ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Jacqueline Graniel spent her whole childhood in Southern California assuming other families also lived paycheck to paycheck. Now, as she studies for both a medical degree and a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, she has found that some of her classmates avoid the stress of renting and dealing with landlords by simply buying houses, sometimes with help from their parents. That’s not an option for Graniel; she sends a portion of her stipend home to support her family.
Growing up with a single father, Graniel has been taking care of siblings since she was in elementary school, and she’s happy to help support the people she loves. But to suddenly be surrounded by students who have the luxury of focusing solely on school was jarring. “If I didn’t have a tight community, I would probably feel lost,” she said recently during lunch downtown with some of the people who make up that community, specifically other members of the Society for Advancement of Hispanic/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, or SACNAS.
A handful of her friends and classmates agreed. Marcos Nuñez was born in Guatemala and moved to California at age 5, where he grew up among other lower-income, Latino families who often looked out for each other. Everyone was always feeding everyone else or inviting people who needed a place to sleep to crash on an empty couch. As an undergraduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, he was close enough to family that his parents could swing by the dorms to drop off fresh lemons and avocados—a taste of home. Now, as a graduate student at Michigan, it’s hard for his family to understand why he felt the need to travel so far away for school, and he misses that safety net. At school, people keep to themselves more, and when they do invite him out, sometimes finances or other family obligations prevent him from accepting. A scholarship he earned that should have made life easier turned out to be difficult to count on because of the way the money was distributed. “It felt like I was being punished for being a smart, brown kid,” Nuñez said.