We recently sat down with Nestor “the Boss” Gomez, host of the storytelling podcast 80 Minutes Around the World and 40-time winner of the Moth Grand Slam.
Nestor, who used to stutter, hails from Guatemala and found his voice after migrating to Chicago, enrolling in high school, and learning to navigate a new culture. Currently, he uses his platform to encourage others to tell their stories.
“Every place, person and thing inspires a different story or poem,” he says.
This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Journey North
My childhood was a very hard childhood. I was the second of four siblings. Actually, I’m the second of six. Two of my siblings died when they were very young. We were poor and my family made Guatemalan worry dolls [small cloth figures dressed in traditional Mayan clothing] that we sold at the airport and tourist shops.
Dr. William Arrocha, Assistant Professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, recently shared his expertise and thoughts on compassionate migration, DACA, the upcoming presidential elections in Mexico, and what truly makes us human with Open Americas.
Can you describe your background? How did you become interested in the field of international policy and more specifically in U.S./Mexico relations, migration, and human rights?
I am an eternal migrant, born from immigrant parents in Mexico City, a place where many worlds have met, clashed and thrived for centuries. As someone born within an international and multicultural family, my reason for being will always involve more than one country or place. As the Argentina poet Facundo Cabral once said, “I’m not from here… I’m not from there.”
Being born in Mexico to an American mother and a Mexican father always placed me in the confines of U.S.-Mexico relations. Being raised in a family with parents engaged in the realms of the law, social justice, and human rights, studying in the French system during all my formative years and at my bachelors at the National Autonomous University of Mexico could not have taken me to any other path than that of an internationalist.
By Christina La Fleur
Despite the progress the UIC-Cuban Ministry of Health collaboration has made for patients and diplomacy, the path ahead for US-Cuban healthcare partnerships is far from sure. Political and policy changes have already begun, and they have the potential to completely reshape US-Cuban relations.
Firstly, political power has changed hands in the United States. The Chicago programs’ main political supporters at the federal level were Democrats, who do not currently hold the majority in Congress. The Chicago program was built off the foreign policy of the previous Democratic president, and has already been walked back by the current Republican one, who seems inclined to further distance the United States from its island neighbor. In fact, the Cubans’ first Chicago visit was expedited, according to Dr. Jose Armando Arronte Villamarin, so it could be completed prior to January 20th, 2017 – Donald Trump’s inauguration day.
By Christina La Fleur
In 2016 and 2017, University of Illinois Cancer Center doctors and a team of Cuban Ministry of Health representatives observed healthcare practices in each other’s countries with the hope of addressing maternal and child healthcare in underserved Chicago communities.
Dr. Robert Winn of Chicago had been looking for a solution to solve community health problems with few resources. In Cuba he saw the scarcity, but he also saw low infant mortality and high community trust, which was accomplished through the Cuban home visit system.
In Cuba, primary care physicians “try to solve the problems of the community because they live in the community,” says Dr. Jose Armando Arronte Villamarin, a Cuban primary health professional. Cuba’s healthcare system has a pyramid focus, from the individual to the family to the community, that starts with a visit to patients’ homes. According to Dr. Armando, during the visit individuals are put into one of four groups – healthy, at risk, sick, or living with a disability – and are seen in the local office for care. A community-level health assessment is made every year.
By Christina La Fleur
Cuban doctors have been deployed all over the world to heal and to strengthen bilateral relations. In 2017, they came to Chicago to address extreme disparity and an urgent community need.
The University of Illinois Chicago-Cuban Ministry of Health collaboration is a first: American doctors invited Cuban medical professionals into American communities to help improve maternal and child health outcomes in underserved Chicago neighborhoods. This collaboration is a milestone in cooperative US-Cuban relations, and in Cuba’s medical diplomacy.
Dr. Jose Armando Arronte Villamarin and two other Cuban health professionals came to Chicago in January of 2017 to visit University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System (UI Health) clinics and discuss the potential of applying a Cuban-style home visit system, where doctors have the chance to observe patients, and their conditions, in their own home. During their next visit to Chicago, the doctors began the at-home interviews to assess the patients and determine their health needs at the individual and, cumulatively, community levels.
“On the morning of Tuesday, September 5, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will be rescinded. An Obama administration 2012 executive action, DACA grants temporary legal status and provides 2-year work permits to individuals who were brought to the country as children without immigration documents. According to the Washington Post, an estimated 800,000 immigrants benefit from the program.” – Excerpt from Staff Release: Open Americas Condemns Decision to Rescind DACA Program
The following interview was conducted in November 2017 between Maria, a DACA recipient, and Alexia Rauen. Maria came to the United States from Mexico when she was only seven years old. She has an older brother and an older sister, neither of whom are eligible for DACA.
1. How did your life change on June 15, 2012 when former president Barack Obama implemented DACA?
My life was changed dramatically when President Barack Obama implemented DACA. DACA was not given to us, and on the other hand, it was as a result of immigrant activists, organizations, and allies fighting for it. With DACA, I now could continue to follow my dreams in this country without any fear for myself. Of course, I had fear for my parents, but at least with DACA, we had hope that there would be better things in the future for us.
By Martina Guglielmone
All featured images were taken by Laura LaRose in Aldecoa, Havana, Ciudad de la Habana
Despite Cuba’s polarized political climate, the country has developed a rather unique health care system that continues to deliver strong results, even with the challenges it has faced. Ex-president Fidel Castro believed a strong health-care system and biomedical science were “long-term mainstays of the Cuban economy”. Therefore, not only did Castro develop a system that produced a surplus of medical professionals –which became a source of foreign exchange- but he also made sure Cuba invested in constant biomedical research. This socialist, poor island has demonstrated that “through long-term, consistent investments in primary care and public health,” a country can solidify its social base, improve the quality of life of its citizens, and stimulate its economy.