Every year since 1988, the United States has devoted National Hispanic Heritage Month between September 15 to October 15 to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Hispanic and Latinx people to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. This time period also coincides with the independence celebrations for a number of Latin American countries.
Below, read reflections from medical students in the Latino Medical Student Association and view a presentation about notable Hispanic/Latinx figures in the history of medicine from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and beyond.
Notable Hispanic/Latinx figures in medicine at SMPH and beyond
Medical student reflections
Happy Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month! ¡Feliz mes de la herencia hispana/latinx!
As we celebrate Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, we invite you to read some reflections from some of our Hispanic and Latinx medical students:
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Maria Cecilia Abreu Gonzalez
Being Hispanic means being part of a community. No matter how far one is from home, one can always find support from other Latinx. Even the little things like speaking Spanish, talking about shared customs, or even eating a really good plate of arroz y habichuelas automatically brings me home. It’s really important to me to have a tie with the community while at SMPH. That includes having a Latinx mentor, being in LMSA, working with MEDiC, supporting Hispanic-owned businesses, and supporting other Latinx students. Because being Hispanic is not just being part of the community but spreading love and support from within it.
Andrea Lucia Alfonso
My earliest memories are that of my parents, siblings, and I listening to music together. While my siblings and I attempted to create choreography, my parents danced to the endless merengue, cumbia, vallenato, and salsa songs they grew up listening to that they were now passing on to us. Just having immigrated from Colombia, although we were struggling to make ends meet at the time, looking back at that memory now, the music allowed me to not focus on the adversity we were facing, but rather the love and happiness in that room. Although the journey of immigrants in the United States does not come without its obstacles, being Hispanic in America means having the support of your family and community to drive your dreams. As a community, we have deeply rooted ideals that value hard work, togetherness, and family. Through aspects of our culture like language, music, food, and sports, strangers instantly become friends and being a minority in this country no longer defines us.
It was my mother’s arepas and arroz con pollo that fueled me on late nights of studying, my father’s love for his family that kept a roof over our heads, my brother’s love for soccer that kept us connected to Colombia when we could not visit, my sister’s love for singing that kept the tough times melodious, and ultimately the sacrifices of my trailblazing parents that allowed my siblings and I to live out the dreams they were not able to. Without my family and community, I would not be where I am today, and for this I am forever grateful. As a future Latina Physician-Scientist, I will continue to represent and serve my community, pave the way for future generations, and never stop being Orgullosamente Colombiana.
I find immense pride in being Peruvian, a country with a rich cultural heritage and a passionate love for soccer and the Spanish language. Peru’s unique blend of history, traditions, and natural beauty has deeply influenced my perspective on health and medicine. In Peru, soccer is more than just a sport; it’s a way of life. The enthusiasm and unity that surrounds the national team is truly inspiring. As a medical student, I appreciate the power of sports in promoting physical and mental well-being. It reminds me of the importance of holistic health, where a strong sense of belonging and camaraderie can significantly impact overall wellness. Furthermore, the Spanish language is a cornerstone of my identity as a Peruvian. Our unique Spanish dialect, flavored with indigenous and African influences, is a testament to our cultural diversity. Being conversational in Spanish allows me to connect with a wide range of patients and provide the highest level of care and understanding. My Peruvian heritage, with its rich cultural tapestry, deep soccer roots, and the Spanish language, profoundly influences my journey as a medical student. These elements reinforce the importance of a holistic approach to healthcare, emphasizing community, physical well-being, and effective communication as key components in delivering comprehensive and compassionate patient care.
We celebrate this month to commemorate and honor those who fought for the independence of multiple Latin countries. It is also a month in which we celebrate the beauty and diversity of the countries that make up Latin America. My Latina identity is a thread that connects me to my family and ancestors. It keeps me grounded and tells the stories of resilience and grit in my community. My favorite memory as a child was attending the Mexican Independence Day parade with my dad. It was something he did with his parents in Mexico as a means to celebrate his country’s resilience and beauty. Once I was of age, I was fortunate enough to participate. I rode a horse in the cabalgata portion. Seeing my community come together and share this annual tradition was such an empowering experience.
Rodrigo Antonio Montoro Arevalo
I’m Rodrigo Antonio Montoro Arevalo, a 4th year MD/PhD student at UW SMPH. When I was 5, my dad applied for and won the US VISA lottery. So, we packed up and moved to Maryland. That’s how I got here. For years, self-reflection concluded this was due to luck; no perseverance facilitated our arrival – I came because of luck. This mindset slithered its way throughout my life: “I got lucky on that test”, “ I’m lucky to be in college”, and “I’ll really need luck to get into medical school.” Months before submitting my AMCAS application, I had a perspective-changing conversation. I was taught how language can influence the way we perceive our individual experiences. I had attributed luck, fortune, essentially the toss of a coin to my being here. I stopped this. I began viewing “luck” as opportunity. My dad took the opportunity to apply to the VISA lottery, and though luck played a role, its role was largely exaggerated. He chose to come. He chose to clean cars for 22 years to provide for us. Thus, I chose to study, merit gave me an education, and perseverance allows me to pave my path forward. How does this relate to being Latinx? To me, being Latinx is synonymous with finding opportunity. As Latinx physicians we must stop thinking luck plays such a big role in our lives. We’ve persevered and earned our place in medicine, and we’ll continue to go to new places and create opportunities where luck is against us.
Here are the things I look forward to every year that keep my heritage, culture, and personality alive, while I balance the crazy schedule of medical school. Flan de queso for every holiday we celebrate. Pernil y arroz con gandules for every Christmas. The Christmas parade that happens every year in Puerto Rico, where Santa drives through the neighborhood throwing candy and knick·knacks at every kid standing outside their house in the metropolitan area. Talking to my grandmother for hours about all the bochinche in the family or watching WAPA to hear the island’s gossip. Constantly making music with my family, whether it be singing or playing the güiro, maracas, tamborín, or bongos. All I know is how rich, loving, and alive all our get togethers are. The pride I feel being Puerto Rican and the community I create with my friends and family is a memory and a privilege I get to relive every year. I guess what I am trying to say is being Hispanic is simply the best.
I think of Hispanic Heritage Month as a celebration of commonalities, recognition of differences, and observance of contributions to the United States. For me, being Hispanic and Latino in the United States means that I will always have a community that understands my challenges, my strengths, my joys, my favorite music and foods, my language. A favorite cultural tradition of mine is cooking for a large group of people I love followed by a get together: food and family ,that’s it, all else feels trivial. ¡Viva México y viva la Latinidad!