By: Amy Albandoz
The concept of the “Mold” was introduced to me at a very young age (though I was not yet able to give a name to it) and is not a foreign concept to those who grew up underprivileged and underrepresented.
Graphic by E-ducare for Youth CLG
The “Mold” is the cycle of poverty and the accompanying mentality that you are no greater than what you were born into. The Mold is the example of daily life that you watched your parents live, your older siblings follow, and is the resulting shoes left for you to fill. It represents a feeling of suffocating helplessness which shackles your hands, your heart, and your mind. The Mold leaves no other options- for the health of your family falls onto your shoulders, and what else can you do but fight for them?
The suffocation is incredibly difficult to break free of - which is when the “Mold” tends to be set and your fate decided. There is no use talking about it, for no one will help you.
Or so, it feels that way. As someone who grew up under the confines of the “Mold”, who has had the privilege of breaking out of it (to which I will always be grateful to my support system), and who now has the opportunity to join a wider conversation, I understand the importance of giving a voice to the underrepresented. Reading and sharing stories is the first step to breaking the Mold- this is how the form cracks. Creating a scaffold of support is the second step. It is a hammer. The last step is action, and it is hard, though not impossible. This, action, is what shatters the Mold.
To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, the voices being shared today are Hispanic, and they are women- just like the 31.09 million of us in the United States (as of 2020). They are mentors, peers, role models, inspirations, motivators, and guiding lights to those who so rarely see themselves represented in the media.
Screenshot from The Ripple Effect by Gal Gadot
Adrianna Font Martin
Adrianna Font Martin is a young innovator and student based in Puerto Rico. Adrianna got her start after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and she saw the growing need for clean water. Seeing the suffering around her and knowing that this was an urgent concern which wasn’t being addressed by government leaders, Adrianna and her team stepped up to try and find a solution for their community. As a group of young innovators, they faced an uphill battle but with persistence, dedication, and a real drive to provide solutions for their community and their people, Adrianna and her team founded Remora- a clean water company with aspirations to end the global water crisis.
Please check out her story in this video segment created by
Gal Gadot for National Geographic: The Ripple Effect.
Image from the United States Patent and Trademark Office
Daniela is an entrepreneur and inventor from Venezuela who dreamed big and achieved even bigger. When Daniela outgrew her university in Venezuela, she moved to New York University to continue advancing her research and passion. As an immigrant, Daniela lacked the same resources and background that her peers had but this did not stop her. From knowing nothing on day 1, to where she is today as the CEO and founder of Sunthetics, Daniela has never once let go of her passion. Daniela’s story is a great reminder that even if you start behind those around you, there’s nothing stopping you from achieving your dreams.
Read more about her compelling story.
Daniela also has recorded talks, which I encourage you give a listen to.
Image from Andina
Athalia Castro is an innovator from Peru who is addressing the climate crisis in her own way. Athali created bio-reactors with algae that take and convert CO2 into oxygen, effectively reducing the ambient pollution in the environment. The small hexagonal bioreactors are filled with water that contains microalgae. The microalgae reacts with the ambient air and filters carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, releasing purified oxygen. With its small, modular design, these bioreactors have the potential for wide application and Athali has been working to install panels of the OXCEM reactor for commercial companies in the near future.
Image from El Buho
Breaking the Mold doesn’t have to look like changing the world. It can happen in many ways. For me, it looked like pursuing higher education and chasing my dreams. It looked like lifting the burden that had been resting on my immigrant mother’s shoulders with the support of a community who welcomed us with love. It looked like being able to pursue my passion as a designer and a volunteer. Breaking my Mold didn’t shatter the world… and it doesn’t need to.
I would like to share another story that’s a little closer to home. Gabriela Cruz is one example of many first-generation Hispanic women who broke their own Molds. She is also a member of the community that was my scaffold of support throughout my education.
Image from Gabriela Cruz
Gabriela Cruz is a Public Health Analyst at the Health Resources and Services Administration within the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Gabriela’s story is one of hardship, growth, and dedication.
Like many children of immigrants, she had a difficult childhood: her father was deported to Colombia when she was about 12 years old and her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer promptly after that. Her mother was a housekeeper who worked very long and grueling hours for low pay, unable to take care of her body in the same way someone else would have been able to. For three years, Gabby and her older brother were their mom’s main care givers, accompanying her to her surgery, chemo and radiation sessions, and every hospitalization and doctor appointment in between. When Gabby was 15 and a freshman in high school, her mother passed away as a result of her illness. Her brother, 18 and a senior in high school at the time, became her legal guardian and they supported each other the best that they could.
As a natural lover of school, Gabby threw herself into her education and secured scholarships to continue learning after high school. The support of her communities was life changing and Gabby was able to attend a 4-year institution without the accompanying financial burden. She ultimately attained her degree which she dedicated to her older brother who had sacrificed so much of his young adulthood to look after and provide for her.
Image from Gabriela Cruz
Ultimately, experiencing her mother’s illness is what motived Gabby to pursue a career in public health with a focus on addressing the social determinants that plagued her and millions of other Americans. During her undergraduate years, Gabby was exposed to public health organizations and global health efforts abroad. These experiences enlightened and enabled her to think beyond borders- leading her to volunteer for the Peace Corps in Peru after graduation. She knew she wanted to work in a Spanish speaking country to partner with local health workers and tackle their community’s health challenges. During her time in Peru, Gabby lived with two separate families who, in her own words, “took me in as one of their own and gave me the warmth and comfort only a family can provide.” She worked with a rural health post to train their community health workers alongside local health staff. Gabby’s biggest takeaway from this experience was that community health is just as much about the soft skills of building trusting interpersonal relationships as it is about nutrition and well-being.
Throughout her whole life, Gabby had to learn to become comfortable with the unknown. Meaning, she had to learn that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. She’s sought advice from mentors and has asked her peers how they approached different aspects along the way. As a first-generation student, “I could not afford to be shy and reserved in the pursuit of my goals and I think people value a person on a team who is self-aware enough to know their limitations.” Gabby has grown into an incredible woman who has faced and overcome trial and tribulation.
In parting, she would like to share a piece of advice that she would give to her younger self:
“Never give up and [be] gracious to every person who helped you along the way. It took a village.” – Gabriela Cruz, MPH, CPH
Breaking the Mold manifests in numerous ways and not one person’s story and experience is the same. What it will always do, however, is plant the seed of inspiration. In this way, we can inspire each other to be better people, serve as mentors for our community, and help someone else break their own Mold by offering a hand – an action – just like someone else did for us, once upon a time.
Going forward, I hope you continue to answer the call-to-action and take the first step in breaking someone’s Mold: reading and sharing stories of hope, passion, and growth. You will never know the full extent of your impact as a support system on those around you.