Western Kentucky University First-generation Student Blazes Trails

Cailyn Richer, Western Kentucky University, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning / The Center / May 10, 2024

Western Kentucky University NM Blog first-gen premiere

Veronica Vallejo-Garcia has always had a love of the arts and creativity. Developing a passion for creating and editing film in elementary school, her greatest inspirations were her art and media teachers, whose passion for their crafts outshined the income they were generating.

Veronica has also always known that she must attend college. She was expected to earn a degree to break the cycle of poverty that she said existed within her low-income, immigrant family. However, after witnessing her seven older siblings choose not to attend college, she began to have doubts.

“I was kind of like, ‘Oh, maybe it's just not for our family,’” she said.

Despite being the first in her immediate family to attend university and facing pressure from her parents to major in business, Veronica decided to pursue a degree in film.

“My parents were kind of like, ‘We’re low-income; why would you want to do something that probably wouldn't make you something in the future?’” she said. “So of course that kind of stuck with me a lot, but it never made me not want to continue.”

These experiences culminated in her senior thesis film, “First Gen,” which follows a first-generation Latina student caught between her parents; expectations and personal aspirations of pursuing the arts.

We’re low-income; why would you want to do something that probably wouldn't make you something in the future?

“I like to think that my movie is sort of based on real life events that's happened in my life,” Veronica said. “It's also just experiences that I know that I share similarly with other people as well, in different ways but in the same way as at the same time.”

“First Gen” is also connected to the Hispanic and Latino community. Specifically, “those who have had parents’ risk everything to come here to make their life what their life is now,” Veronica said.

“Like for myself, my dad coming here, risking everything, and you know, working so hard to get the life that he's having right now so that I could have the life that I have now,” she said. “So [the film] is kind of in connection with it; it doesn't outright say that, but it's something that I felt as I was making it.”

Western Kentucky University first-gen film marker
Veronica struggled with understanding her identity and its relation to the story the movie shares. She said that not speaking Spanish fluently and having a father that is Mexican and a mother that is American made her question if she was “Mexican enough” to create the film.

“I think one of the biggest things that I did struggle with is, ‘Am I telling the right story, and can I really tell this story as the person I am?’” she said. “Every experience I’ve felt making this movie, it was like, ‘Oh, people are gonna tell you that you’re not Mexican enough; you don’t know the story too well, but I knew my story. That’s the story I told in making this.”

Despite how her viewers may identify, however, Veronica said the film is meant for anyone who has struggled with their parents' desires conflicting with their own.

“Something that I kind of just want people to take away from the film after they watch it is one, that you’re not what your parents want you to be,” she said. “Two, you could be whatever you want to be despite what society’s standard of success is.”

Alongside filmmaking, Veronica is involved on campus with the Big Red Marching Band and the Hilltopper Organization of Latin American Students. “First Gen” premiered at the WKU Student Film Festival on April 27, 2024.

For more information on Western Kentucky University's approach, please visit their website here.