Our interviewee today is Fernando Barahona, originally from a small town located in the Sierra of Ecuador called Guaranda.
Can you tell our readers how you achieved the American dream?
“It all started with my father. When I was only seven years old, I went through a family separation, because he emigrated to the U.S. to work and support us financially. When I turned twenty, my father stopped helping us and I had to be responsible for my mother and younger sister. While in my fifth semester at the School of Medicine at Central University of Ecuador, in the city of Quito, I realized that my family problems and lack of money were truncating my dream of becoming a doctor. That’s when I decided to come to the U.S. with the firm conviction of bringing my mother and sister in search of a better future.
The beginning was very difficult; I came to live with nine other people in the same house, and sometimes I was not sure if the next day I would have enough food. Sometimes, I felt desperate, wondering if there would be an end to my situation. I even applied for military service thinking about the life insurance it offered. Little by little, my work situation improved, and I did as much work as I could: planting trees, landscaping, mechanics, pushing carts in supermarkets, placing food on shelves, and in factories. I worked more than 80 hours a week and saved enough money to bring my mother and sister. Then, my mother, in her generosity and wisdom, advised me to return to Ecuador to finish my studies, which I did. It was complicated, because I knew how much my mother worked to help me in Ecuador. I worked shifts in a clinic at night and studied at the same time, to make her load less heavy. I graduated but then realized that earning a salary of one hundred and thirty dollars a month would not go far in my country. That’s when I once again set eyes on this great country. However, it was not easy since validating a medical degree is a long and expensive process. Many told me it was impossible, that Hispanic doctors took up to five years to pass the exams, that I should go back to the university here or pay for a prep course. I researched the costs and realized that it was not within my reach. Then, I started using the Ellis program at the Stamford Public Library to improve my English.
I applied to many hospitals, waiting for a stretcher job, drawing blood or even cleaning. I was willing to do anything to put my feet inside a hospital. One day, I was called from the Danbury Hospital, where I had applied for a job and in the end, after they saw my studies, they gave me a better-paying job at the laboratory. It was there that I met Dr. Juan Merayo, who gave me a clearer idea of what I should do. He was a light at the end of the tunnel. As a doctor originally from the Dominican Republic, he had managed to validate his diploma here.
After saving enough money for the revalidation process, I decided to quit and take the necessary time to study and pass the exams that were supposedly impossible to pass. It took me nine months. In that period, more than ever, I discovered that when people say ‘you can’t,’ ‘your language is not good,’ ‘there are many waiting for the same opportunity,’ ‘you are Hispanic’ and other negative comments, etc. … it is up to you to take all that and turn it into determination. I thought about my mother, who gave everything for me, and that gave me the strength and the will to achieve my goal.
I passed the necessary exams, and that was when I realized that this was not the most difficult stage. Every year, about forty-two thousand doctors from all over the world apply, but there are only nineteen thousand postgraduate positions, another bridge to achieve my dream. Add to that the fact that they tell you that you must send at least two hundred applications and each one costs money that I did not have. I made ten applications only and they called me from the prestigious Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. We were twenty-five new doctors, and I was the only Hispanic. I tried twice; I knew I had to stand out, but I also knew that I had to find a way to serve my people: those who only speak Spanish. Then I asked to be transferred to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.
Once I finished my graduate degree, Seton Hall University chose me to do a subspecialty. Today, I have a national certification in Internal Medicine, Infectious Diseases and HIV management. But what fills me with pride is that I opened my own practice here in the city of Stamford, to help those who only speak Spanish and many times, do not have the means to pay the high costs of a medical appointment. My dream of being a doctor from the beginning was to serve and to prove that in life, like in medicine, nothing is absolute, and that caused a change in all aspects, including the economic one. I will always thank my mother and family for their support.”
What would your final message be? “The American dream is current; it is difficult but not impossible. Based on study, work and determination, many dreams can become a reality.”
María Danniella Gutiérrez-Salem practiced law in Venezuela before going after her own American Dream and becoming a writer in the United States. She is also a licensed realtor, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 475-289-1461.
Caption: Fernando Barahona with his mother, Cira Gavilanez