Hispanic Heritage Month: HSC family includes a diversity of cultures from Latin America, Caribbean nations 

October 13, 2021

By Diane Smith-Pinckney 

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Historically, when people think about Hispanic Americans, they picture Spain or Mexico, but their ancestral and cultural ties are as varied and vast as the Western Hemisphere. 

“Those cultures all have their nuances, we have some similarities. We all speak the same language, but even within the culture itself, those smaller cultures create diversity that sometimes is not recognized,” explained Desiree Ramirez, Senior Vice President & Chief Integrity Officer for the HSC Office of Institutional Integrity & Awareness. 

Ramirez, who is Panamanian American, said the broader Hispanic culture has commonalities and unique characteristics and traditions that are sources of pride for Mexican, Central American, Puerto Rican, and other Latino communities in the United States. 

“As similar as we are, we also have our differences,” said Ramirez. 

Those differences are also on display with the terms people used to describe their Hispanic roots, including Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx. 

“I have not used the term, ‘Latinx,”’ said Ramirez. “Afro-Latina is the term I like to use.” 

Ramirez said this term reflects the diasporas of the Hispanic and African American communities. 

Hispanic Heritage Month allows Latino communities to celebrate their diverse roots while connecting with others, Ramirez said. 

“The beauty of being in the United States is that you can identify however you feel makes you who you are,” she said. “I have been able to have the best of both worlds – I appreciate being able to be part of both cultures.” 

Members of the HSC Hispanic community shared their heritage and background to highlight Hispanic Heritage Month. 


Aurea Baez-Martinez

Academic Program Coordinator, Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine 

Describe your Hispanic Heritage:
I was born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Ponce is known as the Pearl of the South and commonly known by a saying that was adopted by former Mayor Rafael “Churumba” Cordero (RIP) which says “
Ponce es Ponce y lo demás es parking” (Ponce is Ponce and the rest is parking). Every time I heard a story of someone who left the island in order to have a better future it was somewhat disheartening, but now that I’m one of those people, I believe that I’m giving my family a better outcome due to having such a rich background.  “Boricua hasta en la luna” (Boricua even if I lived on the moon). 

Who has impacted you most in your career and how?
There are so many people who have impacted my career, starting with my parents. My dad supported my mom’s education so she could become the teacher she always wanted to be. He was a firm believer of being the best one could be and to follow your dreams. My husband also supported my dreams. I’m so proud of having such great role models in my family. 

Is diversity important in your career? Why?
It’s really important because as both someone who works with people in the medical field and has been a patient and family member of patients, we need to know that there are people who know what we go through. I know people who have suffered discrimination because they don’t speak a certain language well or because they show pride of the background they come from. There are people in all of the communities that we live in who are narrow-minded and we need to have a more open mind towards the challenges that we face. 

What is one health or education challenge in Latino communities that you would like addressed?
The ability of having people who understand and are willing to speak the language for those who are not able to or have problems with it. There are times when I am at a doctor’s office or at a store and I hear someone speak in Spanish. I try to engage them and either they are not willing to or are scared because of what their employer will do if they are seen speaking it. 

What is something about yourself that most people don’t know?
Even though I’m a huge fan of rock (my artist playlist includes The Beatles, Queen, Evanescence, and others), I still listen to salsa and merengue.  I’m not a good dancer, but sometimes I tend to stand up and dance a little when I hear a good salsa or merengue song. I sometimes sing out loud in the car on my way to work. 


Gabriel Ceceñas Salas, DO 

Emergency Medicine Resident – PGY2, TCOM Alum 

Describe your Hispanic Heritage: I was born and raised in a small town in northern Mexico. I moved to the United States when I was in high school with my family.   

Who has impacted you most in your career and how?
Growing up, my family always encouraged me to pursue higher education. They ensured that my success was a priority for me. When I got married before medical school, my wife was the most supportive person next to me, always pushing me to be the best version of myself.
  

