2018 LAHIDAN Distinguished Trinko Service Award
Aurora Buffington, PhD, RDN, LD
Aurora Buffington is an Assistant Professor and Public Health Nutrition Specialist for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, where her focus is on transforming the food system and environment into one that promotes health, sustainability, and resilience. Aurora graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with BS in Nutrition Science, MS Exercise Physiology and PhD in Public Health with an emphasis on Social and Behavioral Health. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, a Certified American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Exercise Physiologist and a Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist. In her role as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, she has served in national, state and local professional organizations in a variety of roles, including President, Nominating Committee, Media Representative, and LAHIDAN Mentoring Program Chair. Aurora and her husband have four grown sons, and in her spare time she enjoys teaching fitness classes, creating home-cooked meals, and spending time with her family and friends.
I am honored to receive the 2018 LAHIDAN Distinguished Trinko Service Award, and as I consider the things I’ve been able to achieve I am quick to point out that I have received a lot of guidance and resources along the way to help make it possible. When we hear stories about successful people, especially those who come from a humble background, we tend to credit those individuals with exceptional grit and determination. We reason that success is the world’s oyster given the right amount of effort and motivation. While I will admit that much of what I do requires a great deal of effort and resolve, I cannot emphasize enough the significant contributions that circumstances, social networks, and my environment have had on me and my work.
As I think back, I can see how public health concepts such as the social determinants of health have impacted my life and the lives of my family, friends, and others around me. Social determinants of health are defined as “… the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age” (World Health Organization, n.d), and these factors influence one’s ability and resolution to enable – or sometimes hinder – actions, especially those that impact health. Immigration and acculturation are woven into my story, as well as privilege and opportunities that extend beyond my formative years and continue to fuel my work and passion. I believe it is important to understand context when considering health, so in this article, I will share a few life experiences as they relate to public health concepts that many of my fellow LAHIDAN members may have experienced themselves in one form or another. I hope that this will help us consider similarities and differences that play a role in our health.
I am a second generation American because my parents emigrated here from Aguascalientes, Mexico and I was born in the United States. My parents were the first generation immigrants, and my children are considered to be the 3rdgeneration because both my husband and I were born in the United States (PEW Research Center, n.d.). Relatives told me that my father and his cousins did seasonal work in the canneries in Sacramento, CA back in the late 1950s, and this makes sense as Sacramento was surrounded by food crops, home to two of the largest canneries in the world at the time, and a major transportation hub.
My father joined the US Army in 1961 and earned American citizenship as a result of his 2-year service. He was sent to Korea by ship, and during his tour contracted a severe case of hepatitis requiring hospitalization under the care of military doctors. Hepatitis was endemic in Far East countries during the 1960s, and the military was able to make great strides in learning about the disease and its prevention due to the experiences of its troops (Dooley, 2005). My father later returned to the US, so he could get married and start a new life in the states. Thousands of military members today are non-citizens, and many are provided a path to citizenship via the military. In 2016, 511,000 veterans living in the US were born in a foreign country, accounting for about 3% of the total veteran population. Not all of them become naturalized citizens, but of the 83% that did, more than one-third were from Mexico or the Philippines (National Immigration Forum, 2018).
My mother tearfully left her mother, brothers, and sister to start a new life in the US shortly after getting married. She never needed to work outside of the home, learn English nor how to drive. Because of this, most of the interactions my mother would have with English speakers involved me as a translator, including doctor visits. We know now that this is not a good practice for many reasons, including violating confidentiality, the potential for incorrect translations or errors, and an increased risk of poor outcomes (Juckett & Unger, 2014).
I had an idyllic childhood surrounded by a family that loved and cared for me. I lived in a modest but comfortable home set in a mostly safe and diverse lower middle-class neighborhood and had all of my needs met. While I knew that not everyone shared similar childhood experiences, I rarely thought about how those experiences could affect individual outcomes until I experienced a Privilege Walk activity conducted by the leaders of my 2005 National Education for Women’s (NEW) Leadership cohort. Privilege Walks are designed to help participants identify issues that may help or hinder them in everyday life (University of Albany School of Social Welfare, 2009). Some of the issues brought up in a Privilege Walk include gender or racial inequality, food insecurity, disability, sense of belonging, and many more factors that are also considered social determinants of health. It was then that I began to understand that just because I was able to overcome some issues that others could perceive as “challenges,” it did not mean that others growing up in similar environments would be afforded the same opportunities or privileges.
I have received many benefits, from being able to participate in a Math Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) Program in high school to having most of my higher education paid for by the US government and my employers, so it should be easy to see why I place a high value on these types of programs and the impact they can have. Apart from formal programs, I have received support from my vast network of family, faith, friends, and others who have at one time or another encouraged me or helped me start or finish a project, or simply persevere. The environments that I have lived and worked in have also made a significant imprint on my being, and I feel privileged to have experienced every good, happy, bad, and sad thing that has happened to me throughout the years. I admit that my life has not been social media perfect. I have experienced painful losses and made mistakes that unfortunately could also be counted as common Latino experiences, but right now I choose to focus on how I may use those experiences to show empathy and help others.
