National Hispanic Heritage Month with Gabriela Perez

Gabriela Perez

The UCI School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with highlights of students and faculty of Hispanic and Latin heritage.  

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Originally started as a heritage celebration week in 1968, the observation was expanded to a full month in 1988. The celebration starts mid-month because Sept. 15 marks the independence anniversary of five countries: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. It is followed by Mexico’s Independence Day on Sept. 16 and Chile’s on Sept. 18.  

Gabriela Perez, a first-generation student in UCI’s PharmD program, is featured in this Q&A as she shares her family’s Mexican background and offers advice to other Latinos in academia.

Q: Tell us where you grew up and a little about your family. Were your parents or any other family members in health care or the sciences?

I was born and raised in Oxnard, CA. Both my parents migrated from Mexico and labored in the fields up and down the southwest. Neither my mother nor my father had the luxury of attending school; however, they were my first teachers because they taught me the value of hard work, caring, and dedication to achieve my goals. I will be the first in my family with a doctoral degree.

Q: How did your heritage or ethnicity influence your interest in pharmacy?

From a young age, I was always my parents’ translators, especially when it came to doctor’s appointments and picking up prescriptions. In these encounters, I noticed how important it was for health professionals to have a good relationship and communication with their patients since most information can get lost in translation. The need for bilingual providers in healthcare became obvious to me. Although I was in my teens, I also started helping my grandparents translate their medications and reading the pharmacists’ and doctors’ notes on how and when to take them. I was pleased to help others, and that is when I decided to pursue my career in pharmacy.

Q: What advice would you have for other young people today who are interested in either pharmacology or pharmacy?

I used to think that I could do things independently just because I was too shy and embarrassed to ask anyone for help, which affected me. Therefore, my advice for anyone, in general, would be to keep going and never give up even when you think you cannot do it anymore. Seek help if you’re having a hard time in classes or going through personal issues, and always make time to be with family.

Q: How can UCI and SPPS continue to develop our diversity, equity, and inclusion practices for Hispanic or Latino/Latina students?

In undergrad, I never really heard of any clubs, so I would say having a “Latinx in STEM” or a similar club to meet other people with relatable upbringings and backgrounds.  

Q: What is your favorite Hispanic tradition, dish, or destination, and why?

My favorite Hispanic tradition would have to be how we celebrate Christmas. I love the fact that all my family gets together on Christmas Eve and cooks many dishes. Some of my favorite dishes that we cook are posole, buñuelos, champurrado, arroz con leche, and of course many kinds of tamales. Throughout the night, we play Loteria, tell stories and do our secret Santa. Once it is almost midnight, we count down, and we all hug and celebrate, and the party continues until the next day. Family is everything.

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