Gaby Ramos, 21, decided to move away for college against her parents’ wishes. “Having a Hispanic family, you’re expected to stay home until you get married. I knew my parents would freak out. They didn’t understand why I needed to move out.”
Ramos, who is from Chicago, attends St. Xavier University on the south side of the city. She says she could have commuted to college like her brother, but felt that she needed to become independent. To ease her parent’s anxiety, however, she compromised by going home every weekend.
“I work at admissions and I know a lot of Latino families who don’t let their daughters live on campus,” Ramos says. “I think in a way it’s kind of hindering them. You’re not going to live with your parents forever. Why not try it during college? I think it’s an experience that everyone should have. That way you would see how you could be on your own.”
Latinas are obtaining a higher education more than ever. In 2010, Latinas earned three out of every five associate or bachelor’s degrees granted to the Latino population. And according to the 2011 census survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, 17 percent of Latinas (ages 25-29) have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 10 percent of Latino males.
Not only are Latinas becoming more educated, they are also becoming more independent than their male counterparts. According to a study by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) in 2007, before the recession, 12 percent of Latino men returned home. The figure has now grown to 21 percent. For Latinas the figure only increased from 9 to 11 percent.
Estela Sanchez, 19, who attends the University of Texas at Arlington, was the first girl in her family to move out on her own. She says that because she’s first generation, her parents had no idea what college was going to be like. Although the idea of a girl moving out to attend school was foreign to them, they became very supportive of her choice. “It was in order for me to see what’s out there and for me not to take everything they’ve given me for granted,” Sanchez says.
Like Ramos, Sanchez had to agree to go home every weekend, but after a while she realized that she was missing out on events at her school. Sanchez says that living in dorms has helped her get involved on campus and meet new people.
In a study of Latinas and higher education, graduate researcher Andrea Gomez Cervantes found that while Latino families did encourage their daughters to attend college, they are often expected to stay closer to home to help their families. Family support was clearly significant for Latinas when making decisions about college.
Though her parents’ support was important to her, Martha Ruvalcaba, 19, says she decided to dorm at the University of North Texas because they were so strict. Ruvalcaba says that Hispanic parents are often too overprotective of girls. “I feel like they see girls going away to college as pretty much opening the door to sex and drugs.”
Ruvalcaba also had the option to stay home and commute, but decided not to because she wanted independence from her family. “I needed space so we could both grow,” she says. But like the other girls, she too had to promise to go home every weekend.
“They eventually accepted it and helped me out and were really good about it,” she says. Though Ruvalcaba would recommend living on campus to other Latinas, she thinks it’s important that they talk to their parents first.
“Living in the dorms opens your eyes to different cultures and you see so many different things,” she says. “I really like meeting new people and learning on my own and having my own responsibilities.”