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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

At St. Jude, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by spotlighting the stories of our Hispanic patients and the scientific advances that continue to save children in our community. Your contribution could help kids during this month and beyond.

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St. Jude patient Emilio and his patents

St. Jude patient Emilio with his parents.

Image of colorful abstract shapes art by St. Jude survivor Tayde

What is Hispanic Heritage Month?

The idea to celebrate people of Hispanic heritage was originally born in 1968 with the creation of Hispanic Heritage Week. Over time, this grew into a month-long celebration, starting on September 15 and ending on October 15.


National Hispanic Heritage Month
doctor and employee spotlights


  1. image of Alberto Pappo, MD

    Alberto Pappo, MD

    Director, Solid Tumor Division

    National Heritage: Born in Mexico City, Mexico


    Alberto Pappo, MD

    "We all have something to contribute, and we don’t judge anybody."

  2. image of Amanda Soto

    Amanda Soto

    Advisor, Area Development - Pacific Territory (formerly known as Regional Development Director)
    National heritage: Mexican, Born in Zacatecas, Mexico


    Amanda Soto

    She loves knowing that her "grain of salt makes a difference in the grand scheme of things."

  3. image of Jasmin Elizararas, RN

    Jasmin Elizarraras, RN

    National heritage: Mexican-American

    Nurse Manager for Kay 5 Solid Tumor/Neurological Oncology


    Jasmin Elizarraras, RN

    It has truly been rewarding to create this beautiful bond with all the patients and families I have had the pleasure to care for.

  4. image of Edgar Reyes Pedroza

    Edgar Reyes Pedroza

    Advisor – Business Systems, Event Experience
    National heritage: Born and raised in Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua Mexico


    Edgar Reyes Pedroza

    ALSAC has given me the opportunity of being the whole me at work.

  5. image of Carlos Fernández-Peña Acuña, PhD

    Carlos Fernández-Peña Acuña, PhD

    Postdoctoral Research Associate; Developmental Neurobiology

    National heritage: Venezuelan/Spanish, born in Caracas, Venezuela


    Carlos Fernández-Peña Acuña, PhD

    Everyone is "rowing in the same direction towards the same goal of saving children."

  6. image of Jess Cerda

    Jess Cerda

    Senior Philanthropic Advisor
    National heritage: Ecuadorian


    Jess Cerda

    Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month brings me great honor and pride.

  7. image of Elizabeth Wickman

    Elizabeth Wickman

    Fifth-year Graduate Student, St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

    National heritage: Cuban


    Elizabeth Wickman

    My inspiration comes from seeing the children of St. Jude every day.


Celebrating our Hispanic patients



Art by St. Jude survivor Tayde

colorful bird art by St. Jude survivor Tayde
image of St. Jude patient Luna holding a photograph of herself while in treatment

St. Jude patient Luna


Learn about childhood cancer in the Hispanic community

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
  • It is the most common form of childhood cancer.
  • Therapy for ALL usually includes chemotherapy and may last for 2½–3 years.
  • The 5-year survival rate for childhood ALL is more than 94% at St. Jude.
Image of colorful abstract shapes art by St. Jude survivor Tayde
image of border and flowers artwork by St. Jude survivor Tayde

Art by St. Jude survivor Tayde


Help us continue the lifesaving mission of St. Jude.

By joining our mission, you can help give all of the children of St. Jude give these kids a chance to grow up.

Image of colorful abstract shapes art by St. Jude survivor Tayde

Learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month

  1. The idea to celebrate people of Hispanic heritage was originally born in 1968 with the creation of Hispanic Heritage Week. Over time, this grew into a month-long celebration honoring Hispanic Americans with roots in Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South American countries. 

  2. Hispanic Heritage Month begins each year starting on September 15 and continues through on October 15. A number of Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, celebrate their independence on September 15th. Additionally, September 16 and 18 mark Independence Day for Mexico and Chile, respectively. 

  3. Here at St. Jude, we’re proud to create an inclusive atmosphere for all cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds. National Hispanic Heritage Month gives us the opportunity to specifically highlight and celebrate our incredible Hispanic patients and staff members.


Mexico holds a special place in Alberto Pappo’s heart. He grew up there, making some of his closest friends and enjoying the best food he’s ever had. It’s also where he earned his medical degree, an important milestone on his path to becoming an oncologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Pappo, who serves as director of the Solid Tumor Division at St. Jude, moved to the United States in 1985 and came to Memphis in 1991. He worked at St. Jude for 10 years before moving to Canada and then Houston, Texas. He returned to Memphis in 2010 and is celebrating 21 years at St. Jude.

Pappo appreciates how all patients, families and employees are respected at St. Jude.

“Everybody can blend in and do the right thing for our patients and for the mission, but at the same time, we can maintain our individuality. We have patients from all over the world, and we try to accommodate their needs and beliefs as best as we can. We also have a great group of translators, and they’re very helpful,” said Pappo, who himself is fluent in Spanish.

