Over the past 6 years, Luis Tun has volunteered countless hours at the Westminster Free Clinic, a non-profit community health center that serves people from underprivileged communities in Ventura County, California.
Tun’s volunteer work has included measuring people’s vital signs, providing Spanish to English translation, and more. And it definitely made a difference.
As much as the 21-year-old gave at the clinic, he also received what he believes to be a personal formative experience.
“Growing up in a predominantly white and affluent community, I have always been ashamed of my Latinx heritage and socioeconomic status,” says the senior at the University of Southern California (USC). “As I became more involved with the Westminster Free Clinic, I became proud of my Latinx heritage, of being bilingual and of being a product of immigrant parents.”
Volunteer work has also helped Tun see how he can build on his knowledge and use it to help others throughout his career.
“My future goal is to help nonprofits improve their organizational design, create and strengthen their endowments and establish sustainable development strategies,” he says.
We asked Tun about his studies, goals and obstacles. Here is what he had to say.
This interview has been edited for brevity, length and clarity.
What prompted you to start your field of study?
Growing up with immigrant parents in Yucatán, Mexico, I’ve always been taught that I have two career paths: being a doctor or a lawyer. Upon entering USC, I had planned to become an immigration lawyer, but I quickly realized that it was my parents’ dream, not mine.
However, a first year internship at an immigration law firm showed me that while I did not want to work in law, I appreciated the social impact and team collaboration.
So, I turned to different career paths. I took various courses outside of my political science major, networked with alumni from various industries, got involved in competitive student organizations, and bonded with my highly motivated peers. .
These enriching experiences made me realize that I had a gift for business and project management. Fortunately, I was able to attend the Goldman Sachs virtual undergraduate camp and land a summer internship in the company’s human capital management division.
As I continued to attend networking events and take business classes, I realized that I was one of the few Latinos in the business world. It convinced me to stay with political science, hoping to eventually bring a human perspective to the business world and create fair opportunities for other students.
Can you tell us about the work you have done so far?
For the past 6 years I have interned and volunteered at the Westminster Free Clinic. I started out as a teenage medical assistant. Then, 2 years later, I became a student manager and helped run the clinic’s operations. I eventually joined the board to help meet the needs of people in the Latinx community.
During the pandemic, I returned to the clinic as a data management analyst and distributed food to families who lost their jobs and faced other challenges.
I have also been heavily involved in Student Advocates Leading Uplifting Decisions (SALUD), a student advocacy group. I have volunteered with a group family’s adoption campaign for the holidays, collecting back-to-school backpacks, and college panels for low-income and first-generation Latinx students.
What obstacles have you encountered as you move towards your goals?
Entering the business world has not been easy. As a low-income, first-generation, Latinx student, I had to find funding to support myself and get the same opportunities as my more affluent peers going into business.
My immigrant parents worked in low paying jobs and encouraged me to do my best and present my most authentic self. But to figure out how to network, prepare for mock interviews, and polish my resume, I had to learn from others and use USC’s resources.
Business is a predominantly white industry so I had to look for mentors and peers of color.
What is one of the main health inequalities that you have seen affecting the Latinx community, and how could it be addressed?
One of the social determinants of health affecting the Latinx community is the lack of affordable housing.
Many people working in Ventura County’s Latinx community have jobs that pay minimum wage or less, which is not enough to pay the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment. Therefore, [some] Latinx families often share small apartments with other families, which has kept them from practicing social distancing during the pandemic.
Additionally, the high cost of housing and low wages in the county leave many Latinxes with little to spend on health care, medicine, and nutritious food. Creating affordable housing for Latinx families would save them money and invest it in their health.
What message would you like to send to the Latinx community?
I urge members of the Latinx community, especially students, to support other people of color and vulnerable populations. Building community and giving back are the most rewarding parts of life.
I wouldn’t be in the position I am now without the support of mentors who wanted me to be successful and provided me with fair opportunities.