OHSU Nursing Student Overcomes Poverty, Language Barriers to Graduate

06/06/01    Portland, Ore.

Griselda Garcia was 15 when she crossed the border from Mexico to the United States.

Since then Garcia, 28, has overcome poverty, the death of her father, language difficulties and other trials to become a nurse. On Friday, June 8, at 8 p.m. at the Arlene Schnitzer Hall for the Performing Arts, she will graduate from Oregon Health & Science University's School of Nursing with a bachelor's degree in nursing. She has earned the Undergraduate Transcultural Nursing Award, which recognizes and honors a student who has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion and/or advocacy of nursing care for underserved minorities.

The year before she came to this country had been hard and tiring. She had been caring for her brother and sisters alone after her mother left the family.

Her father, Ezequeil Manzo, was living in Hood River and was an orchard worker at the time. He heard of their plight, but it took him a year to save and borrow enough money to pay a "coyote," someone who smuggles immigrants into the United States, to get them to Hood River.

Garcia knew only a few English words: chair, door, window, which she was taught in school. She worked the first year she was here in the orchards and the packing house from August to February to help her father pay back the loans to get her here. During the off-season she would look for other jobs. On one occasion, she was hired on a temporary basis at La Clinica del Carino, a Hood River health center mostly for migrants and low-income patients.

The second year she went to high school, but soon more tragic news arrived. Her father had stomach cancer. Garcia missed many school days caring for her dad. He died in 1990 at age 49. Garcia went on to finish high school by taking summer classes and then got married.

"I thought I would stop taking English classes and going to school after I got married," she said. Four months later she was referred to the Hood River Health Department by La Clinica for a job as a medical assistant.

"I didn't want to do it because I was scared I would not do a good job, and I did not have the right legal papers. But one thing about me is that I am never afraid to try new things," she said.

With the encouragement of her husband, Ernesto, 29, a cable technician, and the help of the people at the health department, she became a legal permanent resident. It was while at the health department she realized she wanted to become a nurse.

Garcia went on to Columbia Gorge Community College and then to OHSU School of Nursing. While at OHSU she saw a need for Spanish language education handouts for maternity patients, so she created them. She often helps translate for Spanish-speaking patients.

"I remember when I came here and dad got very sick. I didn't know any English or anything about health services. We never had good communication with doctors. Now I want to help people who know nothing about health care. To pass my knowledge on to them is the most wonderful thing I can do for them. I want to be there when they need me," Garcia said.

Diana Corson, Garcia's clinical instructor, remembers one particular story about Garcia's commitment to patients.

"Griselda is a tenacious, passionate woman. This story just really stood out in my mind that a student would go so far beyond what is expected in her caring," Corson, C.N.M.N.P., M.S., said.

The class assignment was to interview a family that had a loss. Garcia arranged to talk with a family in Hood River who had experienced an abortion. When the woman opened the door her face was very swollen, and she was in pain from a tooth problem. The woman was alone; her family had gone fishing so she could rest. The woman had no resources or transportation, so Garcia drove her to an emergency department for treatment, then took her home.

"I like to go to their homes for visits. I want to see what they need. I try to give them the resources they need, but let them make the phone calls, so they take charge of their care," she said.

After graduation Garcia is going to continue to study English and study for her nursing boards. She hopes to land a job working with those who need her, those with whom she can share her knowledge.

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