Igualdad o equidad? Esta es la pregunta… / Equality or Equity? That is the question …

Mónica Hurtado

Mónica Hurtado

By Monica Hurtado, Organizadora comunitaria por la equidad racial y de salud en OAP/OAP Health Equity and Racial Justice Organizer

(See below for English version of this post.)

¿Cómo explicar que Minnesota sea uno de los Estados más saludables de todo el país, pero al mismo tiempo uno de los Estados con las mayores inequidades en Salud?

¿Sabía usted que los jóvenes de las comunidades Indígenas, Latina y Afro-Americana tienen el mayor número de personas con obesidad en Minnesota? ¿Sabía que las mujeres de las comunidades Latina y Afro-Americana tienen mayores probabilidades de ser diagnosticadas con cáncer de seno en etapas más avanzadas? Esto significa que aunque más mujeres blancas son diagnosticadas con cáncer, un mayor número de mujeres de color mueren porque no tienen la misma oportunidad de tener un tratamiento temprano y por tanto más exitoso

¿Qué razones explican estas diferencias? Muchos pensarán que se debe a herencia familiar (causas genéticas), o a que estos jóvenes y mujeres toman malas decisiones y comen mal o no hacen ejercicio, o porque decidieron no ver al Doctor a tiempo. Pues aunque estas cosas influyen, después de muchas investigaciones y análisis hoy sabemos que la genética y las visitas al Doctor contribuyen un 20% en el estado de Salud de las personas, mientras que hay un 80% que tienen que ver con las condiciones sociales y ambientales en las que viven las personas. Tal vez usted habrá observado que hay zonas o barrios más inseguros que otros, con menos parques y áreas recreativas, con un mayor número de tiendas donde se vende tabaco y licor, y tal vez también haya observado que es justamente en esas zonas donde viven personas y familias con más bajos recursos económicos. Además habrá notado que es justo en estas zonas donde hay un mayor número de remates hipotecarios (foreclosures). ¿Ha notado que, en muchísimos casos, es justo en estas zonas donde viven las comunidades de color (Afro-Americanos, Inmigrantes Latinos, Africanos y Asiáticos) e indígenas Americanos? Pues no sólo el sentido común, sino también investigaciones han demostrado que todos estos factores afectan seriamente la oportunidad de tomar decisiones saludables, y explican que la comunidad blanca tenga mayores oportunidades de vivir por más tiempo y tener una vida más saludable.

Estas condiciones no se dieron naturalmente, sino que son el producto de decisiones tomadas por las personas encargadas de agencias públicas, y privadas. Pensemos en cómo se decide dónde construir parques y carreteras, o qué tipo de préstamo hipotecario ofrecerle a quien compra una casa, o en cómo se deciden las políticas de salud pública, de trabajo, transporte etc. Estas decisiones establecen diferencias en la oportunidad para ser individuos saludables, con familias y comunidades saludables. Son estas diferencias en el acceso a las oportunidades entre las comunidades de color e indígena, y la comunidad blanca lo que llamamos inequidades raciales.

Vivimos en un país que defiende la igualdad, y nadie discutiría que es un gran valor. Sin embargo esto se vuelve problemático cuando también es una realidad que las comunidades de color y nativas necesitan mayor inversión, porque históricamente se les han negado oportunidades para ser más prosperas y saludables. Así que en vez de igualdad (dar a todos lo mismo) pedimos equidad (dar según los desafíos, o sea invertir más en los que tienen los mayores retos).

Este es mi trabajo en OAP hacer parte de los esfuerzos que están permitiendo cambiar esas condiciones que afectan desproporcionadamente a nuestras comunidades. OAP trabaja por la equidad racial, cultural y económica para que todos los en Minnesota seamos más saludables y prósperos.

How can we explain that Minnesota is one of the healthiest states in the country, but also one of the states with the greatest inequities in health?

Did you know that young people in American Indian, Latino, and African American communities have the highest number of obese people in Minnesota? Did you know that Latina and African-American women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages? This means that although more white women are diagnosed with breast cancer, a greater number of women of color die because they do not have the same opportunity for earlier and therefore more successful treatment. 

What explains these differences? Many of us think it is due to family genetics, or that these young people and women make bad choices or eat poorly and/or do not exercise, or because they chose not to see the doctor early enough. Although these things do influence the health of individuals, through much research and analysis we now know that genetics and doctor visits contribute just 20 percent to the health status while 80 percent of health status is related to the social conditions and environment in which people live.