At St. Jude, Pappo helped launch the Childhood Solid Tumor Network, the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of scientific resources for studying pediatric solid tumors and their biology. He also created a pediatric melanoma referral clinic where experts evaluate patients from across the country twice a year and connect them to referring physicians working to treat this rare pediatric disease.

Celebrating the achievements and contributions of the Hispanic community is important to Pappo, and he is proud that St. Jude places a priority on such recognition as well.

“There’s a long history of diversity here. So many discoveries at St. Jude have been by people who are not originally from the United States,” he said. “We all have something to contribute, and we don’t judge anybody. That was one of Danny Thomas’ dreams. We celebrate all kinds of heritages, customs, nationalities and beliefs. I think that’s why this place is so special.”    

The first time Amanda heard of St. Jude was through a commercial featuring Jennifer Aniston. At that moment, she couldn’t imagine that her now-manager, Beatriz Barragan, would reach out to her via LinkedIn to discuss an available position. They spoke on the phone and a month later she was a part of ALSAC.

Amanda started out as a Bilingual Development Specialist and received a promotion in 2021. She loves building relationships as well as connecting outside donors and partners to the mission of St. Jude, knowing that her “grain of salt makes a difference in the grand scheme of things.”

Being both Hispanic and bilingual has allowed Amanda to bring different ideas and perspectives to her work. She’s had the opportunity to help different teams in and outside of Southern California by traveling to their events, serving as a Spanish-speaking representative and creating Spanish-language materials for them to use. Amanda recently joined the Hispanic Culture Committee. Her favorite initiative is leading the radiothon for Univision Los Angeles, one of the largest in the nation, which helps bring hundreds of new Angeles de Esperanza to our mission every year.

Amanda’s family immigrated to the U.S. when she was 3 years old. Because of this, her parents felt it was very important for their children to hold onto their culture and continue to speak Spanish. Because of this, she didn’t really celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. “Being Hispanic was just who we were,” Amanda says, “and we celebrated year-round, in true Mexican fashion.” Now it's important to Amanda to celebrate this month because it gives her the opportunity to educate others about her own country's rich history, culture and contributions to this nation and world.

Amanda was a DACA program recipient until earlier this year. After 31 years of living in the U.S., she finally qualified to apply for permanent residency. Growing up as an undocumented and Hispanic person and being the first person in her family to graduate from college are experiences that motivate Amanda to excel in her work at ALSAC. Those experiences helped her become resilient, resourceful and able to “navigate living in the gray.”

Early in her time as a nurse at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Jasmin Elizarraras, RN, saw that she could play a unique role in patient care.

As the only Spanish-speaking nurse in her unit when she started working at St. Jude in 2015, she was sought out by peers to interpret and communicate with Spanish-speaking families and served as a valuable resource for patients from various backgrounds. Seeing patient’s reactions when they learned that she spoke Spanish inspired her to become a certified Spanish interpreter, further helping patients and families during their stays at St. Jude.

“Whenever a Spanish speaking patient learned that I spoke Spanish, it was this amazing revelation to them. They felt like they could connect with me and even if at times we had different backgrounds we bonded on the differences within our Hispanic heritage,” Elizarraras said. “It has truly been rewarding to create this beautiful bond with all the patients and families I have had the pleasure to care for.”

Originally from Los Angeles, Elizarraras originally moved to Tennessee during her childhood when her sister was a patient at St. Jude. During the frequent visits to the hospital, she took a great interest in the caregivers and it became her passion. Now a nurse for seven years, she has taken the opportunity to share her heritage with her coworkers and patients alike.

With those two interests of patient care and heritage meeting at an intersection at St. Jude, Elizarraras has expanded her role to serve as the chair for the Nursing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, bringing a varied perspective to her unit and the entire St. Jude campus.

“I have had the pleasure to collaborate alongside other minority groups, and together we are trying to expand and share all our stories that make us unique with the whole institution,” she said. “I like the diverse patient population that we care for. I really feel like I am making a difference in the world by caring for all these patients and their families.”

Growing up, Edgar believed there were multiple St. Jude hospitals around the United States. This is because, every year, he would accompany his grandma to drop off her donation for St. Jude at the Kmart in El Paso. After all, St. Jude Thaddeus was her patron saint.

Edgar joined the ALSAC team back in 2018, first as a contractor under the Event Support Team in ITS and later in his current position. He continues to work with both his current and former teams, getting to flex his skills onsite at the events he supports. He also has gone beyond his role, becoming a co-chair for the LGBTQ+ & Allies advocacy and leading innovative initiatives across the organization.