I hope that LAHIDAN members and fellow nutrition professionals would be able to relate to these experiences and gain a greater understanding of how outside factors such as life circumstances can affect the health and behaviors of their clients and patients, no matter where they come from. I also hope that we would seek to be a resource or guide students and new colleagues, both the up-and-coming ones as well as the ones who are struggling. You just never know how a word of encouragement or a moment of your time will make a difference. Thank you for your presence, and may you be warmed with the happiness that accompanies a generous life.
1. Dooley, D. (2005). History of U.S. Military Contributions to the Study of Viral Hepatitis. Military Medicine, 170(4 Suppl): 71-76. PubMed PMID: 15916286.
2. Juckett, G., and Unger, K. (2014). Appropriate Use of Medical Interpreters. American Family Physician, 90(7): 476:430. PubMed PMID: 25369625.
3. National Immigration Forum. (2018). Essentials of Naturalization for Military Service Members and Veterans. Policy Fact Sheets. Retrieved from https://immigrationforum.org/article/essentials-of-naturalization-for-military-service-members-and-veterans/
4. Pew Research Center. (n.d.). Demographic Research Definitions. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/methods/demographic-research/definitions/
5. World Health Organization. (n.d.). About social determinants of health. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/social_determinants/sdh_definition/en/
6. University of Albany School of Social Welfare. (2009). Module 5: Privilege Walk Activity. Expanding the Family Circle. Retrieved from https://www.albany.edu/ssw/efc/index.html
2018 Student FNCE® Scholarship Recipient
Thanks to Latinos and Hispanics in Dietetics and Nutrition (LAHIDAN), I had the opportunity to attend the 2018 Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo™ (FNCE®) in Washington, D.C. FNCE® offers students and professionals a tremendous opportunity to expand their knowledge within the field of nutrition. I came across the LAHIDAN Student FNCE® Scholarship opportunity when I was a dietetic intern at the UC San Diego Health Dietetic Internship. As a dietetic intern, it can be quite challenging to pay for educational trips, especially one of this nature. As part of the scholarship, LAHIDAN enables students and dietetic interns the opportunity to attend FNCE® at a reduced costs. The goal of the scholarship is to foster mentoring of future nutrition leaders. I was absolutely thrilled and honored to be selected as this year’s scholarship recipient. I’m excited to share a few highlights from such an incredible trip.
FNCE® offers hundreds of educational sessions in the field of nutrition and dietetics. I watched several sessions on a range of topics including telehealth, mindful eating, diabetes and the microbiome, nutrition counseling tips, and ways to communicate credible science. One session in particular stood out to me, titled Nutrition Implication of Disaster Relief in Puerto Rico, as this topic has a special place in my heart. I was raised by a Puerto Rican mother and lived the majority of my life on the island of Puerto Rico. After witnessing the detrimental effects last year’s hurricane season had on Puerto Rico, I was looking forward to learning more about the nutrition assistance programs on the island. It was heart-wrenching to hear the panelists stories and learn about the impact the hurricane had on their work within nutrition. One panelist in particular worked in a dialysis center and shared her experience dealing with power outages, flooding, and lack of suitable food and resources for patients with kidney failure. As disheartening as their stories were, the panelists did say that if an event of this nature were to happen again, they would be prepared. They were now equipped with the knowledge, experience, and necessary resources to battle another hurricane.
During my time at FNCE®, I also volunteered at the LAHIDAN membership booth where I helped recruit new members to the group and had the chance to interact with hundreds of people with many diverse backgrounds. I met many of the LAHIDAN Executive Committee members who embraced me with open arms; I immediately felt welcome and included in this group. Watching the members’ enthusiasm and passion made me excited to be part of such an inspiring group, and I really look forward to getting more involved.
LAHIDAN hosted a reception for current, new, and potential members. It was truly a memorable night of networking and forming new relationships. I met registered dietitians from all over Latin America and a large group of nutrition college students from la Universidad de Puerto Rico. During the reception, I received recognition for my award and had the opportunity to say a few words.
Lastly, since FNCE® is in a different city each year, this scholarship allows you to be a bit of a tourist as well. I was thrilled to visit such a historical city as Washington, D.C. I partook in a bit of sightseeing including visiting the White House, the National Monument, and the Natural History Museum, which contributed to the whole educational component of the trip as well.
There is an overwhelming need for Spanish-speaking dietitians both in Puerto Rico and on the mainland. I have a keen interest in combatting these chronic diseases with a focus on underprivileged Hispanic communities. As a registered dietitian, I look forward to using my Spanish language skills and familiarity with Latin culture to make a difference in the lives and health of Hispanics. I encourage all students to apply for the LAHIDAN student scholarship award. The experience was invaluable, and I look forward to applying what I learned to my career.