We hear about Nina from other characters before we see her in the film. She’s beloved in the neighborhood so naturally, people on the block are excited to see her back and her return is a signal that one of them has made it out there in the world.
No one is more excited than her father, Kevin Rosario, who’s sold a part of his business to help his daughter achieve her dream. We see throughout the film that Nina’s higher education aspirations are just as much her father’s as they are their own, which is so often the case with first-generation students. Nina feels the weight of her father’s expectations as she struggles to admit to him how out of place she’s felt during her first year away.
The story finds Nina at a crucial time for many first-generation college students. One-third of first-gen students drop out of college
before they finish their degree, compared to just a quarter of students whose parents have degrees. After a year spent struggling with coursework, being mistaken for wait staff, and even being accused of stealing her roommate’s jewelry on her first day, Nina’s also ready to call it quits.
Those reasons are laid out pretty clearly in the movie, but I also really appreciated the subtle ways that Nina’s identity crisis is depicted in the film. When she first returns from Stanford, her naturally curly hair is flat-ironed pin-straight, as a symbol of the ways she’s tried to change herself to conform to her new environment. It’s not long after she’s home, however, that the curls are back. I’m sure many first-gen students watching could think back to the small ways they changed or downplayed their own identities to fit into new spaces.
I can’t say that the depiction of the first-generation college experience depicted in the film was a one-to-one comparison with my own. Still, what I appreciated was how honestly it portrayed the vulnerability that comes with being a first-generation college student while still allowing Nina to be in full control of her own story. When she decides she can’t continue with college, the film never tries to downplay her fears and insecurities. Her story is given the same amount of grace once she decides to pick herself up again.