KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — As National Hispanic Heritage Month continues, one University of Tennessee nursing student shares the importance of representation in his chosen career path. 

Andres Zaragoza Valdez is one of UT’s Student Nursing Ambassadors. He said his family’s background is what motivates him to move forward in his college career and beyond.

“My dad is from Mexico and my mom is from Guatemala,” Andres said. “They came to Tennessee in 1993.”

Both of his parents moved to the United States when they were teenagers knowing little English but, like many, having the American dream.

They reside in Antioch, Tenn., where Andres grew up. 

“Antioch was still a growing Hispanic speaking region, so they didn’t have to worry too much about speaking English. Come 1998 when my older brother was born, they started actually trying to learn English.”

With English as his parents’ second language, communication was more difficult in some situations, like when his younger brother had to be rushed to the emergency room when they were little.

“Going to the emergency room for the first time was definitely a very scary experience,” he said. “Seeing that there were large discrepancies in who was working and who was being treated, I wanted to – one, to alleviate the minority male population in nursing and two, provide an outlet for Spanish communities to get health care providers from people who look like them, who can speak Spanish and who can ultimately give them more comfort.”

This was a big reason why he chose nursing as his degree.

“I’m hoping to set a precedent of a sort,” he said. “Of course, there are those who have come before me. I know there are different upperclassmen with different backgrounds as well but I’m really hoping to be a major driving force to bringing diversity to the nursing program at UT.”

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“As I progressed through schooling, I would see fewer and fewer people like me, and so it was a little harder to relate to people in my immediate community or neighborhoods.”

His grandfather, Guadalupe Zaragoza, did not come to the U.S. in his lifetime. He was from Penjamo in Guanajuato, Mexico. 

A photo of his grandfather sits in one of the displays. The photo is a reminder of where he comes from, and it brings him hope of where the future can lead to.

“It’s important to stay in touch with cultural roots to really remember why I’m here and how far I’ve been able to come as well as my people in the U.S. and at UTK as a whole.”

“Seeing more representation, seeing the minimization of health disparities in Spanish-speaking communities, Latino communities – that would mean a lot to me.”

Once he graduates, he hopes to be a travel nurse or continue his education in the nursing field.