Priscila Lopez, ASUCC senator and Spanish Club representative, developed a profound respect for her family and heritage at an early age.
One of three children born to immigrant parents, she had a first-hand view of the difficulties Hispanic Americans face and the determination that is required to overcome them. “My parents came from Mexico in the mid-’80s,” she says. “They worked hard, had my brother, and got their citizenship that they worked very hard for.”
She gets a little misty-eyed as she recalls her humble but loving childhood. “There were days we didn’t have very much,” she says, “and I remember how much they struggled to just get by, paycheck to paycheck.”
In the early nineties, liability issues were not as prevalent as they are today, so field work often included the whole family with the little ones working too. Summers were spent alongside her parents harvesting produce and saving money for the incoming school year.
“I remember growing up and going to the onions, the asparagus . . . and then I learned how to pick cherries, which I was really fast at,” she says. “I would work just as hard and long as everyone out there,” she says, “and I got some money for clothes.” The reality of intense work for long hours and little pay did not escape her, however. “It reminded me that I don’t want to do that,” she says. “It’s really hard (work), hard on your body, and I was just a kid.”
Lopez’s decision to leave her hometown of Pasco, Washington and pursue school was born out of frustration. “When my daughter was 3 years old, I was working two jobs; I worked at Ross, and I worked as a housekeeper at a Shilo Inn,” she says. “I was living with my parents and decided I needed an education.” She went to the Department of Labor in Pasco and entered Workforce (a training program).
“I just needed one job instead of trying to struggle through two,” she says. While waiting for a counselor to get back to her, she saw a notice that started her path to UCC.
It was wanting to be as far from home as possible — for an entirely fresh start— that brought her to Douglas County. “I saw a sign on a door that said ‘Join Job Corp’ and so that’s what I did.”
Her interest in nursing and a desire for distance led her to the Wolf Creek Job Corp, where she enrolled in the nursing program and earned a scholarship. “I did phlebotomy and some of my prerequisites,” she says.
After the two years required to remain in the program, she found herself a local job. “I got a job at Davita Dialysis,” she says, “and I stayed here with my daughter and continued to go to UCC because it gave me the opportunity. I got my G.E.D. here.”
Everyone is prone to moments of doubt, and Lopez is no exception. “Before even thinking of going to school, I didn’t think I was going to make it very far,” she says. “I didn’t believe in myself; I didn’t think I was smart enough.” The positive atmosphere she experienced at UCC bolstered her confidence greatly, though. “When I started college here everyone was so supportive . . . . It was amazing how much it changed my life,” she says, “so I stayed for the school.”
Lopez is the first in her family to attend college and admits to occasional uncertainty even today. “I still have the fear sometimes,” she says, “but then, UCC is so different, and it motivates me to keep going.”
As a kid, Lopez wanted to be a police officer, but her interest in the field of medicine started with one of her early jobs. “I started off as a caregiver in Washington,” she says. “I would go to people’s homes and help them with their laundry, grocery shopping, baths, and take them to doctor’s appointments. That’s where it started,” she says; “where I learned that I wanted to do more.”
Now in the nursing program on campus (and working at Mercy Medical in Roseburg), Lopez intends to seek a bachelor’s degree and work as a nurse in either the E.R. or Critical Care. After two years of experience, she will apply to be a nurse anesthetist. “They get to administer anesthesia under their own license,” she says, “and be part of procedures like colonoscopies, endoscopies, cataract removals and most medication sedations.”
In the meantime, however, the prospect of working with traumatic injuries doesn’t intimidate her. She has encountered emergencies when working with diabetic patients. “Sometimes, when working in dialysis,” she says, “people were crashing hard.” She has altruistic reasons as well for taking the steps toward her chosen career: “When I enter a patient’s room, I think I’m going to make their day better,” she says. “The way I view it is that could be my dad, or mom or sister . . . . I want them to be treated well and cared for genuinely, (and) not just be there to pay my bills. Most patients won’t remember what you did for them, but they will remember how you made them feel.”
Lopez is a saltwater angler in her free time, and she’s enthusiastic in her description. “I love kayak fishing in the ocean,” she says. “I love going out in the open water and being surrounded by only God knows what.” She is not a fan of “catch and release,” however, as cooking her catch is part of the appeal. “Eating it is great.” she says, “It’s something that I caught, and I know exactly where it came from.”
If Lopez could influence any change at UCC, she would like to see more student involvement with the various organizations on campus. “I’d really like a lot more students to get involved with things ASUCC is doing,” she says, “and the work The Mainstream is putting out there . . . to just get involved and have fun.”
As for inspiration, Lopez looks no further than her children. “They inspire me to keep going,” she says, “I want them to be able to look at me and say ‘Mom can do it, I can too,’ but I don’t want them to ever rate their level of success based on me. I hope they go over and beyond what I’ve accomplished. They’re the reason I try.”