Perhaps you have noticed that there are areas or neighborhoods more insecure than others, with fewer parks and recreational areas, with a greater number of stores selling tobacco and liquor, and perhaps you have also noted that it is precisely in those areas where low-income people and low-income families live. It is also in these areas where a greater number of foreclosures occur. Have you also noticed that in many cases, it is these areas where communities of color (African American, Latino, African and Asian Immigrants) and American Indians live? Not only common sense, but also research has shown that these social factors seriously affect the opportunity to make healthy choices, and they also explain why the white community has greater opportunities to live longer and have healthier lives. 

These conditions did not occur naturally, but are the product of decisions made by those responsible for public and private entities. Let’s think for a moment about how decisions are made on where to build parks and roads, or what kind of mortgage loan is offered to those who want to buy a house, and all decisions about public health policy, labor, transportation, and more. These decisions establish differences in the opportunity to be healthy individuals with healthy families and healthy communities. These differences in access to opportunities between communities of color/American Indians and whites is what we call racial inequities.

We live in a country that upholds equality, and no one would argue that it is a great value. However, this becomes problematic when it is also a reality that communities of color and American Indians need more investment because historically they have been denied opportunities to be more prosperous and healthy. So instead of equality (to give everyone the same) we ask for equity (to give according to the challenge, which means to invest more on those communities with the greatest challenges).

This is my job at OAP, to be part of the efforts that are changing the social conditions that disproportionately affect our communities of color and American Indian communities. OAP works to advance racial, cultural, and economic equity in Minnesota and by achieving this, all Minnesotans will be healthier and will thrive.

This piece first appeared in the community newspaper La Tribuna

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Going Far, Together

Billy Moua

Billy Moua

Billy Moua is an intern at OAP this summer, focusing on health equity. He is a Hmong-American, first generation, senior chemistry major at Carleton College. He plans to attend medical school in hopes of becoming a pediatric oncologist. 

Coming into my OAP internship, I thought I knew quite a lot about the field I was immersing myself in. I had just finished my school year working with our office of diversity and had secured another position working with our TRiO program (a federally funded program to help assist low-income, first generation students or students with documented disabilities) for the upcoming year. Additionally, my experience as a Hmong student at an elite private liberal arts school fed into my ego and I expected that my internship was going to primarily involve application of my prior knowledge. Through the classes I attended, discussions I facilitated and participated in and my general experience with academia, I felt confident and comfortable coming into OAP’s space, but this false sense of security quickly faded away as I sobered to the realization that there was much more to be learned. My experience in Owatonna is a testament to this shift.

Migrant workers and their families have been coming to Owatonna, and similar towns like it, for many years and OAP held a training session in the form of a field trip for the apprentices to get a glimpse into the migrant farm workers’ camps, living spaces, conditions and realities. Although we could not step inside the actual camps because it was private property, the trip was guided with rich, informative narration by Ernesto Vélez of Centro Campesino, an organization that advances social justice for Latino migrant workers and immigrant Latino residents, who detailed the history of the challenges and victories in attaining basic worker and human rights and better living conditions. In fighting for these rights, Ernesto explained that many companies and towns would use intimidation tactics: reassigning jobs, firing workers, withholding bonuses and imposing curfews for adolescents (to name a few) to silence the organization and workers’ voices. In some cases, the risk of fighting against companies was too high and workers would collectively decide to bring their movement to a halt, but for other communities, the rallied effort was seen through to the end and proved to be successful in providing better conditions.

Later on, Ernesto introduced us to a young man who was 16 years old, extremely bright and filled with passion. This young man, who shall remain nameless, was impressive to say the least. He started working the fields in his pre-teens, was a youth leader for Centro Campesino and told us that he had testified to the EPA in Washington D.C. to reform the harmful and utterly disgusting practices of spraying pesticides while workers were in the field. The emerging organizer and leader then shared with us his hopes of going to college, majoring in political science and furthering the work that he is currently involved in.

This experience, alongside the many others I’ve had with OAP, has given me far greater and deeper insight than any discussion or any academic text could ever dream of giving me. My five hour experience in Owatonna opened my eyes to a whole world of injustice that existed an hour away from my backyard. From this, I started to reflect on my privilege as a U.S. citizen, something that I never critically examined before. The thought of facing deportation at the whim of law enforcement and immigration had never crossed my mind and although I identify as a low-income, first-generation college student, I never thought twice about the significance of receiving federal funding for my education due to my citizenship. There I was, excited to help the limitless potential of this young student, knowing there were scholarships available to help him achieve his dreams, but all the while naïvely forgetting the comparatively weak financial aid packages that students of similar talent and qualifications would receive due to their undocumented status which would greatly influence their ability to pursue the post-secondary institution of their dreams.

