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Forward Freethought winner — Belen Padilla

Belen Padilla

By Belen Padilla

My parents immigrated from Mexico with visas they overstayed. They struggled to provide for my siblings and me because they did not speak English, have legal documentation or even high school educations. When I was a child, school counselors pressured my father to take me to see a psychologist to treat my anxiety and depression. 

It was through therapy that I made sense of my father’s treatment of me. In therapy, I realized that his immigration and inheritance of patriarchal culture were disruptive to his emotional health. Over time, he developed stress-induced migraines and became intensely angry. He did not receive treatment for these health problems while undocumented and uninsured. My father then began to take his anger out on my mother, sister and myself by forcing us to endure abuse.

I identify as an atheist as I ponder that if there is a God, why does he make innocent children that he claims to “love” survive traumatic situations such as my domestic violence? Also, if a God controls our world, why has he forced injustice of racism, gender, LGBTQ+, and allowed overall inequality to roam our world? 

As the queer daughter of formerly undocumented immigrants, I am passionate about providing leadership now and in the future to address the issue of health disparities in my community because I have witnessed the outcomes of not having access to culturally sensitive healthcare through my father’s experiences. 

The national HERlead Fellowship, University of Michigan Health Sciences Academy, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’ Students Interacting with STEM program, Bank of America Student Leaders, and UCLA’s Medical Advocacy program equipped me with the necessary leadership skills and institutional knowledge to help other low-income youth think creatively about problem-solving and self-advocacy. 

As a queer Latinx medical professional, I will mentor low-income and/or queer youth of color so they, too, become empowered to envision new lives for themselves and advocate for their communities. 

Through my work at a local women’s domestic abuse shelter, I have been spreading humanism’s ideals of equality for all. I also pitched a project to the Children’s Services Division at the Shade Tree to mentor and read socially progressive books to children displaced by domestic violence. 

After the readings, I use my network of professionals I met through summer opportunities, such as black Eastern Michigan University Professor Tamara Tucker, and plan to contact other professionals to further educate the children about important social issues. My hope is that these mutually respectful conversations will encourage children to become active allies to disadvantaged communities and feel empowered enough to speak up for equality. 

I believe that when young people support each other, they can drive meaningful change. My mentorship not only inspires youth to become allies to progressive ideals and become familiar with STEM career paths, but it also allows us the opportunity to sharpen our self-advocacy tools together. Through instilling the next generation with the ideals of humanism’s equality, I am driving social change to my community to have society be one step closer to equality. 

Belen, 18, is from Claremont, Calif., and attends Scripps College.