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Photography by Tiffany Luong

Over the last 6 years, Luis Tun has devoted countless volunteer hours to the Westminster Free Clinic, a nonprofit community healthcare center that serves people from under-resourced 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 has undoubtedly made a difference.

As much as the 21-year-old has given to the clinic, he’s also received what he believes to be a formative personal experience.

“Growing up in a predominantly white and affluent community, I was always ashamed of my Latinx heritage and socioeconomic status,” says the senior at the University of Southern California (USC). “As I became more involved in the Westminster Free Clinic, I became proud of my Latinx heritage, being bilingual, and a product of immigrant parents.”

The volunteer work has also helped Tun see how he can build upon his knowledge and use it to help others throughout his career.

“My future goal is to help nonprofits build better organizational design, create and build their endowments, and establish sustainability strategies,” he says.

We asked Tun about his studies, goals, and obstacles. Here’s what he had to say.

This interview has been edited for brevity, length, and clarity.

What prompted you to get into your field of study?

Growing up with immigrant parents from Yucatán, Mexico, I was always taught that I had two career paths: being a doctor or lawyer. Coming into USC, I had planned to become an immigration attorney but quickly realized that was my parents’ dream — not mine.

However, a freshman year internship at an immigration law firm showed me that, even though I didn’t want to work in law, I enjoyed social impact and team collaboration.

So, I pivoted into looking at different career paths. I took diverse courses outside my political science major, networked with alumni in various industries, got involved with competitive student organizations, and connected with my highly motivated peers. 

These valuable experiences made me realize I had a knack for business and project management. Luckily, I was able to attend the virtual Goldman Sachs Undergraduate Camp and land a summer internship in the company’s human capital management division. 

As I continued going to networking events and taking business courses, I realized I was one of very few Latinos in the business sector. That convinced me to stay with political science, in hopes of eventually bringing a humanity-focused lens to the business world and making opportunities equitable for other students.

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Can you tell us about the work you’ve done so far?

For the past 6 years, I’ve interned and volunteered my time at the Westminster Free Clinic. I started as a teen medical assistant. Then, 2 years later, I became a student manager and helped lead the operations of the clinic. I eventually joined the board of directors to help address 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 that lost their jobs and faced other challenges.

I’ve also been heavily involved in Student Advocates Leading Uplifting Decisions (SALUD), a student advocacy group. I’ve volunteered in the group’s adopt-a-family campaign for the holidays, back-to-school backpack drive, and college panels for low income and first generation Latinx students.

What obstacles have you encountered as you’ve moved toward your goals?

Entering the business sector has not been easy. As a low income, first generation, and Latinx student, I’ve had to find funding to support myself and gain the same opportunities as my more affluent peers entering business. 

My immigrant parents worked low wage jobs and encouraged me to try my best and present my most authentic self. But to understand how to network, prepare for mock interviews, and polish my resume, I had to learn from others and use USC resources.

Business is a predominantly white industry, so I’ve had to search for mentors and peers of color.

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What’s one of the major health inequities you’ve seen affect the Latinx community, and how could this be addressed?

One social determinant of health affecting the Latinx community is the lack of affordable housing. 

Many people in Ventura County’s Latinx community work jobs that pay minimum wage or less, which is not enough to afford the average monthly rent on a two-bedroom apartment. As a result, [some] Latinx families often share small apartments with other families, which has made it impossible for them to practice social distancing during the pandemic. 

Plus, the high cost of housing and low wages in the county leaves many Latinx people with little money to spend on healthcare, medication, and nutritious foods. Creating affordable housing for Latinx families would allow them to save money and invest it in their health.

What message would you like to give to the Latinx community?

I urge Latinx community members, especially students, to support other people of color and vulnerable populations. Building community and giving back are the most rewarding parts of living.

I would not be in the position I am now without the support of mentors who wanted me to succeed and provided me with equitable opportunities.