The first time Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa came to Los Angeles, he arrived at LAX after a short flight from San Diego. It was January 2, 1987. He was 19 years old and he had just spent the last day hopping the border fence three hours away in Calexico, falling flat on his face and being caught by the Border Patrol, and succeeding the second time he tried a couple of hours later.
The story of his childhood near Mexicali, to undocumented farm worker in California's San Joaquin Valley, to Harvard's medical school and to his current position as neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University is documented in his new biography, "Becoming Dr. Q."
He talked to me a few days ago from his car driving between hospitals in Baltimore. It was seven at night. He began his day at five in the morning and he wasn't close to done.
Dr Q said he wrote the book to show that, "if you work hard and if you have a dream, even a simple guy like myself who came from humble backgrounds, can achieve the American Dream." He leads the Brain Tumor Stem Cell laboratory at Johns Hopkins, to carry out the enormous goal of finding a cure for brain tumors. He said the book is also dedicated to the brain tumor patients he's treated and their families.
The story he tells, helped by writer Mim Eichler Rivas, is one of twists and turns, guardian angels both real and spiritual, near death experiences, and having a person's life in his hands in the operating room. Dr Q's had to make many compromises along the way. On most days his goal is to get home before 9 p.m. to kiss his three children goodnight. An operation that took longer than usual caused him to stand up his wife the night of a White House soiree. "Someone pays the price, and in my case it's been my lovely wife and my children, my family, my parents," he said.
The book's tone in places simplifies his Odyssey to a how-to manual, a simple recipe for achieving the American Dream through hard work. But what about all those immigrants who are ambitious and work hard but don't have two supportive biological parents at home, don't have bursting curiosity and charisma, and don't have mentors willing to open doors for them?
Venus Williams writes in support of the book, as do a slew of other people, writers, and those in the medical field. They use words like heroic, triumph, and champion. The Spanish language television anchor Jorge Ramos says that he, "can't think of a better example of what an immigrant with ambition and dedication can do in this great country of opportunities."
It's well deserved praise for Dr Q's achievements at the same time that it's a commentary that we live in place and a time in which someone from the lowest social strata and an outsider ethnic group is not expected to achieve.
Surely on his way to the American Dream Dr Q heard the question, "What part of illegal do you not understand?" He just never bothered to stop and think about it.
Join me tomorrow as I sit down with Dr. Q at L.A. Central Library at 7 p.m. to talk to him about his uncommon journey.
Poet and Journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.