DVIDS – News – First-generation medical student draws strength from his Hispanic roots


“My parents left Mexico and came to the United States with only $13 in their pockets,” says Army Second Lieutenant Luis Contreras Zarate, a fourth-year student at the School of Uniformed Services Medicine. University. “Hispanic Heritage Month is especially important to me because of [them]. They have always been my biggest role models. »

His parents knew it would be difficult for their children to succeed in Mexico, according to Contreras Zarate, so they hatched a plan to come to the United States. Her father would stay in Mexico to earn as much money as possible to help with the family’s transition, and her mother would go to the United States first, followed by Contreras Zarate and her two sisters soon after.

“Even though Mexico is a beautiful country with a great culture, they wanted more for their children,” says Contreras Zarate.

Until her husband could arrive in America, Contreras Zarate’s mother worked two jobs while being a single parent with three children. “I watched my mom work hard for years, balancing grueling jobs, being a great mom, and trying to assimilate into American culture,” recalls Contreras Zarate. “Through it all, she and my dad made it all work.”

Once his father arrived in the United States, he worked from sunrise to sunset doing various odd jobs such as gardening, painting, and roof repairs while putting himself through trade school and community college at night, determined to provide a better life for his children. He will later become an HVAC technician. These shining examples of hard work inspired Contreras Zarate to push himself and work diligently to pursue his medical education.

“One thing resonates really deeply with me about Hispanic culture and it’s the perseverance of its people and their compassion, their courage and their determination,” he adds, recalling the strength his parents possessed that made them pushed to implement their plan. It also showed Contreras Zarate that he doesn’t need to come from a privileged background to succeed. He saw that a person with the right motivation and a strong support system could come from a difficult background and be successful in life.

“Even though my parents had very little, they helped their children as much as they could. We also had traditional family values ​​tied to our lives, such as honesty, kindness, responsibility, faith, perseverance, service, integrity, and hard work. My father helped me financially when I needed help with school. There were always family, friends and neighbors who helped our family in different ways.

“It’s something that the Hispanic community does very well,” continues Contreras Zarate. “We’ll feed you, we’ll celebrate your accomplishments, we’ll be there if things don’t quite go well and we’ll always have your back. This sense of community is very strong and connects me to my roots, my family and my faith. It also gives me the ability to look at the world through multiple lenses.

He notes that it took five years to go through the immigration process and become full U.S. citizens, but “throughout that time [my parents] always focused on education, hard work, opportunity and doing our best.

“[My sisters and I] were the first in our family to go to university and obtain degrees,” says Contreras Zarate. “I was the first in my family to join the army.”

A better life

When Contreras Zarate’s parents came to America, they found themselves in a new environment with a new way of life. “It was exciting, but also scary,” he adds. “They left home, started over and found success. I guess that’s basically what inspired me to join the military – that same spirit of adventure and the desire for a better quality of life. I felt exactly like that when I joined the army.

Contreras Zarate says he’s always challenged himself by doing different things, “whether it’s engineering, business, firefighting, sports medicine or [serving as an] EMT. And with each challenge I set myself, I felt pushed closer and closer to medicine and it made me want more.

He remembers that few of his peers went on to study. Many of them had to return to Mexico, take care of their families or take on numerous jobs. When he joined the military, however, Contreras Zarate recalled seeing a few Hispanic military personnel in uniform. “We’re not that many right now,” he thought at the time, “but we’re here, and it’s slowly getting better.”

He faced multiple challenges on his path to becoming a doctor, but Contreras Zarate was blessed with incredibly kind people who helped and guided him.

Although he had a full scholarship to a civilian medical school, Contreras Zarate says he chose USU because the values ​​of the military were strongly aligned with his own.

“I realized that I wanted to study military medicine because of all the core values ​​of the Army. They remind me of my culture. That’s why he appeals to me so much. Ultimately, the school I chose was because of the alignment of those military values ​​with my own values, and USU fit the bill. Yes, I could have taken the easier route and gone to medical school near my home and had all the benefits. But I wanted more, something I felt the military could give me. So, like my parents, I took this leap… this huge leap into a new life.

He would eventually become a mentor in his own right, enjoying chatting with other Hispanic students who were considering a career in medicine. He reveled in their questions and the eagerness with which they sought advice. “Basically, they just wanted me to know that they were inspired by my efforts and felt they could do it too! Talking with them was very enriching.

And the advice of Contreras Zarate to these young Hispanic hopefuls who are considering a career in medicine? “Be open to the opportunities that come your way and use your peers, mentors, colleagues, and personal support system to help you grow and succeed.”

Looking back on his medical school journey, Contreras Zarate notes the perseverance and hard work instilled in him as determining factors in becoming a good doctor, with a large amount of gratitude as well.

“My parents inspired me to be proud of my identity and my heritage,” he says. “I do my best to represent myself, my family and my people in an honorable way. I also do that through my education and my achievements. When I see myself graduating in May, I remember the sacrifices my parents made. made to come to this country. It reminds me of the many low-paying jobs they had to do, and it reminds me of the family still in Mexico who didn’t have the opportunity to do what I’m doing today.

In conclusion, Contreras Zarate says, “I have tapped into all of this resilience, courage and strength while going through my own experiences and medical school journey. I work hard to honor my parents, my family and my community. My success is their success.

Date taken: 10.11.2022
Date posted: 17.10.2022 07:40
Story ID: 431443

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