Meet Felix Duarte, a current 1st year UAB optometry student. In honor of Hispanic awareness month which runs from September 15th to October 15th, we decided to ask him a couple of questions:
Where are from?
- A: I was born and raised in McAllen, TX, a moderately sized border town sandwiched between Mexico and the rest of the US. South Texas offers a unique cultural landscape unlike anywhere else that America has to offer. With 90% of citizens being of Hispanic descent and another 8% derived from varying minority backgrounds, it’s a place with deep immigrant heritage, amazing food, and a strong sense of community. My fondest memories of home are going to South Padre Island and basking in the sun while fishing in the Gulf, taking a trip across the bridge over the Rio Grande to stroll through the vast marketplaces of Progresso, or visiting the pulga with my mother and abuela and leaving with a haul of fresh fruits, spices, snacks.
How would you describe your upbringing in a Spanish speaking household?
- A: Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, I not only grew up in a Spanish speaking household, but for most of my life a Spanish speaking world. Being able to speak Spanish and English granted someone a dual citizenship into two essential social spheres. For me Spanish is a personal language, more passionate and dynamic, a language that I use with family and friends. English, on the other hand, is a formal language used in school, business, and everyday interactions.
What is your favorite thing/aspect about Hispanic culture?
- A: Something that I will always cherish is my culture’s emphasis on the importance of family and friends. No one is an island, we each depend on each other to grow and to provide comfort in hard times. It’s been difficult explaining to my family why I needed to move to Alabama for a better future, only my abuelas that moved my family over to the USA understand that.
How has your Hispanic background influenced/affected your experience in
optometry school compared to those around you?
- A: UABSO’s student organizations offer a lot of opportunities to gain patient experience through screenings. At both NOSA and SVOSH screenings, I have interacted with a lot of Spanish-speaking only patients. Unlike the rest of their experience interacting with other students who could not speak to them directly, their relief is palpable when they see that there is someone who is able to understand and work with them in a familiar language. It showcases how important it is for every clinician to be able to effectively communicate with their patients despite any language barriers.
What is your best piece of advice for young Hispanic women and men trying
to pursue a career in optometry or in a healthcare career in general?
- A: In my experience, I was not a ‘minority’ in my home state. The environment here is different, and I cannot help but feel “othered” at times. I am the minority, but I don’t feel excluded. The people in our profession are welcoming and embrace the skills that come with my heritage. It opens that opportunity for connection with a patient base that is underserved and often underrepresented in the healthcare field. There are times where it can feel hard to be different, but in those times remind yourself that having culture is always an advantage.
We are so thankful for the opportunity to learn and celebrate Felix’s culture and for his ability to help us break the barrier between the Hispanic population in the eyecare community. Happy Hispanic Awareness month!
NOSA National E-Board