Thursday, March 27, 2008

Unnatural Causes: Becoming American

I was so happy about this: there were 30 people there for this showing. I was able to share that people could still see the first episode at some location in North Portland, and there were still some more showings of the second episode, and that they could go to the library website and find it under "News". Bruce, from the Health Dept. said I get an A plus plus for coming to all these.

While the first episode was an hour long, all the rest of them are a half hour long, so we have lots more time for the focus group conversation. I learned later that several of the attendees were immigrants, which was exciting considering the topic. I wondered if they came in particular because the topic drew them over the other episodes, or if they'd been especially marketed to through some group or agency. Regardless, it was great to hear their points of view.

This was a surprise to me: recent immigrants have better health than the wealthiest in the U.S. It's a myth that they bring infectious diseases...I would say a racist myth. They're healthier than the rest of us; within a generation, they lose that advantage, and are affected by the same unnatural causes.

The role of the strong family ties "forms a shield around them, protects them from the deleterious effects of American culture." We work more than ever. We are more socially isolated. That's a big thing. Social isolation can kill, it is linked to a greater risk for almost every cause of death. But, family isn't enough, that shield weakens.

It helps when communities are organized to keep that protective shield working. Kennett Square, a strong Quaker town, was featured as an example. One from there said, "Everyone benefits if no one is left behind." A worker at a large mushroom farm was featured.

  • Among immigrants, as teens acquire American culture, they lose that hopefulness that their parents came here with.
  • The American Dream is a myth: most people do not move up the social ladder.
  • When immigrant parents work a lot, kids lose that valuable contact with the positive aspects of their culture.
  • This country increases your risk of psychiatric illness
  • Workers don't like to take time off work for health care, so illnesses are pretty far along when they do go (the big employer established a health clinic on site for the many immigrant workers)
  • Acculturation--the process of selecting and choosing pieces of the culture to take on
  • It would be good if we can take what we see in protected/shielded communities and incorporate that into health-protective benefits

The discussion

At first talk bounced around among people, but then with 45 minutes left, our facilitator, Dr. Anna, did a round robin to hear from all the people there.

Some excerpts:

  • struck by irony: the people who bring us our food have less health care
  • kids run the house, they're the language and cultural interpreters
  • we've discouraged shared housing from the 50s on: how to encourage multi-generational families
  • elder generation subject to social isolation
  • car culture: socially isolated in cars (that was me)
  • there was a sentence, "American culture makes you sick" we need to ask what is it about this culture that makes us sick? is it that individuality?
  • immigrants are pressured to acculturate. this comes from everywhere: school, work. (from an immigrant)
  • people in this country don't recognize themselves in other people (from an immigrant)
  • (from an immigrant) they teach our children to be independent. our children come home, we teach them to think of the community. we watch them become someone else. focus on cultures, how to work with the family: give us more control to be able to resolve problems within our community

The round robin question: How can you make anything within your community better? Help keep people from getting sick?

  • work within communities; don't come from without and impose structure
  • need to celebrate various cultures
  • used to get lots of fruits and vegetables in Guatemala; here in high schools they serve pizza
  • create moments of community building; traditional dishes, potlucks
  • activity centers for kids, community centers
  • encourage health clinics in the workplace, as in the documentary (that was me)
  • we need more compassion
  • valuing caregivers
  • a website listing ethnic grocery stores, farmer's markets [I so wish I had the health equity coordinator's email...wait, maybe I do. A wiki would be great for a listing of ethnic grocery stores. There is a website here. Farmer's markets...that guide exists right here.]

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