My Journey From Farmworker Boy To Pediatrician

Book Excerpt from the Inspiring Story of Ramon Resa, MD:
Excerpt #10 of 17


My physical education coach tells me I should consider going out for tennis. When I show up for the first practice, I’m in for another culture shock. Most of the players are white and have been playing for years. They’re not only white, they’re the rich white kids of the school. Right away I find out they are very snobbish.

When I tell the coach that I want to quit, he surprises me by saying, “I want you to stay and let me teach you how to play. I think you have the potential to be a very good player…I’m sick and tired of coaching these spoiled, rich white kids. They don’t know the meaning of hard work. I want to coach someone I’ll enjoy teaching.”

I soon find out what he means. I’ve seen these kids in class but have never even spoken to them. They essentially ignore me. I’m an outsider. They’ve known each other most of their lives and live in the richest neighborhood in Visalia. They belong to the country club, and their dads are the judges, lawyers, doctors, and other leading members of their city, totally out of my reach socially. We never associate with people like them except when we go before the judge or have to get a lawyer because of drunk driving or spousal abuse, or when doctors deliver one of our many babies.

The reality of this disparity is amazing and sad. I know I’m setting myself up for future turmoil. For whatever reason, I’m moving far away from the life I know, and I’m relating with a culture vastly different from anything I know. I really don’t understand why I’m doing this. I’m already suffering from low self-esteem, yet I’m putting myself into a situation that’s guaranteed to make me feel even more inadequate.

I listen as their talk shifts back and forth about the trips they’ve taken and where their parents want to go next summer. I hear about New York, Europe, routine trips to Hawaii, and going to San Francisco or Los Angeles for football games. How much I’m missing, and how little I really have. I don’t take part in their conversations. I have nothing to contribute.

If they were to ask me about my plans for the summer, I’d say, “Work. Do irrigating.” But they don’t ask because they don’t really care. Once in a while, someone throws a question my way, but I feel that my answer is immaterial because they just look past my shoulder and nod. I know they aren’t listening.

What I want to tell them is, “I’m going to go to work starting the day after school is over. I’ll work 12 hours a day for $1.75 an hour, and I’ll work every single day until school starts again. Oh, and I’ll get to keep a little of the money I earn so I can pay for all my own school expenses for the year.”

One day, one of the boys says,  “I picked grapes a couple of years ago. My uncle has a winery, and when we went to visit, my dad had us go out and work for an afternoon. It was fun picking my own grapes. I didn’t think it was so hard.”

This burns me up. I wish there were a way for us to trade places for just one week. Someday, if I’m lucky and manage to get out of my economic situation, I may be able to experience what their lives are really like.

In my sophomore year, I go through a period of intense sadness and anger. I close myself off from my group of friends and anytime and take off by myself until I can get grip on my feelings. I figure no one will blame me if I don’t make it into college. They’ll just say, “Well, what did you expect, considering the way he was raised? Poor, mixed-up, no father or mother…”

My problem is that I care too much and I want to prove I can make it. I want to show Mr. Baer that he was wrong about me, and I want to make something of myself for those teachers who showed me they cared. If I quit, I’ll be just another Mexican kid who they thought had potential but folded when the going got tough – another disappointment for them. I’m the one putting the pressure on myself, and if I give up, I’ll be giving up for everyone who ever believed in me. I feel the need to show that with the right input and motivation, kids like me have as much ability as anyone else.

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