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#4 My Father's Story - The Significance of a Role Model

From the preface of my book "Hispanic Role Models in Science, Advice for Future Scientists."


To watch this story in video format, click here to be redirected to my YouTube account.


There is a stretch of land situated amid some of the highest-elevation volcanoes in the Andes mountains of Ecuador, known as the “Chota Valley.” It is one of the few areas with a high concentration of Black inhabitants in the country. How did these Afro-Ecuadorians get to the valley is not entirely clear.


Some historians believe they may have escaped from slave ships that capsized on the Ecuadorian coast in the 16th century. Most others agree that they were brought to South America as slaves by Jesuit priests in the 17th century to work in salt mines and cotton plantations.


The Chota Valley in the Northern Province of Imbabura, Ecuador
The Chota Valley in the Northern Province of Imbabura, Ecuador

The abolition of slavery did not improve their living conditions. They were left without land and employment until the establishment of another method of labor known as “huasipungo” (‘wasipunku’ in the Kichwa language, which translates to “house door”). Huasipungo, which lasted until the late nineteen sixties, represented an arrangement by which workers received a 20-40 square meter piece of land in exchange for their labor instead of any form of remuneration.


This history has influenced the lives of the people from the area tremendously. Racism is highly prevalent, and “Choteños” live in a world of their own, spreading across 38 communities in the valley, including one known as Salinas.


Most Afro-Ecuadorians still work in agriculture and sugar cane plantations that replaced

the salt mines that gave Salinas its name. Like in many communities of African descent

across the Americas, most Afro-Ecuadorians grow up without the prospect of an education beyond high school.


In the early 1950s, a family with nine children left Salinas and moved to the state capital “Ibarra,” searching for opportunities. That family’s name was ‘Mina’ (Spanish for “mine”), a common name given to slaves working in salt mines whose African names were difficult to pronounce. The second oldest child in that family is my father, Luis Mina.



A collage of pictures of the city of Ibarra, in Ecuador
Ibarra, Imbabura Province, Ecuador

My father was always at the top of his class, became an elite athlete, and against all odds graduated summa cum laude from the country’s only medical school. Not only his graduation despite his origins is remarkable, but the sacrifices he had to endure. After moving to the country’s capital, Quito, on his own; unable to pay for food, rent, electricity, or transportation, he had to study in candlelight, sleep on kitchen floors, and walk to and from school for an hour as his schoolmates drove by in fancy cars waving goodbye.


These experiences made my father a hero, at least in my mind. I often asked myself: would I have been willing or able to go through what he went through to pursue my dream of becoming a doctor? Would I even have the courage to pursue that dream if I had never met a doctor, like him?


Whenever I am going through a difficult time, I think about my father and what he went through to achieve his dreams, making my own dreams possible today.


A picture of Dr. Mina-Osorio's parents Luis Mina and Adiela Osorio
My parents Luis Mina and Adiela Osorio

That, dear readers, is the definition of a role model. Role models represent examples that we can emulate. We are encouraged by their perseverance. We are motivated by their strength. The more hardship they overcome, the more we feel capable of overcoming our own obstacles, however challenging. This is why we love superheroes in film. Role models make us think: ‘If he/she could do it, so can I”.


Role models are individuals who inspire us to pursue ambitious goals. They impact our career choices by demonstrating how to strive for challenging yet achievable objectives. While their experiences and challenges may differ from ours, we can still relate to their journey.


Among many reasons for the lack of representation of Hispanics/Latinos in science,

technology, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) is the lack of mentors and role models. How can young students believe they can be successful scientists if they have never met a scientist who looks like them, comes from where they come from, speaks their language, or shares their culture?


According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, when asked, “In your opinion, who is the most important Hispanic/Latino leader in the country today?” most Hispanics (62%) say that they don’t know, and 9% say “no one.” Yet, most of them say that "it is imperative for the community to have one." This is one of the many reasons why we need more Latinx scientists and doctors. So that more young individuals are exposed to them and feel encouraged to follow their steps.


Most books about role models paint a picture of heroism that is difficult for most of us to relate to. We cannot all be Einsteins or Curies. This is why it is essential to share stories we can relate to. Stories of immigrants and first-generation students who had to work hard to make a mark in their fields. People like ourselves who have succeeded in an environment where they were not expected to. Whether we were lucky enough to have a role model in our lives or not, these are stories we can all learn from.


My book: “Un doctor por favor” included stories of several remarkable Hispanic/Latino physicians who have dedicated their lives to patient care in areas like pediatrics, surgery, pulmonology, and internal medicine. Role models who have not only succeeded professionally but who are committed to the cause of reducing disparities in Latino education and health care.


In my second book: "Hispanic Role Models in Science," I wanted to share current, relatable stories of Hispanic/Latino scientists and the lessons learned throughout their journey in basic research. Some of them were born in the U.S. to immigrant parents. Some others, like me, immigrated themselves. They are Biologists, Biophysicists, Neuroscientists, Chemists, Drug developers, and Market Researchers.



A collage of pictures of the scientists who contributed with their stories to the book Hispanic Role Models in Science
Hispanic Role Models in Science - contributors

To those students who don’t know anyone who can serve as their role model, may the stories in this book serve that purpose precisely. I hope you see yourself in at least one of these successful scientists and be reminded that even though we all doubt ourselves at some point, we are all equally capable of achieving whatever our minds dream of.


Something else I learned from my dad is his passion for understanding human behavior. His collection of hundreds of psychology books is precious. He read every morning, trying to figure out how to help his patients at a time when mental health issues were even more taboo than they are today and access to mental health care was even more difficult. I am also fascinated by human behavior, particularly the science of motivation and achievement.


How, I wonder, did people like him, or other prominent figures such as José Celso Barbosa, Severo Ochoa, or Sonia Sotomayor, find the strength to pursue their dreams despite the difficulties? What makes them different from other people, and what can we all learn from

them?


The science of peak performance has fascinated many people for centuries, and over the years, we have learned a lot that is worth sharing, as it can help us all achieve our own goals. For example, we have learned that grit and practice are more important than talent. Yes, you read correctly. Passion and perseverance are more important. All those quotes from successful people I often share in my social media posts @undoctorporfavor are not just beautiful words. They are more meaningful than you think. Most people who achieve seemingly impossible goals are not necessarily smarter or more talented than you and me, ̶ even though smarts and talent are important ̶, they are grittier, and grit is a skill we can all develop.


As I go through the stories of these remarkable Hispanic/Latino scientists in the book, I will use their stories as examples of nine lessons that experts in the science of motivation and performance have taught us. These lessons correspond to practical approaches to finding our passion, becoming grittier, learning to believe in ourselves, defeating the imposter syndrome, and living happier, more fulfilling lives and careers. I encourage you to read their publications describing results from years of solid academic research.



A list of few of the lessons discussed in the book Hispanic Role Models In Science
A few of the lessons discussed in the book Hispanic Role Models In Science

If you feel inspired, please share their stories with others. Let’s create a community of Hispanics/Latinos interested in medicine and science characterized by mutual respect and unconditional support.


Whether you identify as White, Black, Brown, Latino, Latina, Hispanic, Latinx, Indigenous, or Dreamer, we must focus on what unites us, and, learn from each other, lift each other, and build a stronger community to #endthedisparities.


Let’s be change agents. Let’s become role models ourselves.

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