As I cringed and opened my email, my first reaction is the all too familiar “I must not be Mexican enough for their program.”
If you ever wondered what it is like to only be half…I reopen the calloused wounds of rejection from minority programs. It was the perfect program; exactly the kind of work I want to do as a clinical researcher, making the kind of changes I want to contribute to the world. I thought for sure as a dietetics major, I would present a unique opportunity for this northern hospital to diversify its research mentor program.
But despite my laundry list of accolades and good marks in clinical and pre-med classes, I am searching for another minimum wage summer job with salsa playing painfully in the background. This is not to say that there are other factors at play, but society has successfully trained me to shy away from applications that have a minority requirement despite not only being a first-generation Mexican-American, but also college student.
Clearly, the bootstraps mentality is not enough. You can’t talk about being a minority without exploring the unique experiences that transverse the stereotypes society expects. Never have I been deemed a fiery Latina ready to serve a silver bullet of tempered Spanish with flirty hips swaying and tantalizing tendrils of voluptuous hair.
Instead, my quiet demeanor only adds to the perception that I am a white lady; to be feared. I am called ma’am like a southern belle, born and reared. And yet, this is not the narrative I ever expected. It is so important that we stop expecting people to fit racially driven stereotypes. The field of dietetics is somewhere around 95% white female. While my aim is not to dismiss individual stories, we must build up the people who are going into this field whether they are white or not, female or not.
And yet, when we talk about healthier options, our discussions are riddled with white norms. We are replacing unhealthy “white foods” first. Not only does that spells dismissal for thousands of people needing guidance from registered dietitians, but in an instant a child is taught you don’t eat like me, so you don’t deserve the same health as me.
Doctors, firefighters, and even dentists persuade children to grow up and make waves in their field. They persuade them to grow up to be big and strong, brave, and have a healthy smile. When will minority children reach the collegiate classroom with their own stories of dietitians who helped them, who told them they too could grow up to be movers and shakers in the field? But wait. Maybe that’s not it at all. Maybe they didn’t see the STEM in dietetics. Maybe they missed all the pre-med classes, the clinical training, and understanding of medical diagnosis.
It doesn’t seem as far-fetched as I consider a recent blog that cried out for doctors to have nutrition training when we have an ENTIRE field of professions armed with their evidence-based practice to change perceptions about food.
For now, I will brush off my recent rejection letter. I might indulge in a pint of ice cream-moderation of course. But, I will hold onto my Mexican Bootstraps. I will continue to seek out opportunities to be a mover and a shaker in my field, in my research, and in my future practice. But tonight I will wonder, maybe if I had been named Guadalupe then things would be different.