A ride-share during Hispanic Heritage Month charged my trajectory .
It happened on my way to a new dentist social held through the local dental society. I am very social and extroverted by nature, so I decided to take a ride-share and enjoy the evening. I grew up in a large Mexican family with lots of love and lots of chaos, and so for me, social distancing has been very difficult and at times depressing. As I waited outside my apartment complex, I realized that my pick up location was totally off. Frantically, I tried to set the new location but the ride-share sent me a totally new driver.
I hopped into the car, which was an older bluish-grey sedan, that was kept very tidy. “Hello!” said my driver, a middle-aged man wearing a medical-grade blue mask. “Hi…” I responded as I scooted inside. There was a clear plastic sign hanging from the passenger seat In the car, with hand sanitizer and COVID-19 precautions. As my driver made small talk, I picked up on an accent but couldn’t pinpoint from where.
I asked how his day was going, he said “well,” and I was his last ride. He began to share more about his ride-share driving experience. He was new to driving for this app. Previously he worked in construction, but when his foreman was afflicted with COVID, he lost his steady construction jobs and decided to give ride-share a try. In true investigative journalism fashion, I probed further and asked if he was happy. The driver said he was! He had great ratings, could set his own hours…and… paused…he was making more money as well, he said! I felt happy that he was thriving in this new job that allowed for a better quality of life.
As I let my guard down, he apologized and explained that he didn’t know I was Mexican. We had this entire conversation in Spanish. We were approaching my destination and he asked what I did. As he was dropping me off, I shared that I was a dentist. We said our goodbyes, but before he drove off he stopped, paused, and rolled down the window to yell in excitement, “Mija ECHELE ganas porque necesitamos mas de nosotros en medicina!” (Keep pushing forward because we need more people who look like us in healthcare!)
“Mija heche le ganas porque necesitamos mas de nosotros en medicina!” (Keep pushing forward because we need more people who look like us in healthcare!).Driver’s comment when he realized I was a dentist after a ride-share during Hispanic Heritage Month
That chance conversation made me feel over the moon the entire weekend. I still think about that boost of encouragement from a complete stranger.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently showed an increase of about 20 percent in the U.S. Hispanic/Latin American population. Despite the increasing number of Hispanic students enrolled in college, in higher education Hispanics only make up 6 percent of dentists and 4 to 10 percent of faculty at dental education schools.
Despite working in private practice, I make it a point to show up part time in academia as well, so the next generation of dentists see that there are people who look like them, and have faced similar cultural barriers. Also, so patients know that there are providers that can help them overcome language barriers, and focus on preventative care and education.
Here is how you can help during Hispanic Heritage Month:
- Support and visit Hispanic and Latin owned businesses like restaurants, breweries, plant shops, and clothing companies
- Immerse yourself in Hispanic culture by learning how to cook a traditional dish, play a game, listen to new music, or learn a new dance.