People often ask me, “Carmelita, what do you like most about working with the Latino population?” and I say “EVERYTHING!!” I enjoy working with a people who tend to not only value the importance of family, but also the importance of kindness (amabilidad), relationships, and respect for each other. What other group will address you tenderly by words such as, “mi reina” (“my queen”), “corazón” (“my heart”), and “mami”? Every time they speak to me with these words of gratitude, my heart melts and I feel like we are building a trusted relationship that can result in change.
I Love The Diversity Within The Diversity.
Latinos comprise approximately 16% of the U.S. population according to the 2013 Pew Research Center Survey analysis of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Of these 16%, Mexicans compose 64.1% (mostly in Southwestern United States), Puerto Ricans 9.1%, Cubans 3.5%, Salvadorans 3.7%, Dominicans approximately 3.3% (nearly ½ of the U.S. Dominican population live in New York).
The diversity within the diversity includes diet. When talking about nutrition with patients, it is important to understand which country your patient identifies with and the staples of their diet. A “blanket statement” that all Latinos eat the same types of foods is a huge misconception and can be insulting. For example, popular Dominican foods are guineos verdes (green bananas), panapen (breadfruit), batata (Caribbean sweet potato), cassava (yuca). Mexican cuisine varies by region, but popular staples include corn, beans, tomatoes, chili peppers, tortillas, pozole, and carne asada. Common Puerto Rican ingredients include beans, pigeon peas, rice, cilantro, papaya, guava, and plantains, yautía, and fresh breads.
When working with patients, spiritual values need to be taken into account as the majority of Latinos have a foundation of faith by which they see the world. Approximately 6 in 10 U.S. Dominican residents (59%) identify as Catholic. I recently found out that many young girls in the Dominican Republic are named Altagracia in honor of Our Lady of Alta Gracia (Our Lady of the Highest Grace or Our Lady of Thanks)—in reference to Mary, Mother of Jesus. However, Latinos may belong to any faith, such as the protestant sects of Christianity, and may practice espiritismo or santería as well.
Although there is diversity in food, customs and beliefs, there are common shared values of respect, kindness, modesty, and family. Being aware of these values helps clinicians to build trust, identify concerns and propose practical goals.
Respect and Kindness
Addressing the Latino patient as Señor or Señora shows great respect. As healthcare professionals, it is important to make sure that the patient senses your kindness (through a smile, handshake, tone of voice and choice of words). Otherwise, the development of a bond of trust will be affected.
Modesty is also very important for the Latino patient. Take care to be mindful of respecting privacy when examining your patients or speaking to them about sensitive issues concerning their bodies.
Latinos highly value family relationships. With all patients, it’s important to determine their motivation. A Latino gentleman recently told me that his grandchildren are his “heart” (corazón) and that he is motivated to control his diabetes in order to be around for them. The importance of family relationships can also come into play in the form of social support or pressure.
There is still so much to learn about the different Latino populations we serve. By more deeply understanding our patients and their cultures, we can better help them manage their diabetes. In such a way, while helping patients, we are also learning from them.
I’m privileged and honored to be serving the Latino population and look forward to continuously learning something new each day.
Juckett, Gregory MD, MPH. Caring for Latino Patients Am Family Physician Jan 2013
Pew Hispanic Center: Statistical portrait of Hispanics in the United States. 2007
U.S Census Bureau: Table QT-P10 Hispanic or Latino by Type: 2010