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From Oaxaca to Stanford, via blueberry farms in the Northwest

The daughter of a farmworker, medical student Gianna Nino-Tapias draws strength from her Mixtec ancestors.

Last summer, incoming Stanford medical student Gianna (pronounced "Yana") Nino-Tapias sent out a tweet about blueberry pickers' wages. Featuring a photo of two buckets brimming with berries, the tweet went viral, catapulting Nino-Tapias into a few weeks of nationwide fame.

Between interviews with reporters from a slew of media outlets, she found time to speak with me about spending the summer picking blueberries, sending out the tweet and what it was like to be a momentary celebrity. I wrote a Scope post about her experience.

I was later assigned to write a story about Nino-Tapias for Stanford Medicine magazine's issue about racial inequity in medicine. I thought we'd talk about farmworkers and her Latina heritage; instead, she began to tell me about her Mixtec ancestry and culture.

Nino-Tapias was born in Eastern Oregon, but her family hails from Oaxaca, which is home to more Indigenous people than any other Mexican state. Oaxaca is also famous as the "land of seven moles," the silky, complex sauces made of ground chiles, seeds and, frequently, chocolate. She said her mother, who raised four children on her own as a farmworker, would occasionally make mole: "It takes her all day."

Her family also honors Mixtec healing traditions, one of which seemed to work for her recurring tonsillitis. It was during a clinic visit, when the physician mocked her mother for following those traditions, that young Nino-Tapias first starting thinking about a career in medicine.

In my article, "Grounded by family," I describe how Nino-Tapias drew strength from her Mixtec family to achieve her dream of going to medical school, and how she hopes to care for Indigenous patients. She vows that she will respect their folk remedies. "I think the best way to serve them is to incorporate medicine with traditional healing," she said.

Image by Timothy Archibald

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