Farmworker to Surgeon: Immigrant Lives Dream

Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinjosa

Neurosurgeon Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinjosa says he owes much of his success to the people who extended a hand to him. Keith Weller hide caption

itoggle caption Keith Weller
Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinjosa's trailer. i i

This camper trailer was home for Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa when he was a farmworker in California. Alfredo Quinones-Hinjosoa hide caption

itoggle caption Alfredo Quinones-Hinjosoa
Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinjosa's trailer.

This camper trailer was home for Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa when he was a farmworker in California.

Alfredo Quinones-Hinjosoa

The life of Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, a former illegal immigrant, may sound like a movie script, but it is no fiction.

Twenty years ago, he hopped a border fence from Mexico into the United States and became a migrant farmworker.

Today, he is a neurosurgeon and professor at Johns Hopkins University, and a researcher who is looking for a breakthrough in the treatment of brain cancer.

His remarkable journey began in a tiny farming community, 60 miles south of the U.S. border. Quinones-Hinojosa was born there, and by age 5, he was working at his father's gas station. His grandmother was a village healer and a midwife.

But in the mid-1970s, Mexico's economy collapsed, and his father could no longer keep food on the table for the family. Quinones-Hinojosa continued his schooling and became a teacher by the time he was 18, but he, too, was unable to provide for his family. So he made the decision — like so many relatives before him — to head north.

Quinones-Hinojosa picked cotton, tomatoes and cantaloupes, and lived in the fields in a broken-down camper he bought for $300. When his cousin told him he would be a farmworker for the rest of his life, he realized it was time to move on.

He signed up for English classes at a community college, where a teacher encouraged him to attend the University of California, Berkeley. At Berkeley on a scholarship, Quinones-Hinojosa developed a passion for the scientific method. He went on to Harvard Medical School, where he eventually delivered the commencement speech. It is also during this time that he received his U.S. citizenship.

Quinones-Hinojosa says he owes so much of his success to the many people who have extended a hand to him throughout his life.

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