- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 16, 2017

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (AP) - About 16 years ago, Hugo Sanchez Juan’s parents were making and selling candy in their free time in Cuba. Despite both working as doctors, the family struggled to make ends meet.

Sanchez Juan was 6 years old. His parents saw the path that lay ahead in Cuba for him and his sister. It wasn’t what they wanted for their children. So they immigrated to the United States, leaving their former lives behind, to give them more opportunities for financial prosperity. The family settled in Louisville.

“I feel like I will always be indebted to them,” Sanchez Juan, 22, said. “I know that they don’t see it that way, but I owe them everything because they gave up everything for my sister and I.”

The Indiana University Southeast biology graduate further validated his family’s decision 16 years ago when he walked across the stage at Freedom Hall on May 8, signifying the earning of his degree. In the fall, he’ll be attending the University of Kentucky’s College of Dentistry, following his parents’ footsteps in the medical field.

It’s a tale of the American Dream - and it’s only just begun.

Sanchez Juan remembers Cuba from his early childhood years. He’s also visited twice since moving to the United States. He tells stories of people living in shacks, struggling to eat.

“It’s difficult coming from here and then going there, and you see how much of a struggle it is,” he said.

Still a Louisville resident, Sanchez Juan decided he wanted to attend IU Southeast because of its small class sizes and Honors Program.

He has known since he was a child that he wanted to enter some kind of medical field. He chose dental school because he likes the manual labor and techniques.

But he also wants to use his expertise and resources one day to give back to his home country, and to others in need.

“Through dental school and becoming a dentist, I feel like I can help my family and help others with something that I love,” Sanchez Juan said.

Angela Salas, director of the IU Southeast Honors Program, taught Sanchez Juan in his first and last semesters - something she called “a nice case of serendipity.”

“He’s a really good example of the ways people grow intellectually and academically over time,” Salas said.

She said he “has not wavered” in his desire to serve underprivileged people, either domestically or abroad.

“As long as I’ve known him, his vision has been, ‘I will try to get in a position to make good money so that six months of the year, I’m out giving some away,’” Salas said. “His attitude about wealth is one that says, ‘and then you share it.’”

She believes her student’s need to serve “reflects well on his respect of his parents’ and his sacrifice.”

In an Honors class called “Work and Life’s Meaning” this past semester, he expressed “some of the most nuanced view of work” in the class, Salas said.

“Maybe it’s because he’s the child of immigrants, but he is so unaffected by the hierarchies we set up about work…,” she said. “He’s not trying to flee someone perceiving him as being less important because he might have a job that’s more exalted. He wants to do this work because he thinks it’s important for humans.”

It wasn’t until his adult life Sanchez Juan realized the tough economic times he left behind in Cuba, he said. Even if he can’t always travel back to help Cubans in need, he believes service is a way of providing balance to the world.

“I feel like helping out here in the community or in impoverished areas, it’s kind of like a way of me giving back to my family,” Sanchez Juan said.

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Source: News and Tribune, https://bit.ly/2pG6gOg

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Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., https://www.newsandtribune.com

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