Lessons learned: What my Fellowship projects taught me

Published on
August 31, 2011

How do you talk to a family about their son's suicide attempt? This was the question I kept asking myself before meeting with the Hernandez family. Their oldest son, Miguel, attempted suicide a few years ago, and they were willing to share their story with me.

I was first interested in the story about Latino teen suicide after reading some chilling statistics from a report by the National Council of La Raza: Twenty two percent of Georgia's middle school Hispanic students have seriously considered suicide. In 2007, 10% of Georgia's middle school Hispanic students attempted suicide and 23 percent of Georgia's high school Hispanic students have a suicide plan.

As I kept doing research it became evident that Latino teen suicide was a national problem that needed to be addressed and that we rarely talked about in our community.

I though it was going to be hard to find a local family who would be willing to share their story. However, one of my sources put me in contact with the Hernandez family and helped me convince them to do the interview.

Our interview turned out to be a very powerful and humbling moment. It was the first time that they talked as family about Miguel's suicide attempt. I almost felt like an intruder in such an intimate moment, but I also understood that I helped them to spark the conversation and share their feelings after so many years.

This whole experience helped me as a journalist, but it also touched me as a mother. As I heard Miguel's mom crying and telling me how much she loved her children I kept thinking that she was a mother like any other. She raised her children with so much love, she was so caring, and now she was blaming herself for what her son had done That day I understood that as parents we do our best, but we're never sure about how things are going to turn out. We just have to hope for the best and be there for our children regardless of what they do.

But this wasn't the only lesson I learned from my Fellowship projects. My story about dialysis patients taught me a lot about faith, patience and teamwork. For this story I had the chance of spending time with a group of dialysis patients who were in the verge of loosing treatment. Most of them are undocumented immigrants who do not have access to medical insurance. I was able to join them on meetings to coordinate efforts and protests; I followed some of the patients on their daily routines and got to meet their families. What I liked the most is that even in the darkest moments they never lost their hope. And they won the battle, but not for long.

After months of protests, letters, media coverage and prayers, an agreement was reached and the patients continued receiving treatment. But that agreement expires on August 31st and it is not still clear if there's going to be an extension of the contract that guarantees treatment for these patients.

This story not only showed what these patients went through last year, but it is an example of the barriers that many immigrants face when accessing health care in the U.S.

In sum, working for my Fellowship projects was a journey that took me to unthinkable places and made me grow as a journalist and as a person. I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude to all my colleagues at MundoHispanico who helped out along the road. I'm thankful for the opportunity they gave me to shed light on such important issues for our community. And I will also like to thank all the fellows for their support and input throughout this process.