Book Review: Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa’s “Becoming Dr. Q: My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon”

As a young boy in Mexico, Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa admired Kalimán, a comic book character with superhero-like abilities.

Quiñones-Hinojosa has demonstrated the same abilities in his lifetime – jumping over a fence to get into the United States, working his way through college and medical school and becoming one of the top brain surgeons in the country – which he writes about in his autobiography Becoming Dr. Q: My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon (University of California Press).

Quiñones-Hinojosa grew up in Mexicali, showing precocious leadership and academic skills at a young age. He came from a loving, but poor, family that endured the death of one child and worked in the fields of California. Believing he could make more money for his family, Quiñones-Hinojosa crossed the border illegally on his 19th birthday in 1987 – an event that makes for the book’s most riveting chapter.

The laws at the time made it possible for Quiñones-Hinojosa to obtain legal status and, eventually, his citizenship. His hard work and determination drove him to study at the University of California at Berkeley while working as a welder. Inspired by his curandero grandmother and his own desire to help others, he got into medicine, and he was accepted into Harvard Medical School.

“Two gears still drove me forward,” he writes. “One was for the dreamer and optimist in me who imagined, as I had from childhood, that I was destined to live forever. But the other was for the part of me that realized that life could be snatched away at any moment and felt I had to work hard at everything, as if each day were my last to live.”

Quiñones-Hinojosa goes through his residency while working on weekends and raising a young family – and he survives a few brushes with death. But the hard work pays off. He lands a job at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, one of the most prestigious medical institutions in the nation. He was featured on the ABC documentary Hopkins and PBS’s Nova.

Quiñones-Hinojosa, along with co-author Mim Eichler Rivas, writes in a matter-of-fact tone without sounding sorry for himself or arrogant. The fast-paced book is most intriguing when he writes about his early life. The last third of the book focuses on his medical cases, but it doesn’t get too technical and is easy to understand.

This book will appeal to almost everybody, but it should make its way to the hands of young Hispanics, who will hopefully make Dr. Q their own Kalimán.

More about Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa:

• The University of California Press posted an excerpt of the book here, which describes his baby sister’s death.

• Fox News Latino has an excellent article about Dr. Q. He also discussed his book on C-SPAN.

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Filed under 2011 Books, Book Reviews, Non-Fiction

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