This past spring, BCSSW doctoral candidate Victor Figuereo was awarded the Pinderhughes Fellowship given annually to an outstanding African-American PhD student at the School. Victor is now in his third year at BCSSW, and is hard at work to earn his degree, expected in 2019, under the tutelage of mentor Rocío Calvo. He is also a member of the school’s Latinx Leadership Initiative, and specifically, he is part of the LLI’s Latino Research Seminar, a program designed to address the disparity of Latino professors in higher education.
“Victor has so many strengths,” says Calvo. “One of those being his approach to research. His interdisciplinary perspective analyzing the intersection between race and ethnicity is something that has not been for the most part contemplated in social work. In particular, his research into how Latinos define race, and how the intersection between race and ethnicity contributes to access to social services and health outcomes, has been largely ignored across disciplines. His work is truly innovative and he has the potential to be the leader in his field.”
In this Q&A, Victor discusses his research interests, his relationship with Calvo, and he also responds to Calvo’s missive for himself and the other doctoral students in the LLI, that the “finishing line is not his dissertation, but his career as a scholar.”
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today, Victor. Tell us what it means to have been recognized as a Pinderhughes Fellow.
Victor Figuereo: I feel blessed, honored, and grateful to have received this award. Elaine Pinderhughes’ commitment to race and power is inspirational, and as a Black Latino, being named in the same sentence as her means a lot to me, my family, and the Latinx community that have become racialized when they come to United States. I hope I can do justice to her legacy and, through my work, expand on issues of race and power, and in particular, in how power dynamics affect Latinx communities and their access to healthcare.
Your current research as a doctoral candidate at BC addresses the realities of the racialization of Latinos who are new arrivals in the United States. Explain what this concept means, and what is happening.
VF: To be racialized in the United States means to be subjected to the U.S. conceptual structure of race. When working with Latinx immigrants as a clinical social work intern, my question on race and ethnicity resulted in more complex responses than I anticipated. It highlighted the reality that for some newly arrived Latinx immigrants, being called ‘Latina/o’ or ‘Hispanic’ was a novel phenomenon. This is because the way race is conceptualized in an immigrant’s country of origin differs than how it is conceptualized in the U.S. For instance, a non-migrant Dominican or Puerto Rican who identifies as ‘trigueña/o‘ (typically used to describe someone with skin color between a dark shade and light shade) all of their life will all of sudden be labeled ‘Latina/o’, ‘Hispanic’, ‘White’ or ‘Black’ when they arrive in the U.S. As a consequence, newly arrived immigrants get placed in a value-laden racial system.
Specifically, you’re looking into how this affects access to healthcare.
VF: Correct, health outcomes and access to healthcare. We live in a society where there are negative consequences from the racialization that occurs every minute of every day across micro interactions and within macro systems. These interactions and systems contribute to the disproportionate rates of health and mental health illnesses among Latinx communities (e.g., diabetes, depression). It also contributes to the lower likelihood of accessing U.S. healthcare. As social workers it is imperative we continue to address challenges immigrant communities are facing today. Access to healthcare is not a new challenge, but examining the role of race as it pertains to access and health outcomes is still mostly a blank canvas in social work research.
Tell us more about where you are currently, in terms of your topic of inquiry.
VF: Most recently, I completed my publishable paper, which is the second part of our comprehensive exams here at BCSSW, and which, in my case, examined key factors to Latinos using traditional healers (i.e., curanderos), as opposed to Western U.S. health providers. I found that social relationships play a significant role in the decision for Latinos to use traditional healers. It suggests that social networks within Latinx communities can counter barriers to accessing healthcare and mental healthcare services.
The challenges are real. There is a drastic underrepresentation of Latinx bicultural and bilingual physicians and mental health providers in our country, which deters Latinos from seeking out care and staying in care. In addition, sixteen percent of Latinos nationwide are uninsured due to high costs for coverage and also due to fears associated with being a part of a mixed status family – often, American citizens fear that undocumented family members could be exposed and deported if they were to seek out care. This is especially true in the current political climate.
Talk about how the LLI’s Latino Research Seminar is helping you to move your research forward.
VF: The understudied theme of racialization in the Latinos’ access to healthcare specifically what the Latino Research Seminar is preparing me to address. Currently, I’m in the early stages of developing a project for my dissertation. I would like to examine the interaction between race, Latinx migration, and health/mental health outcomes. The mentorship and peer feedback from fellow members of the LRS will be crucial to the development of my dissertation. This support is communal and reciprocal. Our goal as a community of Latinx student scholars is to learn from each other and pay it forward to build a foundation for future Latinx scholars.
Professor Calvo has also been an important mentor for you.
VF: Absolutely. Rocío is my rock in the PhD program. She keeps me grounded and challenges me to always be one step ahead in my work and my post-doctorate career. When I think of our relationship, I describe it using the following analogy. It’s as if Rocío and I are on two adjacent mountains, and she’s on the bigger mountain of the two, so she can see where I am at all times, where the various pathways ahead of me lie. I have so many ideas about what I want to do in my career and my research, but she is there to navigate; to guide me along the best paths. I have no doubt that she will be there beside me, supporting me in my journey as a social work scholar, even after completing my doctorate here at the Boston College School of Social Work.