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Hispanic Heritage Month: Student Stories

Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15 every year to celebrate the history, culture, and the many contributions that U.S Latinx and Hispanic communities have brought to American society. In celebration, we wanted to highlight some of our students’ stories about what being a member of the Hispanic/Latinx community means to them. Read their stories below.

Valery Medina, Class of 2023

Growing up in a predominantly Latine area of Southern California, I felt just like everyone else. I looked like my peers and started kindergarden not knowing a single word of English, only Spanish. My mom immigrated from Jalisco, Mexico in August of 1986. She cleaned houses and worked hard every day to provide a  better life for me, while also taking care of her own mother. Seeing my mom’s diligence and commitment to her family inspired me to do well in school so that I would not waste the opportunities that she has been fighting her entire life to give me. I worked hard in school and began to place into honors classes. Slowly, my surroundings started to change. I was no longer amongst people with similar backgrounds to me. Then, I left home to attend San Diego State University for undergrad. I was still one of the few Latinas in my STEM classes, but this time when I went home everyday, it wasn’t to a house filled with loud Spanish chatter and the smell of fresh salsa and tortillas. The further I went in school, the more I felt distanced from Latin culture.

One of the first things I did when I decided to start pursuing a degree in optometry was I started volunteering in optometry clinics in Tecate, Mexico. Not only did I want to gain real life optometry experience and assist underserved communities, but I also wanted to be in a familiar environment. As I volunteered, I realized how my experiences and ability to speak Spanish allowed me to connect with patients. When I eventually arrived at Berkeley, I knew I wanted to continue serving communities like the ones in Tecate and so I joined VOSH, which regularly did a mission trip down to Nicaragua. When I went in 2020, we saw over 4,000 patients. It reenforced the value of a Spanish speaking optometrist. Now during my 4th year rotations at Hayward and Eastmont, I often see patients that speak little to no English and am able to deliver the culturally competent care that they deserve.

Throughout my optometric career I have been searching out ways to engage with my Latin heritage, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t found a strong Latin community here at Berkeley. There is a great network of smart and caring latinos that I am incredibly proud to be a part of. It has been a rewarding adventure and I cherish all of the opportunities that I have seized upon.

Joselyne Calvillo, Class of 2026

In 1993 my parents migrated from Colima, Mexico to California in hopes of a better life for themselves and their future family. Their plan was to stay in California for two years to work and then move back to Mexico. However, they were unable to step foot onto their homeland until about 25 years later. There are a lot of expectations that come with being the first born in a Latino family. We learn to be responsible and independent at a very young age. However, one thing my parents never let me forget was the importance of education – something they were not able to have.

Growing up I was responsible for translating for my family members who only spoke Spanish. I quickly realized that there were not enough people who looked like my family or spoke like my family in healthcare. I wanted to make that difference. Not just to be able to communicate with my patients, but to be accessible to them as well. I will never forget a patient who I was helping translate during her visit. She was experiencing decreased vision for about one year, but was too scared to visit an eye doctor due to cost. Due to uncontrolled diabetes she had detached retinas in both eyes. I will never forget the look on her face when I was translating what the doctor was saying, “You may have decreased vision for the rest of your life.” She cried. It was difficult not to cry with her. Could this irreversible damage have been prevented if she had visited us sooner? If she knew who to see when she noticed the changes in her vision? If she wasn’t too afraid of how much the visit would cost? I hope to be able to educate my community to never ask myself those questions ever again.

Myself and my fellow Latinx and Hispanic classmates will make that difference. We are joining those few who came before us and inspiring those who will come after us. It is not just for our families, but for our communities as well. Si se puede!