Being Mexican-American has always been an area of extreme pride for me; it means that I can sit down and watch news on Facebook from both Telemundo and NBC, I can enjoy both tamales and cheeseburgers and I can listen to Selena and Beyoncé.
Growing up, I loved telling people that I was Mexican, and to me, it was an enormous source of self-confidence because it meant that I was unique — I was special. But through all of that, there was a stinging reminder that was constantly floating around in my brain: I had never actually been to Mexico. I was born in the border town of Laredo, Texas, but have lived all my life in Northwest Pennsylvania. Mexico was always the place I’d refer to as the “homeland,” but I’d never been to the country my family is from.
Over the course of the final few months of spring semester last year, I was in contact with members of the Vision for the Poor, an eye care organization that helps clinics and hospitals in Central and South America through monetary and equipment donations, and by sending doctors to the clinics. We remained in contact until I was finally ready to tell them that I was ready to accept a photography internship they were willing to offer me, except there was one small problem: I had absolutely no idea where I would be going.
I don’t know what I did to deserve the stars aligning for me, but eventually I was offered an internship for 10 weeks at two clinics in two cities in, you guessed it, Mexico.
While most of my friends were off on internships at magazines and newspapers around the country, I was off doing my own thing at both Instituto de la Visión in Montemorelos and at the Instituto Mexicano de Oftalmología (IMO) in Querétaro. Each day was different than the last, and I got to photograph surgeries, patients, public healthcare clinics and got to go on travels to other cities around Mexico as well.
The first five weeks of my internship were more of a photo editing internship, as the clinic already had hundreds, if not thousands, of photos that they wanted me to go through and edit so they could use them for advertising and to send to foundations like Vision for the Poor. While I spent most of my time editing, I also got to go into the operating room and see a lot of eye surgeries. Even though the patient is conscious throughout the entire operation, they are extremely woozy when everything is finished. One of the great things about cataract surgery is that it often only last about 20 to 25 minutes, so doctors can treat a larger number of patients than other surgeries.
The second five weeks was spent in Querétaro, a city three hours northwest of Mexico City. While I was there, I was able to participate in two different public healthcare programs: one in a park in the city and another in a tiny village 45 minutes away. During my travels I learned a common misconception about eye care among Latin Americans is that the doctors will actually take out your eye during the procedure, which is why a lot of people are skeptical of getting their eyes checked. While the ages of the patients at both clinics varied from just a few months old up to 95, the majority were above the age of 50. The program in the park was a joint effort between the city of Querétaro and local healthcare organizations to provide healthcare to those over 50.
In the photo to the right, doctors talk to patients and go through a basic pre-screening exam in Alfajayucan, the village outside of Querétaro. While we got lost a couple times getting to the village and back to the clinic from the village, we were still able to make it on time for the program. The mayor of the town also visited, and she told those in attendance how a partnership with IMO would vastly increase healthcare in the village.
Being in Mexico this summer was an absolutely incredible experience and not just because I was there for the first time in my life. The internship was totally unique and I was doing something completely different each and every day. The warmth and hospitality of the Mexican people was infectious and it was so nice to have people come up to you and talk to you as if you were a local. I was surrounded by a culture that is often misrepresented in Western media, and the 10 weeks I spent there are ones I won’t forget for a long time. Being able to travel opened my eyes to the beauty of the country, and there are photos of the cities I visited in the gallery above.
This summer, I was able to go Mexico for the first time, and while my circumstances of going weren’t quite what one would think of as a typical photojournalistic internship, being able to say I went home makes it all worth it.