My name is Ferdy Santiago, I’m a medical oncologist and hematologist in Southwest Florida. I’m originally from New Jersey. My family is originally from Puerto Rico. My mother is Puerto Rican and Colombian and my father is Puerto Rican. I think Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to look back at your roots and understand that the trunk of who you are and the tree of who you are is not where it started, you know it started deeper than that. And we are a continuum of the people that came before us. I think it’s a unique opportunity to look back, but also look forward and understand that you know, we’re part of those roots. And those roots make us who we are.
My father still describes to me the day he came off the plane. He had left Puerto Rico, it was sunny. He had never experienced cold weather and when he got off the plane it was in the 40s or 50 degrees in New York. He remembers the amount of sadness that overcame him because he wasn’t used to the place that he was in but he had to do it because he didn’t have a choice. And despite the fact that Puerto Rico’s a part of the United States the reality over there—especially in those days— was not the same as it is here so a lot of Puerto Ricans left.
I think my father always made it important for us to know that we were Puerto Rican, but he also made it important for us to know that we were American. So I had the “la dicha” if you can say of growing in a environment where my father wanted us to know where we came from but at the same time focus on going further. He always made it important for us to go back and forth to Puerto Rico, we developed a strong connection with our family over there and we were able to translate that to our life here.
I remember going to visit my family in the campo over there and them telling me ‘Ferdy, you’re American.’ And I was like: ‘well ok, I’m American’ but in Jersey, I’d be Puerto Rican. I think that’s something that is not really unique to me it happens to a lot of us Latinos that are born here from Latin parents in the respect that we’re kinda stuck in limbo. Not because we put ourselves there but because of where other people put us. I have noticed in my life that the culture of acceptance, of understanding that we’re all American and we’re all a part of this dream has become more and more accepted.
You know I always say that I stand on the shoulders of giants. Even though my grandfather didn’t have more than an eight grade education, he did everything that he could to make sure that my father had what he needed. If he fell short, it wasn’t because he fell short it’s because he couldn’t do more than what he was doing. At that point, it was my father’s point to take the baton and then it kinda leads to me, where I had no excuse but to try to do everything that I could to be the most that I could be because I understood that my father’s dream of going to New York with a pair of pants and two sweaters…I had no excuse. I took that responsibility upon myself to look forward and try to do as much as I could. Tahts one of the things about the America dream right? Having the ability to grow and be whoever you want to be.