemistry lab reports with him. But now I'm done with upper division labs and done with graduate apps—a path that had never been open to either my grandfather or my father.

When I tell my contributors the theme of an issue, I leave it open to their interpretation. My interpretation of LIFTOFF is this: UPLIFT. No one embodies that sentiment than my dad. As a first-generation Mexican American, he was given opportunities by his parents that allowed him to do things they never even imagined. As a father, he's propelled me forward into an educational path that had been closed to him. As a teacher, he's dedicated his career to giving students the tools and support they need to do the same.

For all of these reasons, I knew I needed to include him in this issue.

My interview with my dad appears in Issue 03.