Latinos Facing Discrimination: A Review of Becoming Dr. Q
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Latinos Facing Discrimination: A Review of Becoming Dr. Q
Jose Francisco Espinoza
Becoming Dr. Q: My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon is an inspiring autobiography about Alfredo Quiñones, who went from the fields of the Central Valley to the world's finest medical institutions. I was especially interested to learn that Dr. Quiñones was once a student at Delta College. I also was able to relate to some of his experiences with discrimination.
In his book, Alfredo Quiñones describes all of the struggles he had to go through before reaching his goal. As a young immigrant, the eventual Dr. Q found work in the fields of Mendota, California, where he continually felt discrimination from the owner and even from the owner's son, closer to his own generation. Quiñones writes about the first time he met the son: "Saying nothing, the kid stared back at me in revulsion. No, his look was one of disdain. Even derision" (Quiñones 73). There were times when the son would make Quiñones feel like he wasn't even there, as if he wasn't worthy to be in the presence of the son, who "walked by and looked my way yet didn't show any sign that he had registered the presence of another human being. That was how he looked at all laborers. . . . In his eyes, we were not individuals with names or identities; we were nonentities, even faceless" (74). Quiñones would feel degraded after this type of treatment, but he tried to not let it affect him in a negative way. Indeed, he says that it helped shape him into the man he is in the emergency room today, by providing a model of behavior to avoid: "The treatment of migrant workers also stayed with me as a reminder to acknowledge the contributions of everyone at the hospital, clinic, or lab-from orderlies and janitors to nurses and technicians, on up to doctors and administrators. Everyone has a name, a face, a voice" (Quiñones 74).
Quiñones soon moved out of Mendota and into a small house in Stockton, California. He enrolled in classes at San Joaquin Delta College and worked during the nights cleaning ship tankers where, as he says, "two co-workers seemed to go out of their way to make me feel beneath them" (Quiñones 85). One co-worker was even more discriminatory than the other: "he didn't hold back from making derogatory references to the fact that I was from south of the border, labeling me a wetback and embellishing the term with other stereotypical adjectives like stupid, lazy, and dirty" (Quiñones 85). The discrimination didn't stop there, however; Quiñones would continue to encounter this type of treatment, even at some of the nation's top institutions.
After two years at Delta College, Quiñones left to continue his studies at UC Berkeley, where discrimination again greeted him. He was still in his first year at Berkeley when one day he was invited for a coffee with a few classmates and the Teacher's Assistant (TA) from his anthropology class. At this gathering, the students discussed their backgrounds, and when Quiñones said that he was from Mexico, the TA responded, "You can't be from Mexico. You're too smart to be from Mexico" (Quiñones 113). More than just offending Quiñones and adding to his insecurity, the TA's remark also insulted Mexican people as a whole. According to the TA's logic, all Mexican people are dumb just because we are Mexican. Quiñones even received insults from people he didn't know personally. His girlfriend worked at a pool as a lifeguard where "a co-worker went on a rant, mocking her for dating someone who was a greasy Mexican. The words dirty and lazy came up too" (Quiñones 117). In spite of the discrimination he faced there, Quiñones graduated from UC Berkeley. He was then admitted into Harvard Medical School, where once again, he encountered discrimination from the start. At a study group session one evening, a fellow medical student said to him, "Come on, Alfredo, you know that the only reason you got into Harvard is because of quotas" (Quiñones 147).
These were just a few of the many examples of discrimination and negativity that followed Quiñones throughout his difficult journey, but he managed to move past all of the obstacles bigoted Americans put in his path and to achieve his goal of becoming a brain surgeon. His account of his experiences reminded me of some situations I have encountered. My first connection to Quiñones was based on the fact that I am also an immigrant. Unlike most of my friends, I am not first generation Mexican American. I was born in Mexico and lived there for four years before migrating with my family to the United States. Unlike most people who come from Mexico, I was lucky enough to have not had such a difficult start.
Ever since I was young, I had never been afraid to say that I was born in Mexico. On the contrary, I was proud to say it. Then one day when I was in 7th grade, when we were having a discussion on immigration in English class, my teacher asked me if I wanted to share a little since she knew of my situation. I began to talk, and of course I said that I was born in Mexico, but before I could finish, a girl shouted out, "He's an immigrant!" The whole class laughed, and I tried to giggle a bit so that no one would notice the impact her comment had on me, but I cut my participation short and just sat there quietly for the rest of the class. I felt just like Quiñones when he was put down by the owner's son: "his reaction planted a seed of insecurity in me, really for the first time, about my accent and about being Mexican" (74). Even though nothing was mentioned about my accent, this incident still made me feel insecure about it. Since now everyone knew about my birth in Mexico, I thought that my accent would definitely be a reason for more laughter. Soon after that, I started to notice every once in a while when my accent would slip up. I had never noticed it before. This experience definitely made me conscious about little things like that, and I would say that I still have some of these fears to this day even though I am fluent in English.
Another experience where I faced discrimination was an encounter my family had with a police officer. I was really young, probably around eight or nine years old, but I can clearly remember the moment when my dad was stopped by a cop for some reason. My dad spoke no English, and the cop spoke no Spanish, so I was asked to be the translator in spite of my youth. Although my English was good by then, the fact that the man was a cop scared me. I began to cry and was pretty much of no help, so the cop got angry. And then I remember hearing him say, "fucken Mexicans" under his breath. At that time, I was barely even learning what these "bad words" were, so I didn't pay much attention to it when it happened. As I grew up, I later realized how serious the situation had been, and it made me think of how badly we were treated in that moment. I don't even remember what happened after that, but that day surely taught me that as a Mexican I would need to be prepared to face discrimination in this country no matter what.
Thankfully, now we have programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for other undocumented kids like me, but who knows how long they will last? After all, our newly elected president wants to take them away. Perhaps if he took the time to read Becoming Dr. Q, Mr. Trump would have a better idea of what immigrants coming into this country are capable of achieving.
Quiñones-Hinojosa, Alfredo. Becoming Dr. Q: My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon. Sheridan Books, Inc., 2011.