Posted in Insightful

Humble Beginnings: An Immigrant Story

Watching the Netflix Series called The Surgeon’s Cut inspired me to write this piece. It was when it tackled Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa’s story which captured my attention. Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa is a top neurosurgeon in Mayo Clinic who graduated from Harvard University. Dr Quinones is from Mexicali, Mexico and at the age of 19 years, has decided to cross the border to the United States of America. From his humble beginnings in Mexico, crossing the border to the USA without documents, working as a weed puller at a cotton field, a cleaner at a railroad to an excellent neurosurgeon, he is a force to be reckoned with.

As he pulled the weeds from the cotton fields, Dr. Quinones spoke to his cousin who also left school to cross the border and told him his dream, “I really want to go to school and learn how to speak English.” Dr. Quinones’ cousin said, “what are you talking about? What do you mean you wanna go to school? This is your future. All of us have come to this country. All of us have come as braceros, as migrant farm workers, and we work here and we’re blessed to have a job. And this is your future. You’re going to spend the rest of your life working as a migrant farm worker.” Those words reverberated into his mind. Hurt and still optimistic, he made a clear decision at that point not to look back at that moment and decided to move forward, no matter what. He left the cotton fields to work at a railway, became a welder and eventually became a supervisor. At the same time, he was learning English at a night school. During those times, there were legislations in the USA that allowed migrant farm workers to begin to work legally. By the time he went to Harvard Medical School, he was already in the pathway towards becoming an American citizen. He went from harvest to Harvard in less that seven years. The same hands that take tumors out of the brain from people from all over the world, are the same hands that were picking weeds from cotton fields not long ago.

As an immigrant myself, I’ve encountered arduous challenges when I immigrated to Canada. Immigration teaches you a skill that you seldom learn in school: resilience. One of the greatest challenges that an immigrant needs to conquer is to learn to believe in one’s self. Sometimes we encounter moments that makes us feel inferior to the rest of the world. We would always encounter such questions as, “Where are you from?” And one will say proudly, “I am from this or that,” and then you will get a reply such as ,“Oh, you’re from ________?”, “You speak good English!” or “You’re way too smart to be a ______.” These remarks oftentimes are very stereotypical questions and are impactful to other people. Not that we’re being too sensitive, for that matter. We are already struggling to adapt and adjust to a new country, we don’t need such tactlessness. What we really need is understanding that our culture is different from others, we are trying to learn the language and we are working towards pursuing an opportunity that happened to knock our doors and brought us to another soil. But that’s not always the case, brace yourself because these remarks can be a part of your daily lives. Never flinch.

While everyone tries to find their way into figuring out what they want to do when they landed in a new country, self-awareness is imperative. First, organize yourself as to what goals you are hoping to achieve for long term. Most of the time, we get sidetracked from our goals because we are in so much awe with our new environment and that alone limits our full potential. We can bounce from one job into the other, making more than what we’re earning from our country of origin but these are just minor accomplishments. In the long run, working two to three jobs could be exhausting with the addition of family responsibilities. It is not sustainable. Set yourself into planning for a long term career and cultivate community connections for tips and tweaks on how to be successful in a new country. Lastly, embrace gratitude and don’t forget your roots. Remember, you only get this opportunity once and it’s up to you to make the most out of it. Never flinch at any criticism about who you are or where you came from. Instead, utilize it as a tool to achieve those goals and keep on moving forward. We can’t change the fact where we came from, where we grew up, that some time ago, we had to work in the fields and start off with humble jobs to get by. However, we can change our future and work with our humble experiences to conquer the world.

So, what’s your story?


Filipino-Canadian. Lives in Ottawa, Ontario. Full time frontliner, part-time scribbler.

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