Why Hispanic Heritage Month Matters in Health Communications

By Arely Briseño and Wendy Salas

November 5, 2019

November 5, 2019 – Today, we reflect on the Hispanic Heritage month that just passed, a time to pay tribute to the successes and contributions of those who came before us and the nearly 60 million Latinos and Latinas living in the US today. And yet, we find ourselves in a point of history where we have the need to defend it. As Latinas from very different backgrounds, we often find our chisme sessions quickly turn into deep conversations about our community, the inequity that still very much exists and our passionate desire to act and raise our voices. We both have different stories, but it’s our shared Hispanic heritage that unites us in this mission to recognize our community and ensure we are not merely an afterthought. This is the reality of many individuals and their familias – regardless of what field they work in.

We have asked ourselves – how are we contributing to the rich culture, heritage, accomplishments and sacrifices made by our families and those in our communities?

We try to do this every day through our work in health communications, striving to ensure the Hispanic community is represented well. Our diverse stories have provided us with different experiences that allow us to make the work we do stronger. We find that even among the two of us, we see the differences that make us unique to one another within our shared heritage.

One of us is a first generation Mexican American, coming from a family who immigrated to the US from Mexico nearly fifty years ago and is still learning to manage two very distinct worlds at home and at work. Growing up in East Los Angeles, a predominately Hispanic unincorporated area of Los Angeles, provided an in-depth insight into the inequalities that the Hispanic community faces. From hearing and seeing first-hand the struggles this largely immigrant and often undocumented community in terms of health, housing, and other critical needs. There is an inherent desire to help change this for our community and many others alike.

The other of us is a Mexican American, growing up in two countries (Mexico and the US), who’s life has been characterized by a duality in education, language, culture and traditions. Providing understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of living on both sides of the border. Living enriching experiences which have helped develop a strong passion to bring down the barriers of health inequalities and to advocate for the most vulnerable.

As Latinas who have had the privilege to get a higher education and now as working professionals in the field of health communications, we both feel a level of determination and responsibility to serve our community. We believe it is important that the Hispanic community not only feels heard, but that information and resources are presented in culturally competent ways, so they see and hear themselves in the messages we’re delivering through our work. By creating campaigns and materials that seek to effectively engage directly with the community, we hope to open opportunities and raise awareness of critical health issues and resources available. However, we find that this can be challenging – from finding the right stock images that show diversity to properly translating materials and being culturally sensitive to the variations of the Spanish language. Variations that are evident even among us, as we see differences in the way we interpret things and how we view different issues in our community, because of our different upbringings regardless of our shared Mexican American identity. Nonetheless, we understand that the differences in our journeys and perspectives provide us with the unique opportunity to merge them and use them creatively in our work.

We know the two of us will not find solutions to every problem in our community, but we understand the power of sharing our experiences not only with each other, but with those who come from different backgrounds. Having honest conversations that can start shifting mindsets on how to reach not just the Hispanic community, but the many diverse communities that face similar issues in effective and mindful ways. We invite you to learn more about our Hispanic heritage and to celebrate with us not just in October, but to make this an everyday celebration. To motivate our work, nurture meaningful relationships and foster inclusivity.

Here’s a list of some Hispanic organizations making an impact in our community across the country.

National Hispanic Heritage Month – website dedicated to Hispanic Heritage month

The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families – combines, education, capacity-building and advocacy to strengthen the support system for children and youth to continue learning

National Hispanic Institute – fosters community leaders to help advance the quality of life of the Latino community in the US and Latin America

National Alliance for Hispanic Health – works directly with the community to ensure that health incorporated the best of science, culture, and community

National Hispanic Medical Association – leads efforts to improve the health of Hispanics and other underserved populations

Voto Latino – pipeline meant to serve and empower the Latino community. Made up of civic engagement, issue advocacy, and leadership development

Chicanos por la Causa – provide direct services in different areas of impact such as health and human services, education, and housing

United We Dream – largest immigrant youth-led community in the US. This organizations works to transform the fear of being undocumented and find a voice through leadership and organizing skills

Unidos US – formerly known as NCLR, serves the Hispanic community through state and national advocacy efforts and support local affiliates in providing programming to communities nationwide

League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) – works to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, housing, health and civil rights of Hispanics through advocacy and community programs