How was it that these students, who come from families who are thrown into seemingly impossible situations to survive, are able to overcome and are, against all odds, in an arm’s reach of unlocking, realizing and achieving their dreams are met with a monetary roadblock that could be alleviated with something as simple as citizenship. This question, along with an abundance of similarly-phrased questions are what I have found to be what fuel social justice work. If there is one thing that I have learned from my internship at OAP, it is that we must begin to truly see the humanity of other people and start building relationships within our own communities and across different communities to effect the change we envision. Before this internship, I would have been able to read a piece similar to the one you are reading now and I would have thought that this deeper level of understanding was a cakewalk and if crafted expertly, I would be able to experience the same learning as the author from mere text. If I had simply read this article, I would have still not have been able to stand in the fields, swat away the hungry insects flying around my head, feel the fire of Ernesto’s voice or see the promise of a young man’s future. To my peers pursuing their undergraduate degrees, I urge and encourage you to work with organizations that are doing work that you share similar passions with. Get out of the classroom and go (sometimes literally) into the field. Our struggles are all connected and only through genuine human contact is an organic connection of someone else’s humanity created. I end this reading with an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

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CONQUERING THE RACIAL DIVIDE: Salvador Miranda Reflects on OAP’s 20 Years

In the Fall 2013 semester, OAP worked with a team of students in the New Media class at Metro State University. This is a blog post the team wrote after interviewing OAP Director of Training Salvador Miranda.

Recently, our team had the pleasure of stealing an afternoon with OAP’s Salvador Miranda. Sal is OAP’s Associate Director and Director of Training. The Minnesota native’s credentials are nothing short of impressive; he was a founding member of the Minnesota Coalition of the Homeless, worked with Interfaith Action, ISAIAH, national work with the Gamaliel Foundation, and more. But even more impressive than Sal’s resume is his passion for OAP’s mission. When Sal speaks, it’s from the heart. When he tells us about OAP’s biggest struggles, we know that his efforts to triumph them are a personal commitment.

Over the past 20 years, OAP has made tremendous strides in the fight against racial inequity. From protests, policy change, leadership initiatives and cultural community recognition, OAP has been on the front line of equity progress.  They’ve lead movements and bridged gaps with other organizations to bring more people into involvement toward a brighter and inclusive community. Though their successes are easily measured, 20 years of service have not yet conquered the great divide of racial inequity. There is still more work to do.

During our interview, we asked Sal what challenges OAP still faces after 20 years. What I thought to hear was Sal telling us how much inequity there still is in the world and how difficult combating it is. In a way, he did but Sal took us much deeper into the roots of today’s racial tribulations.

When OAP first broke ground 20 years ago in the fight against inequality, much of their fight was against pure racism. More and more, people are becoming color-blind. They are refusing to acknowledge race as a barrier; not accepting diversity but ignoring it. Racial inequity continues to be a problem. People still suffer from persecution and inopportunity, but we can’t fight it when people refuse to accept it. When Sal spoke of this issue, he grew serious with an almost disappointed look, as if he were truly saddened that his lifetime’s work was simply being pushed aside by some. He told us how this affects OAP’s work; “I find a reluctance to move their thinking from color blind.  That’s a usual reaction from people who don’t want to explore more deeply how race plays a factor in the access to resources and opportunities.” As deeply sentimental and endlessly frustrating this challenge is, Sal and OAP will continue their efforts to give racism a voice and a face.

Racism in our country has a very colored history. What children are taught in High School history classes is often only the beginning. Inequity has never been limited to a series of events, a single decade, or a handful of ethnicities. Discrimination is everywhere, still, and if we expect to halt the growing disparity, we must first consider our past. Sal said to us, “There are some wise people who say if we don’t know our history, we are in danger of repeating the sins of the past.” Whether it’s a result of inadequate education or a refusal to admit the darkness, the very deeply seeded racial inequity issues we have are being swept under a rug. For some, the history of their people is a part of their own identity, woven into the fabric of their personal culture, triumphs and oppressions. Recognizing this history is not only a valuable learning tool, but an important way of understanding and embracing each other.

After 20 years of service, OAP has made tremendous impacts on the lives of many affected by racial inequity, but their plan of attack is ever changing. Right now the challenges are what Sal says; “Wanting to be color blind as well as hiding our history of racism in this country are the two biggest barriers we face in advancing equity through our work.” But OAP recognizes that the next 20 years will present new challenges and changes to the face of racism. As they pursue their goals and refine their work, the organization will continue to poor their personal dedication into the pursuit of racial equity.

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