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Hispanic Heritage Month

UI Health recognizes Hispanic Heritage Month by highlighting the achievements and contributions of our community's Hispanic and Latinx members.

In Their Own Words

Some of our employees talk about how they celebrate this month and their culture and honor those that came before them.

Martha Menchaca, MD, PhD

What excites you and provides you with hope when reflecting on Hispanic history and heritage? 

What excites me when I reflect on Hispanic history and heritage is that as we all learn more about the varied cultures, we learn about the true richness of the American experience and melting pot. We all learn to appreciate the contributions made and value diversity and how it makes all of our communities and our nation stronger, the attitude in the United States is changing and becoming more inclusive of Hispanic/ Latino culture and the great contributions Latinos have made to the nation.

What have been some challenges of serving in healthcare or your specified field as a person of Hispanic heritage?

Some challenges are that there are few role models and mentors in my field. Published data from the   American Medical Association shows that there are very few Latino physicians in my field, and I have had to set my path. There are few role models that I can reach out to in medicine. That is one of the reasons that I work hard to assist all students, residents, and fellows. I know how challenging it is, especially for underrepresented minorities in medicine, without someone extending a helping hand.

Why does the celebration of Hispanic history, heritage, and achievements matter to you?

The celebration of Latino history and heritage reinforces the acknowledgement of the contributions that Latinos have made to the United States, which is important to me. The continued achievements that Latinos make in many fields should be acknowledged and recognized.

It helps us see that Latinos are our community's neighbors, friends, and leaders. The recent pandemic experience reflected that Latinos are on the front lines as essential workers making a difference in all our lives. A greater understanding of Latino history and heritage will ultimately lead to a greater general acceptance of the diversity that has proven to be the greatest strength of the United States.

What excites you and provides hope when reflecting on Hispanic history and heritage?

What excites me when I reflect on Hispanic history and heritage is that as we all learn more about the varied cultures, we learn about the true richness of the American experience and melting pot. We all learn to appreciate the contributions made and value diversity. How it makes all of our communities and our nation stronger, the attitude in the United States is changing and becoming more inclusive of Hispanic/ Latino culture and the great contributions that Latinos have made to the nation.

Mindy Figueroa

Has there been a figure in your life — famous or not — that served as an inspiration to you and why?  

This would absolutely have to be my father. He came to this country alone and undocumented at the age of 14. His life goal was to join the army, and he came hoping to serve this country. Unfortunately, he was denied the opportunity to serve in the army. He went on to work in the fields of California and eventually ended up in Chicago with his extended family. He is an inspiration because he came here with nothing and built a life for his family. He is a citizen of this country and has always pushed us to work hard and achieve more than he ever could.

What have been some challenges of serving in healthcare or your specified field as a person of Hispanic heritage?

One of the biggest challenges is seeing the health disparities that people of color face daily. Seeing systemic racism and not being able to do much about it is very hard. Seeing “my people” get suboptimal care because of the language barrier and access to care issues is also hard.

What excites you and provides you with hope when reflecting on Hispanic history and heritage?

I think seeing people of Hispanic heritage in administrative and higher positions provides me with the hope that we can all achieve more with hard work. I feel like the Hispanic community has been greatly underserved in this country and put on the back burner. So seeing people of the Hispanic heritage get ahead makes me so proud that they have overcome the obstacles.

Why does the celebration of Hispanic history, heritage, and achievements matter to you?

It is important because non-White people have had many obstacles to overcome in this country, and we should recognize the hard work it has taken to get to where we are. For example, I am a first-generation college graduate. I am working towards my masters currently.

For me to get to where I am, I had to overcome all the struggles of learning a new language, adjusting to a way of life that was different than what I was taught at home, and being torn between wanting to assimilate into American culture while also trying to hold onto my Mexican heritage. My parents were unable to help support me through school because they didn't have formal education when they were younger. As a child, I had to navigate the world by myself, and I had to help my parents help me.

Odanys Sandoval

Has there been a figure in your life — famous or not — that served as an inspiration to you, and why?

My parents serve as my inspiration. They were both migrant farmer workers in the south back in the day and have worked since their early childhood. Through their sacrifice and hard work, they were able to provide a foundation so that I may build a better future for me.

Why does the celebration of Hispanic history, heritage, and achievements matter to you?

I think it is important to shed light on the successes as well as the challenges that we share as a community. This can help motivate and inspire the next generation to continue the path that we are creating.

What hopes or wishes do you have for UI Health as it implements further diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives?

I hope to see more outreach to the community, as well as plans to address all determinants of health and education.

What have been some challenges of serving in healthcare or your specified field as a person of Hispanic heritage?

Equitable access to education, as well as language barriers, have been the biggest challenges. Basic concepts and processes that we might not think twice about are often misinterpreted or not explained properly to our immigrant community.

Maria A. Lopez

Has there been a figure in your life — famous or not — that served as an inspiration to you and why?

Yes, my mother was an undocumented immigrant from Zacatecas, Mexico, with a fifth-grade degree in education. In Mexico, my mother learned basic nursing skills on her own and would help anyone who needed help with their medical needs.   My mother had a pathway to residency through the amnesty program and then became an American citizen. She sacrificed and prioritized her children's well-being and education by working (selling paletas, ice-cream popsicles, and food on the weekends) and volunteering within her community church and schools. My mother was voted president of the local school council while my brother and I attended elementary school. My mother instilled the moral of education and work in her children.

What excites you and provides you with hope when reflecting on Hispanic history and heritage?

To celebrate Hispanic heritage peacefully in unity with our family and friends and reflect on how great our tomorrow can be if we hold onto positivity and hope. It encourages us to reflect on all the contributions Hispanics have made in the past and will continue to make in the future.

What have been some challenges of serving in healthcare or your specified field as a person of Hispanic heritage?

Meeting patients, especially our older patients, who have a difficult time communicating with their healthcare provider due to a language or cultural barrier. Some patients struggle with understanding medical terminology and don't know that our facility provides Language & Interpreting resources. Some patients feel obligated to bring a family member or a friend to assist. Being able to bridge this communication gap has made me feel proud to be a navigator, and I know it has helped my patients and their families feel safer and more secure continuing their care here at UI Health.

What might you recommend to others as they celebrate and reflect on Hispanic Heritage Month?

To have a wonderful celebration of the culture and values our families continue to instill in us. And to reflect on the progress and the sacrifices our generation of Mexican-American families have made to allow for their children to get where we are today.