Stepping out of the rail on Georgia Avenue, my father, Guarocuya Batista, entered the Freedmen’s Hospital, the largest African American hospital in the Washington area. A fresh-faced doctor, he walked through its halls with a quiet determination and sage awareness that this was the start of his medical career. He was also bearing the mantle of a first-generation college student.

As a young boy, I was captivated by his life stories, the rhythmic lilt of his voice painting vivid images of a world where dedication and learning were the pillars of progress. “El mal comío no piensa,” he would often say, repeating a Dominican proverb that roughly translates as “The badly eaten don’t think.” These words resonate with ideas of achievement, where baseball or academic prowess are the only ways out of poverty for Dominicans. 

In late October 1963, my father and three other cardiology fellows at Freedman’s Hospital published a paper surveying local patient populations and linking lesions in walls of arteries — atherosclerosis — to diabetes, heart attacks and cerebrovascular diseases. This study was funded by the National Heart Institute, now a part of the National Institutes of Health. Given that my father never completed his immigration journey, this was a surprise. This was the era of the National Origins Formula, when national quotas were legal. Employing a foreign doctor in a minority-serving hospital was novel. At the time he arrived in the U.S., Dominicans were rare: there were only about 12,000 Dominicans. In 2023, about 2.1 million. After three years, he returned to the Dominican Republic.

After learning that the Yale Art Gallery holds several Taino artifacts in storage, I was intrigued. As one of the very few Dominicans at Yale, I did what most people with a different background or unique name would do: I searched my name on Yale Library’s website. Two research papers and three books written by my father popped up. When I asked my father about my name, he would say, “Your name means a lot.” I was the “lucky one,” because I shared his name. As it turns out, Guarocuya was one of the first Taino chieftains to fight against the Spanish — and the name of a lizard endemic to my island. Go figure. 

As I strolled through the labyrinthine aisles of Sterling Memorial Library, I tried not to get lost. Make a left here, go straight, use your ID on the middle door only and pick up your book. Then, there it was:  “Health, Dependent Capitalism, and Revolutionary Transition.” My father’s out-of-print essay collection, written while he was completing his medical training at Howard. This rare find, a physical manifestation of immigrant dreams etched in print, reeled me into the depths of my own heritage.

As a young cardiologist, his fellowship at Freedmen’s Hospital enclosed his work exclusively with the poorest residents of Washington, D.C. This would shape his future and drive him to research “the causes and distributions of diseases in subordinate groups and classes.” He delved deeply into the exclusionary and highly unequal form of capitalism practiced in the developing world, with a focus on Central America and the Caribbean. The worn, coverless book opened a window into the world of a promising, young Black Caribbean — one of the reasons he was readily accepted as a fellow at the “Black D.C. hospital.” He was still grappling with the dual identity of being both a student and a foreigner in an opportunity-laden land. His thick “dock-like” accent would betray his roots, as he told me. Later on, I learned it meant a mix of “fresh off the boat” accent with lingo learned at U Street, then called Black Broadway in the district. 

“There is a radical difference in the way we die in Latin America versus the way they die in the U.S.,” he wrote. His words echo the universal call to service that transcends boundaries and speaks to the core of human empathy. He took great pains in recording underreported pediatric deaths, tuberculosis and malaria incidence. He related the lack of potable water to its dampening effects on GDP growth in Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Before Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined intersectionality, he practiced social medicine, brought visibility to Latines’ lived experiences and addressed power and equity in medicine through comparisons between Latin countries and the U.S., our historical main trading partner. For all of his work, he became President of the National University in the Dominican Republic and was elected President of the Dominican Medical Association.

Given my years of training in economics, public affairs and management, I found it odd —  droll, even — that my father showcased tables upon tables of GDP growth and public expenditure on medicine. He did so to demonstrate how Cuba was the only Latin American country with “industrial level” healthcare. He explained how Cuba and the U.S. were the only countries that had heart diseases, tumors and cerebrovascular diseases as the top three causes of death, instead of malaria, tuberculosis, whooping cough, typhoid, amoebiasis and anemia.

When I think of my father, his work and the limitations of its era, ideas of marginalism, business cycles and Keynes’ animal spirits come to mind, prodded by my orthodox economics education. Of course, we can explain away this enormous health disparity between these countries, Dad. If you only knew about how countries like Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Uruguay have risen from poverty into development in the last 50 years. How extreme poverty and malnourishment have all but been eliminated where freedom of choice has been allowed to coexist. But alas, he passed away in 2013 and can’t see me enter Sterling archways reading his works. I still have many years ahead of me to prove my father right or wrong. In the end, what do I know?

Yale has over 180,000 alumni worldwide. Many of them will undoubtedly find their relatives within Sterling’s archives. Historically, 12 percent of all Yalies are legacies, though I’m not — these have a higher-than-average chance of finding their relatives within Sterling. And just this year, Hispanic or Latine Yalies reached 18 percent — including me — even though decades ago it was close to 6 percent. The odds of me finding my father in Sterling were never good.

I’ve accomplished something my father never did; I can add “American” to my identity. When I graduate, I will venture out as a Dominican-American. And inside my diploma, it will read in cursive lettering: Guarocuya. The name I’ll always be grateful for.

GUAROCUYA “FRANK” BATISTA-KUNHARDT is a second-year MBA at the Yale School of Management and a Graduate Affiliate at Pauli Murray College. Contact him at