I knew coming into vet school that it was going to be a special place to create friendships. I was looking forward to making strong connections and sincerely thought they would be based on my veterinary interests and goals. I would wonder if I’d get along best with the students focusing on small animal medicine or with those who want to be practice owners. I should have some solidarity with people who have no idea what to do with a horse or perhaps those who worked as technicians for a while before veterinary school, right? Plot twist, I was wrong. My closest friendships didn’t actually belong to any of these groups and understanding the reasons for this warrants some background information.
I was born in Cuba and lived in Miami, Florida, since I was two years old. We only spoke Spanish in my household. Most, if not all (somewhere between 90 to 95 percent) of my friends growing up were Hispanic. This is something I didn’t consciously notice until I moved to Gainesville, Florida (population: 57 percent Caucasian, 22 percent African American, and 10 percent Hispanic).
The first big culture shock I experienced after moving was in regards to food. Needless to say, there are no real Cuban restaurants in Gainesville, which is something you’d find at every street corner in Miami. The second shock happened when school began. I quickly realized that I spoke way more “Spanglish” than I thought. If you’re not familiar, this is term that refers to when a person mixes both English and Spanish in the same sentence. While speaking with my classmates, I noticed I had to stop and actually think of the English translation to certain words I was accustomed to saying in Spanish. This made some of my new friendships feel forced or unnatural. Everyone I usually spoke to before understood at least a bit of Spanish. It was an adjustment that made me naturally gravitate towards those who understood my jokes, traditions, and why I needed a guava pastelito so bad!
Moving away from home and the Hispanic hub that is Miami, made me realize the community I feel the most connected with is the Hispanic one. I am proud to identify the most with my culture above all other life experiences. Sadly, this is an extremely underrepresented population in veterinary medicine. That said, there are programs underway that aim to provide resources for minority pre-vet students and I am proud to be a small part of it. The pre-vet advisor at the University of Florida is creating a project titled “Underrepresented No More,” which will hopefully launch in August. This program will give minorities the chance to get advice on how to get into veterinary school from people who actually look like them.
I am also very excited to see how social media is playing a positive role for the Latinx community and have connected with a few individuals through it. A newly formed Instagram page @LatinxVet has allowed for many people to connect and get to know other students worldwide. I am thankful to have found a group of friends who understand my struggles and experiences and only wish that in the future we can be better represented so everyone is able to find their community. The best thing about this group is how we all just gravitated together and created a home away from home.