Latina Health in the U.S.
Edited by Monica Garcia, Alexa Rodriguez, Alex Resendez, Selena Huapilla
Narratives surrounding Latina health issues which include lack of health insurance, limited access to health insurance, and ignoring health concerns are typically portrayed as subgroups to health issues facing women as a whole rather than an independent entity that requires attention and validity. The current rate of healthcare accessibility in the United States is steadily declining which means that even more Latinas will not have health insurance and will continue to battle with their health issues on their own rather than having them taken care of by a professional. Latina health issues need to stand on their own, not grouped with the issues of all women, because their path to health care, which leads to a solution to the issues, differs from the path of other minority women due to the fact that their culture, language, level of health education, income, and political advocacy become obstacles that impedes them from obtaining the health care that they need.
We had the opportunity to ask to Gisela Leija about her thoughts on what we were researching. Leija is a a second year doctoral student at Michigan State University. She is an emerging family therapist who’s area of research is emerging adult Latinas with a focus on sexual identity and sexual development.
Access to health education goes to those who grow up in more affluent neighborhoods which means that most Latinas do not receive the health education they need since affluent neighborhoods are typically made up of white people with a high income. Along with the lack of education, Latinas face the obstacle of having a lack of representation in the political world. Policies that directly affect the lives of Latinas are made by older, white men who do not know the first thing about the needs of Latinas. Under the current president, access to health insurance will not be as accessible as it was under the Obama administration. The limited access to health insurance will cause even less Latinas to get coverage which means their medical needs will go unnoticed. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), birth control was greatly subsidized, in some cases free, which benefitted Latinas who are not ready to make the decision to have a family yet but the current president has decided to get rid of that aspect of the ACA to further his “American values” agenda. Other policies that are being enacted that will affect Latinas is the defunding of public schools and the shutting down of free clinics. Latinas need to have a louder voice in the political world in order to secure a safe future for the younger generation
Culturally, Latinas have viewed their health to be the least of their priorities; everyone’s needs come before their own. As the real head of most LatinX households, Latinas feel that they cannot take a day off to take care of themselves. Since Latinas cannot get a day off they turn to alternative forms of healing that can be done in their home so they do not have to leave their families unattended. The LatinX community still believes in antiquated ideas of home/spiritual remedies as a valid alternative to modern medicine. Though some home/spiritual remedies deliver incredible results, the LatinX community should move towards dealing with their health issues in a formal manner in order to give a louder voice to their issues. The lack of autonomy over health concerns creates a ripple effect, ultimately leaving LatinX health issues out of the majority of the healthcare equation. Aside from the cultural aspect, some Latinas face a language barrier when attempting to access health care. The United States has tried to accommodate to non-English speakers but the barrier is still there because medical documents are not translated correctly, translators are not always readily available, and accents make it difficult for proper communication to occur.
The miscommunication Latinas experience due to the language barrier is also linked to the miseducation regarding the medical industry, its’ practices, and disease prevention. Latinas are at a disproportionately higher risk of contracting STIs than white women and every other minority group in the United States. This can be traced back to the cultural aspect of the LatinX community that does not promote putting one’s health as a priority especially among Latinas. When something is not a priority, you pay little attention to it and do not feel the need to educate yourself on it. A lot of Latina health issues arise from this notion which creates a cycle of having a health concern, not caring about it, not informing yourself on it, and allowing it to persist. Since Latinas are the head of the household, their health needs to be a priority or else the family falls apart. Latinas need to become educated on health risks in order to keep themselves and their families safe.
Control over Women’s Health
Historically, we have seen this pattern of systemic racism in the United States. It’s had a significant effect on a Latina woman’s health care system. Latina women have to deal with barriers of race, class, and gender when it comes to the use of health care. Studies show that women use more health care services than men. Women are also charged more for the use of those health care services. Not to mention women are paid 80 cents to every dollar paid to men. This makes it nearly impossible for Latina women to be able to afford having health care. Not to mention all of the other barriers they have to face to have access to it in the first place. This is the result of a system that has white older men making decisions for women, specifically women of color. Consequently, we are unfairly treated and represented. An offensive 63% of working class Latinos lack access to health care in the United States, making health care, “…a privilege of the wealthy.” Of those 63 percent, 36% are women. People like to say that racism is a thing of the past but, how can that be true when a fear has been instilled in Latinos to not use their right to health care due to immigration legislation.
A San Francisco study showed that 54% of women reported a fear of deportation as the primary reason for not utilizing health care services. This comes from the colonial ideal that we don’t belong here, and therefor don’t deserve the same rights offered to the majority. However, we need to create a resistance against these ideals in order to get fair treatment. Another barrier many Latina women have to face when it comes to access to health care is, language. The variety of dialects that the Spanish language possesses makes it difficult for the already very small percentage of Spanish/English bilingual doctor physicians to understand. Since Latinos are less likely to learn the most common language of English in the United States, it can make it difficult that they would get the best care possible. Unable to communicate their health care needs can greatly affect their use health care. Although the efforts to improve the quality of health care in the United States is improving, the affordability and access is not. So, how is it that Latina women’s health can be made a priority when the people making the policies are not making an effort to help us? It is clear that Latina women have to face the most issues when it comes to their use of health care. All we can do is improve our understanding of the system so that we may be better educated and create a resistance against these systemic barriers.
