This article originally appeared in Spanish and English on the NHCOA blog to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month.
Over the years, many Hispanic communities have faced various disparities in the United States. However, thanks to hard work, perseverance and courage of our people, today more than ever, Latino voices resonate in the struggle for a diverse, just and free country for all.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines the social determinants of health as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age,” that means, all of these elements contribute to a person’s health status. These determinants of health greatly define the differences in the quality of life experienced by different groups and if these disparities are allowed to continue then the disparities gaps continue to grow. Additionally, immigration status is another element that can affect an individual’s quality of life and health as immigration status controls many aspects of a person’s life in the United States. For instance, one’s immigration status, such as being out of status or undocumented has been criminalized in the US and can result in a person’s inability to access employment or health care.
The forced separation of children from their parents on the southern border; the end of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program and the recent announcement that the US will not accept applications or renewals for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) (policy that grants residency to immigrants who entered the US when they were under the age of 16) are just some examples of how immigration can affect a person’s livelihood and contribute to toxic stress.
The policies mentioned above have major consequences for the development and health of Hispanic communities and have a great impact on education, employment, economic status, and access to housing. As these policies continue to surface, widespread xenophobia and institutionalized discrimination continue to significantly affects the conditions under which these communities develop. With regards to accessing health care, institutionalized racism, and xenophobia create a culture of fear and may result in a delay of accessing care or result in completely foregoing care.
According to the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau, for the first time in a decade, the number of Americans without health insurance increased by approximately 2 million people and those who do not have citizen status account for one-third of the new people without coverage, clearly reflecting the consequences of these aggressive anti-immigrant policies.
Latinos/Hispanics are often faced with Lack of access to care is exacerbated by high rates of chronic disease such as (lung disease, obesity, diabetes and liver disease) among Hispanics.
During our current situation, it is chronic diseases like those mentioned above that can aggravate a person’s outcomes if they contract the novel coronavirus, reflected in the high rates of infection, hospitalization and death within communities of color.
The arrival of COVID-19 has further highlighted the consequences of these disparities; making now the perfect time to demand a transformation of systems to create inclusive policies in all areas but with particular emphasis on access to health.
The high vulnerability of the Hispanic population is a reflection of the need to continue creating spaces and supporting organizations that are working on reducing the current social gap between races and ethnicities in the United States. NHCOA has worked for more than 50 years to improve the quality of life of the Hispanic older adult community, their families and caregivers; through multiple efforts that ensure a fair, dignifying and discrimination-free aging.
To achieve it, the organization has worked in various areas such as public policy, research and information dissemination, so that we can strengthen the Hispanic community in all its areas, and therefore the older adult population.
With efforts such as our recent Status of Hispanic Older Adults Annual Report: Insights from the Field – Immigration Reform Edition, we seek to make visible the challenges Hispanics face in the United States such as immigration status, and offer solutions through information tools that leaders, politicians and authorities in this nation can use to make decisions for the benefit of Hispanic communities.
With the current pandemic, NHCOA has thought of new ways to listen and respond to the needs of the communities we serve. Through projects such as virtual seminars, information campaigns and educational campaigns on social media, we continue to generate spaces to benefit Hispanic populations in the United States.
NHCOA recognizes the responsibility of continuing to make a positive impact within communities, opening new paths that help build more diverse, respectful country that focuses on improving living conditions for Hispanics, and thus ensuring healthy aging.
We also proudly join this celebration of Hispanic Heritage, a space to recognize the immense work of the community in the United States, and honor contributions and achievements, even when members of our community face unfavorable conditions on a daily basis.
In the words of our President and CEO, Dr. Yanira Cruz: “Hispanic Heritage Month is an appropriate time to reflect on all the contributions that Hispanics have made to this great nation. Hispanics play important roles in advancing science, medicine, math, public policy, education, arts, and sports. It is also necessary to note that many of the food we rely on are frequently the fruit of a Hispanic labor. We sit on the shoulders of giants who have come before us to open new doors of opportunity and see new possibilities. Today, we honor them, and we thank them for all their amazing contributions”.
Our invitation is for the community to continue efforts to ensure that Hispanics in the US are able to live freely, and with the same opportunities as others. Through small daily actions we can achieve significant change that helps improve our lives and those of future generations.
Also, in the context of the pandemic, we strongly urge everyone to continue the recommended health protocols such as washing your hands, wearing a mask and practicing physical distancing. This is the only way that we can work to contain the spread of COVID-19 which puts our community in great danger.
The Hispanic community is and always will be an example of resilience when facing adversity. Together, being proud of our roots, we can continue to build a better future with the goal of achieving equity for all, regardless of their legal, economic or social status.
Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.