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‘I would do it all over again’: Immigrant stories shared at virtual UMMS event

Raúl Padrón emigrated from Venezuela in 2018; Francis Wanjau came to the United States from Kenya in 2002

By Colleen Locke

UMass Medical School Communications

September 30, 2020

The Diversity & Inclusion Office and the International Committee relaunched the storytelling series “UMass Immigrant Stories: Everyone is Included in our Community” on Tuesday, Sept. 29, with Raúl Padrón, PhD, of UMass Medical School, and Francis Wanjau, of UMass Memorial Health Care, sharing their stories over Zoom.

Dr. Padrón, professor of radiology, emigrated to Worcester from Venezuela in November 2018 to work with Roger Craig, PhD, professor of radiology. The two started collaborating in 1980 when they were postdoctoral fellows at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, U.K.

Padrón’s great-grandparents emigrated to Venezuela from France and his grandparents emigrated to Venezuela from Italy to escape World War II. Padrón made the difficult decision to leave his country because of inflation rates. After showing beautiful scenes in Venezuela, including the tropical forests where the tarantulas he studies live, Padrón shared a slide that showed inflation rates in Venezuela reached 165,382 percent on Feb. 26, 2019.

“At the beginning of 2018 the inflation was about 10,000 percent and there was a lack of a food, lack of medicine—hospitals—and life was very complicated because there were difficulties for electricity, petrol, security, etc.,” Padrón said.

Wanjau, director of practice performance improvement in the Office of Clinical Integration at UMass Memorial Health Care, was born in Nairobi, Kenya. He came to the United States in 2002 to attend Clark University in Worcester on a full scholarship. An internship at UMass Memorial led to a full-time job. He’s now been in the U.S. for half of his life.

In a light-hearted moment, both Wanjau and Padrón talked about how the cold weather in Worcester was an adjustment. Wanjau said he was struck by how open the Clark campus was—that there weren’t any walls.

“It was hard coming to a place where you don’t know anyone. At the age of 18, trying to figure things out on your own—that was a bit tough, but I think it has helped toughen me up,” Wanjau said. “It’s been a journey that I don’t regret and I would do it all over again.”

The Commonwealth Medicine Cultural Diversity Committee co-sponsored the event.

Related stories on UMassMed News:
Raúl Padrón elected to National Academy of Sciences
In their own words: Matilde Castiel, Naheed Usmani share personal immigration stories