Dr. Canela Una Eatman on Embracing Differences
and Pursuing Aspirations

"As an adolescent, I began to embrace the differences and that carried into adulthood.
That mindset allowed for unlimited possibilities in career choice."

A Journey to Living Well and Writing the Next Chapter of Black History

How do you feel being an immigrant/child of an immigrant impacted what you saw as career possibilities?

As the child of an immigrant, K-8, I understood I was different than my classmates as I was often the only Black student, never more than five, in a classroom of 30. When I was on my block, there were plenty of Black families but only two others spoke Spanish— and they were Panamanian—unlike my family, which is Puerto Rican. I realized my experiences were different than most of the children around me. As an adolescent, I began to embrace the differences and that carried into adulthood. That mindset allowed for unlimited possibilities in career choice. I was never pressured by my parents to pick a particular career. I did, however, see plenty of nurses and hairstylists. Because of the frequency, I didn’t desire those as professions. However, I knew whatever I did, I needed to enjoy it— the focus is always to live well!

Do you feel the Black American experience is different than the experience of Black Immigrants? 

I believe there is a difference in Black American experience and that of Black Immigrants. One of my biggest is the connection to holidays like Juneteenth. While I understand it intellectually. I don’t feel connected to it like my college friends do— I attended an HBCU. What I am going to do, is fly to Galveston and experience Juneteenth there. I want to learn more and possibly build more of a connection as I believe all of the African Diaspora is pertinent.

What was the goal for you? What helped to drive you to your accomplishments?

The goal is to live well. My desire to live well & on my terms drives me to my accomplishments. I set goals and then decide how I want my journey to look. For example, when I decided I wanted to be a doctor but I wasn’t sure of what, I researched a school a friend was attending. I found 3 programs that were of interest to me but were also vastly different. I told myself which ever program accepts me with a scholarship, is what I’ll get my doctorate in, since all the programs were of interest to me. Not the most conventional method but it works for me! Another driver of accomplishments is being told “no” or “you can’t do it.” To me, that means I MUST do it. Which is also how I earned my doctorate. Once some of my professors told me I was incapable, it solidified— that I will. And the icing on the cake for me, was that they are White. It became my duty to prove them wrong because of what my Ancestors endured so I can have opportunities like earning a terminal degree. It also became my responsibility to be an example for other Black children. I couldn’t do that if I quit.

Were there any rules of thumb or sayings repeated to you in your childhood that you live by to this very day?

My maternal grandmother raised me. She would often say “cojelo con take it easy” which is a phrase that means to relax, chill out, or stop worrying. It’s a reminder for me to do what I can in any situation and then be done with it. The rest will work itself out.

 Pick three theme songs for your life. One for childhood, one for when you just entered the working world, and what’s your current theme song?

Hello Mama Africa by Garnett Silk
Keep Your Head to the Sky by Earth, Wind & Fire
Imagine by Common featuring PJ

Did you know that by being who you are and pursuing your aspirations, you would be helping to write the following chapters of Black History? How does that make you feel?

I never thought about it like that. I knew I would be an example, like I stated earlier, but being a part of Black History?? That’s for grown-ups. I’m still working on this adulting thing. In all seriousness, that makes me proud. I pray my aspirations are in-line with what the Ancestors would have me to do.

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