Is diversity important in your career? Why?
Absolutely! In the emergency department, we must care for any person who walks through the doors. Having interactions with people from different backgrounds and points of view helps me deliver better care. Also, it is reassuring for Hispanic patients, and they feel more at ease, when I speak the same language as them. They know that I understand their culture and I can relate to them. Imagine, if we had the same level of connection with immigrants from Asia, the Middle East or Africa and fully understood their cultural choices?  

What is one health or education challenge in Latino communities that you would like addressed?
Education challenges due to representation. Health issues for Hispanics has continued to be diet and coordination of medical care with cultural remedies. I have witnessed firsthand the clash of the doctor counseling against information passed down from family members or other persons of the community and how that affects the overall care of the patient. Also, the cuisine of new Hispanic people continues to be similar to prior generations of farmers/laborers which contain high calories and fat. But for newer generations, who work in offices/sedentary jobs, this diet has caused our health to decrease.  

What is something about yourself that most people don’t know?
I love the outdoors and staying active. My kids are getting older and I am glad they are enjoying our camping trips together. I hope soon we can take more extended trips and eventually hike the Grand Canyon together. 


Diana Cervantes, MS, MPH, DrPH

Assistant Professor and Director of the School of Public Health Master of Public Health (MPH) graduate studies program in Epidemiology 

Describe your Hispanic Heritage: Mexican-American 

Who has impacted you most in your career and how?
Without a doubt my parents – they came to the United States to further their education and provide their family the opportunities they were not given. I always observed the hard work they put into everything they did and took advantage of every opportunity they were given in the United States. They consistently stressed the importance of higher education and that highly influenced my decision to become a professor.   

Is diversity important in your career? Why?
Definitely, diversity equates to better representation which leads to equity. As a public health professional and educator, diversity is foundational to gains in the population health on every level 

What is one health or education challenge in Latino communities that you would like addressed?
The largest educational and healthcare challenge is having Latinx representation at all levels: staff, clinicians, professors, administrators – health care and educational institutions should be reflective of the populations they serve to best address current and future challenges. Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the population in Texas.  

What is something about yourself that most people don’t know?
That my favorite food is chicken fried steak with LOTS of cream gravy – that’s right, I’m Latina but my Southern roots run deep having lived most of my life in Texas!  


Jaime G. González, DrPH, MSSW, MSHA

Chief Business Development Officer, Health Plan Alliance 

Describe your Hispanic Heritage:
My father was born in Monterey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico; and, my father’s family migrated north to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas when he was a child.  He grew up in Mercedes, TX. My mother is a Mexican also and was born in Fort Worth, TX, on the northside of the city where she was raised. All of four of my grandparents are from Mexico and all of my great-grandparents are from Spain. I consider myself Latino of Mexican and Spanish descent. 

Who has impacted you most in your career and how?
My parents. They gave me a great foundation on which I built my career. They taught me the importance of integrity, honesty, commitment, and being a servant leader.  

Is diversity important in your career? Why?
Most definitely! There’s so much I can say about this! Bottom line, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) are the cornerstone of my approach to doing business and how I see the world! The differences each of us possess are what make us collectively strong and vibrant. I am currently spearheading the creation of the DE&I strategy and workgroup for my organization in collaboration with the numerous regional health plans that comprise the association. 

What is one health or education challenge in Latino communities that you would like addressed?
One health disparity that greatly impacts the Hispanic Latino community is the paucity of Latino/Hispanic healthcare professionals to care for and treat our community. For this reason, I am a staunch advocate for increasing the number of Latinos/Hispanics pursuing education in the healthcare professions. Additionally, my wife and I created a scholarship fund – The Gloria J. Gonzalez Memorial Scholarship Fund for the Advancement of Latinos in the Healthcare Professions – to enhance the number of Latino/Hispanic healthcare professionals to serve our community. The fund was created in partnership with the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas (Fort Worth Chapter) and serves to provide scholarships to Latino/Hispanic student pursuing careers in the healthcare professions. The fund was named in memory of my youngest sister, Gloria, who was pursuing a career in medicine before her untimely death in 1988. She was tragically killed in an automobile accident six weeks before graduating with her undergraduate degree in Biology. Her dream was to become a pediatrician. 

