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Celebrating cultural representation in veterinary medicine

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Article
dvm360dvm360 October 2023
Volume 54
Issue 10
Pages: 16

A veterinary technician in the Latinx community shares her personal experiences, the importance of diversity, and encouragement for her fellow animal care professionals

Veterinary technician content is sponsored by Elanco for the month of October.

As we entered National Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, the scenery where I gathered my thoughts could not be more unique. I wrote this from the mountains of Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Guatemala, 8000 ft above sea level. The population of Todos Santos is predominantly indigenous, of Mayan descent, most of whom still speak Mam (the Mayan language) and wear traditional clothing. I just finished a week-long campaign with Veterinarians International in partnership with the Global Alliance for Animals and People. I’ve come to this region several times, but this year was particularly special because it was our first time here since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our last trip in 2018 celebrated the completion of a 10-year project, in which we established systems to ensure pet health—and consequently, human health—through access to veterinary care, vaccinations, and medicines that are not readily available in this remote location. I have a connection to this community that centers me. I’ve even picked up a few Mam phrases along the way: “Wen bi Feliza,” means “My name is Feliza,” “Tintay,” means “How are you?” “Wena,” means “Goodbye,” “Wix,” means “Cat,” and “Chien,” means “Dog.”

Lopez with her official veterinary technician specialist certificate.

Lopez with her official veterinary technician specialist certificate.

This year, I have reflected on my career path, my culture, and my future as a leader. I currently hold many titles in various organizations. I won’t bore you with the list, but when I think about them, the unique common denominator is my background. I am a licensed veterinary technician and a veterinary technician specialist in emergency and critical care. I am also Latinx/Latina and a first-generation American.

Early on in my veterinary career, I didn’t notice the gap in representation in my profession. It was not only the diverse clientele I served but there were also many times I connected with and understood their stories that made me realize how important my role is in veterinary medicine. My parents immigrated from Ecuador when they were young and instilled qualities and values in my sisters and me; we are all dedicated, motivated, and responsible, for example. But they also instilled some cooler ones, such as our love of traveling and, of course, animals.

From left, Andrés, Cristina, and Lopez take a group photo on the last day of the campaign in Todos Santos. Cristina is wearing traditional clothing and Andrés is wearing traditional pants.

From left, Andrés, Cristina, and Lopez take a group photo on the last day of the campaign in Todos Santos. Cristina is wearing traditional clothing and Andrés is wearing traditional pants.

During this trip, I met a young girl from California named Cristina. She is a first-generation American and her parents are from Todos Santos. Cristina’s half-brother Andrés is the paraveterinary professional we have collaborated with over the past decade. Andrés was born and raised in Todos Santos and still resides there. Cristina wants to apply to veterinary school and is proud of the work her half-brother has accomplished in Todos Santos.

On the first day of our campaign, I could tell she wanted to help, so I gave her a VI scrub top and told her “Ponte las pilas,” or “Get your batteries,” and guided her through her first veterinary field campaign. We spoke Spanish, laughed at the power outage challenges of the day, survived a fainting spell over witnessing her first canine uterus, and connected over the stories of our parents and ancestors. Cristina is kind, smart, and a hard worker; she reminds me of a younger version of myself. Our interaction was important to me because it reminded me of my “why.”

Veterinarians International

From left, Eylem, a photographer/ Veterinarians International volunteer; Lopez; Shelly Hartman, LVT, Veterinarians International volunteer; and Scarlett Magda, BSc, DVM, founder and president of Veterinarians International, in the Todos Santos gymnasium. They are holding a family of puppies that came in for a checkup and vaccines.

When I started in the industry, I wished I had a mentor who looked like me, sounded like me, and understood the culture I was raised in. I continue to push forward in every role I take on because representation is important to me. I often say to my Latinx/Hispanic colleagues, “If we don’t see someone who looks like us in our dream job, then it is our job to be that person.” This year, we focus on the themes of prosperity, power, and progress, recognizing the significant strides of our people in the economic, political, and social growth of the United States.

I celebrate this month with the following message: Mi gente, somos poderosos, somos los sueños más salvajes de nuestras antepasadas. ¡Sigue adelante, porque si se puede! This means: My people, we are powerful, we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams. Keep moving forward, we can do this!

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