Tom Silva is a senior lecturer in the Plant Biology Section and chair of the SIPS Diversity and Inclusion Council. The Our Stories series profiles diverse members of the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) community. Here is Tom’s story:
I was a first-generation college student. My father came to this country from the Azores in the early ‘60s. He was unable to speak English and had a ninth-grade education. While my mother was always supportive, being raised in a patriarchal culture meant my dad had a large influence on my upbringing.
I grew up in an unwelcoming community, watching my dad ridiculed and assumed to be ignorant because of his heavy accent. He was even harassed by those in power who assumed he was not worthy of their help.
I never learned to speak Portuguese (my family’s native language) because my dad didn’t want us to have any kind of accent. That way, we could more easily assimilate into the existing culture around us. Today, it is part of my cultural identity largely lost because of a need to fit in with those around us.
My dad never understood why I’d want to go to college instead of finding a “real job.” I went ahead anyway. I worked my way through college at a supermarket to pay for school and commuted from home, because I had a responsibility to help take care of the family. My choices as a senior earning a botany degree were to either go to graduate school or take a job offer to manage the deli department of my local supermarket.
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