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Undocumented Farm Worker Becomes Brain Surgeon

Vida en el Valle, News Feature, Jennie Rodrguez Posted: Jul 21, 2008

FRESNO -- Good things don't necessarily come to those who wait, but rather to those who persist and work hard.

That's the credence of Dr. Alfredo Quiones-Hinojosa, a Johns Hopkins University neurosurgeon who started his education at San Joaquin Delta College and whose work is followed on the ABC hospital documentary series 'Hopkins.'

doctorThe once undocumented farm laborer now also directs Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center's brain tumor surgery program and leads research on the role of stem cells in brain tumors and brain cancer.

"I feel I am paying back to this society and this country for all the opportunities I was given," Quiones-Hinojosa, 40, said.

"The world will give you the best, if you give the world your best," said the father of three children named Olivia, 3, David Juan, 7 and Gabriel, 9.

Quiones-Hinojosa, now a resident in Bel Air, Md., certainly tried his best to overcome a life of poverty. He immigrated illegally from Mexicali, Baja California, Mxico, with his parents when he was 19 years old in the mid-1980s to Fresno in search of a better life. Quinones-Hinojosa was a farm laborer in the Central Valley, while living in a dilapidated truck camper for the first year.

Quiones-Hinojosa and his family moved from Fresno to Stockton after about a year where he continued working as a farm laborer in San Joaqun County before eventually taking a job loading railroad freight cars.

In spite of those conditions, "it was the beginning of an exciting life," Quiones-Hinojosa said in a telephone interview. He had just completed two back-to-back, six-hour brain surgeries. It was around midnight in Baltimore.

He wanted more for his life -- the American dream, he said. Whatever that was, he knew farm labor wasn't it.

Quinoes-Hinojosa enrolled in English classes at San Joaqun Delta College and soon thereafter began taking general education courses.

"In Stockton, is where it all came together."

Stockton was the beginning of his journey to medicine, permanent residence and marriage.

While at Delta, the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 granted him permanent amnesty into the country. There, he also met his wife Anna, who attended the community college, as well.

A few years later, he received a scholarship and was accepted into University of California, Berkeley, where he developed a passion for science. Upon graduating with honors from Berkeley in 1994, Quiones-Hinojosa moved on to Harvard Medical School and again graduated cum laude in 1999, a year early. He was 31 years old and headed to his residency at University of California, San Francisco.

A south Stockton resident, Marta Hinojosa, his aunt, remembers him as a perfectionist during his childhood. "When he had homework essays, he used to have me type them for him, because he always wanted his homework neat," she said.

"We all feel very proud, because we never believed he would reach this capacity," said Hinojosa. "He will continue arriving at high levels to place Latinos in a high place, so no one can say that we don't have that capacity."

Quiones-Hinojosa doesn't give much thought to the politics surrounding immigration. "I spend most of my time, literally, in people's brains. I don't really think much about anything else," he said.

But, in regard to immigration, he would like to be a positive example of how immigrants contribute to this nation: "How can I make it better for people in the United States, so when people think about immigrants they think about someone at Johns Hopkins saving lives?"

Related Articles:

Mexican Middle Class Fuels Ascendance of Greater Mexico

Criminal Charges Filed Against Immigrants at Unprecedented Rate

Mayans Find Guiding Light into Western Medicine

Diversity Emergency in Californias Health Care Work Force


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