Pablo Pedro: a sandal-wearing Indian at MIT. Pablo Pedro: a sandal-wearing Indian at MIT.

From a Oaxaca village to an MIT doctorate

'Uncultured Indian' is working on a doctorate in theoretical chemistry

The road from Tuxtepec, Oaxaca, to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for an indio huarachudo, a derogatory term that means an Indian wearing sandals, has been difficult but rewarding.

Today, Ricardo Pablo Pedro, 26, is working on his doctorate, studying theoretical chemistry with the objective of creating the next generation of computer processors with smaller parts and faster chips.

Not bad for an uncultured Mexican villager, another translation of indio huarachudo, who used to have to sell fruit to help his family get by.

Pablo was motivated from the start to do well in school. Although public education is free, schools charge parents small fees unless their children obtain exceptional grades. That proved to be an easy way to help his mother: get top grades and save her the added expense.

“When I got into preparatory school I was a good student, but I wasn’t one to show off,” he told the news agency Conacyt Prensa. “My mother always told me that education was the only thing that would get me going forward, and I understood there was a reward if you made the effort.”

He also put little credence in the mindset in La Mina, his village in Tuxtepec: “You’re born poor and you die poor.” Says Pablo: “I knew even as a young boy that I did not want to die poor.”

The successful student is the only indigenous Mexican at MIT, but while Spanish and English are not a problem, he cannot speak the language of his mother. “She refused to teach me,” he said. She was trying to keep the youngest of her six children from being discriminated against for the way he spoke.

But he was judged and suffered discrimination for his clothing. “I’ve been called indio huarachudo, but I reply that my huaraches are just a sign that wherever I go I take my roots with me.”

La Mina

Pablo left La Mina at 18 to study chemistry at the National Autonomous University of México (UNAM), in Mexico City. He didn’t know where he was going to stay, but in the end his classmates opened the doors of their homes to him.

Pablo had always wanted to continue his studies abroad, and perhaps obtain a doctorate from a foreign school. His wish came true in the form of a full scholarship from Conacyt, the National Council for Science and Technology, to enroll at the prestigious MIT.

At the end of his first year his academic prowess earned him another full scholarship, this time from MIT itself. Aware that opportunities such as the one Conacyt had given him are not easy to come by, Pablo gave up the original scholarship so that “another Mexican could make use of it.”

Eventually, Pablo would like to return to Mexico and promote science. “What I want to do is dedicate myself to the dissemination of science in rural communities.”

This week, Pablo was one of about two dozen students who were presented with Mexico’s top award for young citizens aged 12 to 29, the National Youth Prize, another feather in the cap of an uncultured indio huarachudo.

Mexico News Daily

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