Late dentist, MUSC professor worked tirelessly to foster Hispanic community

Salinas

It would be more than acceptable for the son of two dentists, who also married a dentist, to just go through life being a dentist. But Carlos Salinas’ life was full of much more than reminding children to floss and handing out toothpaste.

He sought to bring a Hispanic cultural awareness and acceptance to the Charleston area. He wanted to bring the culture’s history to the forefront for local Hispanic youth.

Dr. Carlos Salinas, co-founder of Circulo Hispanoamericano de Charleston (the Hispanic Society of Charleston) and professor of pediatric dentistry and orthodontics with the Medical University’s College of Dental Medicine, died Jan. 14. He was 73.

Salinas was born April 9, 1941, in Iquique, Chile, a coastal town in the northern part of the country, to Dr. Carlos Salinas and Dr. Victoria Cerda. He earned his doctor of dental surgery degree from the University of Chile (Santiago) in 1963 and married Maria Asuncion Cordova the same year. Salinas and Cordova had been classmates at the college since 1957 and after the first year, “We looked at each other and our friendship was changed into love,” Cordova-Salinas recalled.

In 1972, Salinas was awarded a National Institute of Health fellowship in medical genetics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and was recruited to MUSC in 1974, where he remained on staff until his death. In addition to being a professor, he was the director of the university’s craniofacial anomalies and cleft palate team and co-director of the clinical resource core with the Center for Oral Health Research.

Salinas’ specialty was in craniofacial genetics and documenting genetic disorders in the head and neck. According to a 1983 Post and Courier article, his ambition was to develop a stronger genetics program at MUSC and expand patient services.

Salinas was author of a Spanish book on craniofacial genetics and he lectured dentistry students on clinical genetics and special needs dentistry in Mexico, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba and, of course, Chile.

The pursuit of educating never left him. Even while facing the effects of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, he presented his dental students with a final exam on Dec. 10, 2014, according to his obituary.

Salinas had a steadfast focus on the Hispanic-American population and worked relentlessly for them to embrace their culture, own it and go far with it. He had a special interest in the empowerment of the youth. He was an advocate for their health care and education, but also their knowing their place in history, and its impact in this world and in this country.

According to a 1979 Post and Courier article, Salinas was concerned about what he considered to be stereotypes and misconceptions about the Spanish and Latin American cultures and wanted to work on bringing more understanding to the area.

In 1978, he and Cordova-Salinas founded Circulo Hispanoamericano de Charleston, specifically translated as the Spanish American Circle of Charleston, with a mission to establish, nourish and promote the Hispanic cultural heritage.

Paula Tejeda, current president of Circulo, remembered Salinas’ enthusiasm when talking to young people and his dedication to keep working on Circulo projects. “He was driven by a firm belief that we should never forget our roots,” she said. He was determined to keep the culture alive and share it with everybody, all while embracing other cultures, Tejeda said.

According to Nancy Betancourt, secretary with Circulo and family friend, Salinas was a devoted Chilean, but “he loved America just as much, and wanted to spread opportunities and knowledge he acquired here as fully as possible with everyone in the local Latino community.”

In addition to cultural, social and educational activities, Circulo offers an annual scholarship to a Hispanic student for attendance to one of the local universities.

Angel Cordero, a friend of Salinas for more than 30 years, worked with him in recognizing Hispanic students for the annual scholarship. “It is an incentive to them, so they will continue their career and be proud of their accomplishments and heritage,” he said.

Marcela Rabens, a friend and member of Circulo, said “He was a proud Hispanic American who always contributed to the growth of our society ... (He had a) concern that young Hispanics attend college and get a higher education.”

While Salinas’ wife, friends and colleagues agreed on his devotion to his heritage and culture, they also had a profound reverence for his sincere and earnest spirit, humbleness and openness with helping and giving to others.

“Some of my words ... will never make justice to such a great person,” Cordero said. “He was always a fighter and never gave up ... there was always a new awakening — ‘un nuevo amenecer.’ ”