“Being born and raised in a Mexican household, I was taught that my work shows who I am. Being Mexican and Hispanic is part of my DNA, and of what I do.” Edgar is aware that he doesn’t just represent himself, but rather the whole community in his work. This is why he goes beyond “just doing his job” and ensures that all those around him feel welcomed into his “familia.”

That said, Edgar is also thankful that ALSAC gives him the space to embrace all his identities: “ALSAC has given me the opportunity of being the whole me at work and I'm forever grateful! I’m Mexican, Hispanic, Gay, Husband, Son, Brother, Uncle, Great Uncle, Friend, and Coworker!” he exclaimed.

He believes that the Hispanic community has a huge commitment to St. Jude. He says that “being in events from Seattle to Puerto Rico and every place in between, I have seen how our Hispanic staff, volunteers, and donors show up for our mission.”

When Carlos Fernández-Peña Acuña, PhD, thinks about his surroundings in the Developmental Neurobiology department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, he sees a group committed to maintaining a positive outlook in all situations, but particularly when faced with adversity.

In describing the environment and culture, he uses the same words that he uses to describe his Venezuelan heritage.

“I think that a key part of the Venezuelan culture is that we are very happy people; we help each other and either through our food, our stories, or our music, we always find a way to maintain a positive spirit that keeps us moving forward during hard times,” he said. “This has been of invaluable help throughout my career, and especially here because science is embedded in adversity.”

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Fernández-Peña Acuña was raised in a small, nearby town called Guarenas with the staunch work ethic of a farming family. Upon his arrival at St. Jude three years ago, he saw similar values in his new coworkers.

“When I first started working at St. Jude, I experienced a welcoming environment where everyone was a team player, all rowing in the same direction towards the same goal of saving children,” he said. “Everyone is ready to help each other without hesitation.”

Working in Developmental Neurobiology under the guidance of Lindsay Schwarz, PhD, Fernández-Peña Acuña is part of a team that focuses on understanding how neural circuits are organized in the brain to generate diverse behaviors, including anxiety and depression.

With such an important mission, he is inspired each day he comes to the lab.

“The most rewarding aspect of my job is knowing that every discovery that we make has the potential to help in the cure of catastrophic diseases in children,” he said.

Jess Cerda grew up hearing about St. Jude, as it was her family’s favorite charitable organization. After working in the nonprofit sector for 20 years, she joined ALSAC as Regional Managing Director for Eastern Florida in 2017.  

“What I enjoy most about what I do,” said Jess, “is building relationships, coaching team members and seeing them succeed, as well as the magic of bringing to fruition a constituent’s gift.”

Living in Miami, it has been useful for Jess to speak Spanish. “There is a large Hispanic community in Miami, and it allows me to communicate in their native language about the impact of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and our local footprint. In addition to the awareness piece, being Hispanic in a senior role provides our youth inspiration that with hard work and dedication they, too, can successfully work and grow within a large organization.”

“Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month brings me great honor and pride,” said Jess. “It reminds me of the sacrifices my parents and many others make to provide greater opportunities for their families.”

In addition to spreading awareness for the mission of St. Jude, Jess encourages everyone to visit her native Ecuador. “You can cross the equator or ‘La Mitad del Mundo’ as we call it, should your travels bring you to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Also, Ecuador is known for its Galapagos Islands, distributed in either side of the equator in the eastern Pacific Ocean, made famous by Charles Darwin. If you haven’t visited Ecuador, I hope this has motivated you to take a trip!”

When Lizzie Wickman’s grandmother immigrated from Cuba to the United States as a child, a good portion of her Cuban culture stayed behind as the family assimilated to the American way of life.

However, cooking and sharing Cuban cuisine were important traditions that remained in her family through generations. While her family shunned tradition to mix with their surroundings all those years ago, it was those very traditions that helped Wickman adjust to life at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. When she arrived in Memphis, Wickman harkened back to the pastelitos de guayaba, lechon asado and croquetas from her childhood to bridge gaps with her new community.

“When I started at St. Jude, I used cooking to share my Cuban culture with my classmates,” she said. “Through food, I made great friendships with my classmates and coworkers while adding to the diversity already present on the St. Jude campus.”

From the time she first visited St. Jude as an undergraduate student at North Carolina State University, Wickman felt at home in a cutting-edge and collaborative environment. Now in her fifth year as a graduate student in the St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences program, Wickman finds herself in the perfect atmosphere to hone her craft while fulfilling her passion for advancing the science of pediatric medical care.

“On one of my first visits to the clinic, we visited children in the inpatient unit. I saw firsthand how much care the doctors and nurses give each child, the amount of teamwork that goes into creating each child’s care, and the reason why I decided to get my PhD,” she said. “My inspiration comes from seeing the children of St. Jude every day. Despite the reason they are here, they provide so much hope and happiness to campus. Seeing the children on campus motivates me daily to make science more accessible and to make safer therapies for the children at St. Jude.”