My father is from Mexico and my mother is second generation Mexican-American. I have two older brothers and one older sister. Although I was born in the United States, I lived in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico until I was fifteen years old, and then I moved to El Paso, Texas to attend high school and college. My father worked in a very small town in Mexico near the border and was very proud of being Mexican. In fact, he never spoke English. He wanted me to grow up Mexican since all his other children were raised and educated in the U.S. For this reason, I attended school in Mexico until the 9th grade. I believe this was the most important development in my life, since I learned to appreciate my Mexican heritage.
I had a very tough time trying to adjust to the American educational system, because I did not speak English at all. Taking on this challenge, I was able to survive well enough to graduate with senior honors in English (I am proudest of this achievement), political science and history. Most of the difficulties I had in school had to do with the language barrier, since I was initially embarrassed to speak English due to my accent. I still feel more comfortable speaking Spanish than English.
I believe that people have underestimated my abilities throughout my life because I am Mexican-American. This continues unchanged and is a constant motivating force for me which I have learned to use to my advantage. There is a saying in Spanish, ”No hay mal que por bien no venga.” Loosely translated, this means that there is always something good that comes out of something we perceive as bad. I think of this saying whenever I think I have been wronged or something bad happens. This helps me see the good things that can come out of a bad situation.
When I was in high school, I was generally bored. I was a difficult student, always joking around and fighting. Teachers were annoyed with me but they couldn’t kick me out because, to their surprise, I did well in class. I believe school was too easy for me and that I was not challenged enough. The only classes I cared about were history and biology, and I hated mathematics. Although I never particularly liked it, I did learn to appreciate mathematics in college. Although I enjoyed my biology courses, I did not want to be a doctor like everyone else. My mentor at University of Texas, El Paso, Dr. Eppie Rael, was instrumental in showing me what research was all about when I was a sophomore in college. I liked research so much that I never stopped and after twenty years, I still enjoy working in the lab.
I am a full professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Texas (www.utep.edu), El Paso. I think of myself as a research scientist first and teacher second. As a scientist, I perform ”cutting edge” research, and train graduate and post-graduate students. I also teach undergraduate classes such as ”Introduction to Molecular and Cell Biology” and ”Advanced Immunology.” I would like to continue working in the area of molecular biology and immunology until I retire.
My advice to you is to find something you are really good at. This is probably an area that you pay more attention to because you like it so much. Never give up, especially if others do not think you can make it. I have never given up because I always knew I was better than others thought I was. In the end, all that really matters is that you believe in yourself.