What is something about yourself that most people don’t know?
I am an avid baker! If I could have a second career, I would love to own a bakery and share my special Latino/Hispanic culinary treats that my mamá taught me to bake!
 


Annabel Luna-Smith, MS, CHW

Mobile Health Coordinator  

Describe your Hispanic Heritage:
I was born and raised in Venezuela. I’m 100% Hispanic!  My Hispanic heritage has taken a crucial part in all aspects of my life; the food I crave, the music I enjoy the most, my accent and the way I talk… Venezuela is a beautiful country with people full of life. We are high-spirited, love music and dancing, food, and our family and friends!  

Who has impacted you most in your career and how?
Two health care leaders in the Fort Worth community who recognized my innate talents before I could even see them myself. Those two people made very impactful contributions to the turns my career has taken. 

Is diversity important in your career? Why?
Yes, very. As we meet the community where they are, patients and families want to receive services from someone they feel they can trust.  This is easier if we look like them, speak their language, and understand their culture.   

What is one health or education challenge in Latino communities that you would like addressed?
I believe Hispanics are just as capable of achieving excellence in education as any other culture. In my opinion, the biggest challenge is recognizing that we can. Inspiring the youth to not give up is my passion; if they stay focused, and press on, they can achieve great things! I think we need more Hispanics in various fields and careers to mentor the younger generation.  

What is something about yourself that most people don’t know?
I played in my high school marching band and was the only girl on the drum line. 


Desiree Ramirez

Senior Vice President & Chief Integrity Officer for the HSC Office of Institutional Integrity & Awareness 

Describe your Hispanic Heritage: My parents are born and raised in Panama. My grandfather is Afro-Colombian. I also have the Caribbean side. I have a lot of the best of everything. My Hispanic side is based on my father and his family. My father is a descendent of escaped slaves from Colombia and my grandmother was indigenous to the country which brings another part of the culture to me as well. 

Who has impacted you most in your career and how?
Patricia Costanza, a former boss in New York City. She was the first person who took me as someone who she wanted to ensure that I could progress in my career. She was the first person to help me see I could progress in my career. The other person who influenced me was my grandmother who worked in health care. She was the first person to show me there were other aspects of health care that I could be impactful.  
 

Is diversity important to your career? Why?
Diversity is important to my career because it is about fairness and treating every person with respect, because I bring my own experience to the office every day it makes me very empathic to what others may also be experiencing.
 

What is one health or education challenge in Latino communities that you would like addressed?
I would like to see us push the message: “Support your child in getting a PhD. Support your child in getting a doctorate.” There is more out there and I think because we are immigrants to this country and we get a taste of The American Dream, we say, “It’s enough.” We need to push the younger generation and let them experience.   

What is something about yourself that most people don’t know?
They don’t know I am Latino at all. They see my last name and they make a lot of assumptions about my last name. The first assumption is that Ramirez is my husband’s last name. This is my maiden name. I am proud of my family and my background. 


Emmanuel Rodriguez, MBA

PharmD Candidate

Describe your Hispanic Heritage:
I was raised by Mexican American parents. My mother’s family migrated to the United States from Mexico and my father’s parents are both American and Mexican. 

Who has impacted you most in your career and how?
I believe my family has had the most impact in my career. They have always motivated me to pursue a career that continuously taught me new concepts every day.   

Is diversity important in your career? Why?
Diversity is one of the most important values for my career because it fuels my drive to ensure others who do not easily have access to education receive the necessary tools to become successful, whether it be in life or in health.  

What is one health or education challenge in Latino communities that you would like addressed?
I believe that some members of the Latino community may not have access to help address their health concerns in a proper way. Some members are Spanish-speaking only, which hinders their ability to fully comprehend the severity of their illnesses.  

What is something about yourself that most people don’t know?
I did not learn how to speak English until I was about 6 years old. I learned English by socializing with friends in elementary school.

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