Barriers and Effects
It is known that the lack of access to health insurance can cause a great impact on the health of all women. Leija gives her thoughts as to why she thinks this is so.
After doing some research on the knowledge on HIV/AIDS between bilingual and monolingual Latinas in the US, there were several results that were found interesting. A survey done in 2016 showed the different responses between monolingual and bilingual women.
This survey included 15 women who only spoke Spanish, and 10 who spoke both, English and Spanish. For the majority of the questions in the survey, women who spoke both languages had a better understanding on this virus. The language barrier plays a part in sex-ed classes in high school. If women are not fully informed, they could be more susceptible to this virus that can lead to disease.
In the process of researching the insurance distribution between Latinas, it was found that most women in the late 90s were in insured, but only because of their employment. Out of the four groups of Latinas, Cuban women were the highest when it came to having insurance through work. Central and South American, and Puerto Rican women were a tie, and Mexican was last. The largest group that was the most uninsured was Central and South Americans coming 42% of their population.
As it has been discussed, language barriers and lack of formal education can lead to lower health coverage opportunities. The fluctuation between the four different race categories can be due to documentation status and communication. It is inferred that Cubans and Puerto Ricans had the highest coverage, and it could be said that it was because of their legalization and ability to work in the United States. It was also researched that most women that participation in this poll were in poverty. Like Leija had mentioned, it is difficult to move forward into a new life growing up in poverty, or being a minority in general.
According to the Census Bureau, a recent study shows that Latinos are the least likely ethnic group to seek medical care when needed. The percentages for people who seek medical care is low, but it is especially low amongst the Latinx community, with an alarming 42% stating they’d never seen a doctor their entire life. This is alarming and dangerous news for our community and the way in which it affects us as a whole and in different ways.
According to the National Health Alliance for Hispanics, the Latinx community is the community with the lowest rates for health insurance, making it another barrier for Latinx to seek the proper treatments to illnesses, disorders, and risks of getting diseases. Because most Latinxs occupations/jobs are those of low paying wages or jobs that do not have health coverage for them, making it something out of reach for our community, and thus something we don’t feel the need to worry about.
Studies show that Latinx are the most optimistic about their health, and I’m sure we can all relate and remember a time when our parents or family member told us something along the lines of “Estas bien, esto se te va pasar con un Cafecito.” Around 33% of Latinx feel like they don’t need to seek medical help until it is critical that they do. The census report shows that Latinx claim their health is excellent most of the time.
However, it is crucial that we become informed and educate ourselves and our community of the importance of health, and the effects it has on us, our families, and our communities as a whole. We can do so by, for starters, becoming informed on the raw and real statistics that our community faces. With this we must be prepared to interpret different and tangible ways in which our community can change these statistics. By informing ourselves, we can inform one another, thus creating a change and a different outlook on the way we see health.
It is most prominent that Latina women are unlikely to seek medical help when needed, and within our community, the Latina woman is the heart of the household, if she cannot function as needed, the household suffers. This is why it is especially important that we educate Latina women and the various ways in which they can help themselves or early signs to looks for. By education Latina women, we are educating our entire community.
The most common health conditions that Latinas face are Breast Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, Lupus, Sexually transmitted diseases, and Mental and Health Problems. The one Latina women struggle with the most, is Mental Health Problems.
Latinas are at a higher risk of falling into depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Young Latinas specifically have high rates of suicide attempt. The stress of adapting to a new culture and language, along with poverty and discrimination, may be one reason for mental health risks among Latinas. Something that hits close to home for many of us, is that of Latina college women.
We are at a higher risk due to various factors, some being, being the first in our families to come to college, lack of financial help in school, attending predominantly white institutions as a student of color, being away from home, lack of home cooked meals, underrepresentation, and many more.
Some ways we can help Latina women, are by creating spaces in which they can feel safe, cared for, and acknowledged. Latina women in the United States have a higher chance of facing discrimination, especially in the political context 2017 finds itself in. Discrimination can take a toll in the way Latina women perform in and out of the classroom. To combat this problem, to have ‘safe spaces’ in which women can go to and seek someone to talk to is an ideal way of helping each other, especially by having another woman of color, more so a Latina to talk to.
By educating ourselves, we educate our families, and our families our communities. There are plenty resources available for Latinx to seek affordable, if not free, medical help or medical attention. To change the statistics, we must change the way we go about seeing the need to seek medical help. We cannot continue thinking that men are macho and don’t get depressed, or that women are asking for ‘it’ if they are sexually assaulted, or that it is okay to keep calling one another ‘gordita’ as that too can take a toll on someone’s self-esteem and mental health.
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