A Mexican who crossed the border as an undocumented migrant is now at the forefront of medical research in the United States.
Alfredo Quiñones Hinojosa, 49, has come a long way from migrant farm hand three decades ago to world-renowned neurosurgeon, operating on 250 brains a year at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.
Dr. Q — as he is affectionately known — is also the co-founder of the neurosurgery foundation BRAIN where he and an international team are working to find a cure to cancer. Supported by massive federal funding, the aim is to reach the goal by 2028 when cancer is expected to become the world’s biggest killer.
The team’s research focuses on the brain, which Quiñones believes is an unexplored frontier and might hide the cause and cure to many chronic diseases. Their work involves finding molecular motors that move cancer cells, manipulating stem cells and developing new techniques to remove cancerous tumors.
Born in the small community of Sinaloa near Mexicali, Baja California, Quiñones crossed the border in 1987, aged 19. His plan was to find work and send money back to his parents to help raise his four younger siblings.
“I didn’t have money to pay a coyote [people smuggler] and I knew it was dangerous because an uncle who crossed disappeared . . . but I managed to cross the border,” Quiñones recalled.
In the United States, Quiñones found work as a day laborer outside Fresno, California, picking cotton, beans and corn. His intention was to stay two years before returning to Mexico. But his plans changed.
“. . . I looked at myself and saw that I’d been here for two years and I hadn’t achieved anything and that I couldn’t go back with my tail between my legs . . . .” Quiñones explained.
He started studying English, found work at a railway company and eventually got a scholarship to study psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Later he completed his medical studies at Harvard.
Quiñones attributes it all to “destiny.”
“I think that life has put me on this path for three reasons. First to seek a cure to cancer. Two, to give hope to families of all the patients who often don’t have any and number three, to change the world . . . .”
Quiñones — now a U.S. citizen — is considered both an exemplary migrant and an example to other Mexicans who migrated to the U.S. at a young age, known as “dreamers.” So resonant is his story that a Disney movie, with Brad Pitt playing the lead, is in the works.
While preferring to stay out of political issues, Quiñones did allude to the proposed border wall that would make it more difficult for aspiring migrants — such as he had been — to cross the border, saying, “Our foundation tries to build bridges with the rest of the world.”
Source: Milenio (sp)