Monday, April 06, 2009

Working Toward a Common Language

This Sunday marked our third event in the 2009 Unnatural Causes Film & Discussion Series. We screened Episode 3: Becoming American, which examines the “Latino paradox” – that recent Mexican immigrants tend to be healthier than the average American, but those health advantages erode in as little as five years after they enter the U.S. The episode examines what causes immigrants to become less healthy as they become more American.

We had three amazing panelists on hand to talk with the audience about immigrant health and experiences throughout Georgia: Sharon Gibson (UGA Cooperative Extension & FACS), Sister Margarita Martin (Oasis Católico Santa Rafaela), and Coti Perez-Espinoza (Positive Impact Atlanta). With varied experiences, these women were able to cover a broad range of topics and carry on an engaging discussion, moderated by planning committee member Patricia Thomas (Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, UGA).

Some Memorable Moments of Discussion…

Sister Margarita opened by commenting that the film skipped over one very important element - the ominous threat of deportation in immigrant communities, especially here in Georgia. Recent legislation has made it easier to deport, while making something as simple as obtaining a driver’s license nearly impossible for illegal immigrants. When people constantly live in fear of being ripped from their American-born children, they tend not to seek help from healthcare providers who might report their illegal status. Such situations put not only these individuals and their families at risk, but also the wider community they come into contact with.

One attendee asked if the Mexican government provided any assistance to its citizens living in the United States – advocating for their rights, or sending teachers over to help educate this population.
  • Sheryl Vogt mentioned the Georgia Project, founded by former Georgia congressman Erwin Mitchell, which promoted the exchange of teachers between Mexico and Georgia. This endeavor ended because of cuts in funding and increased restrictions of teacher certifications for those teaching at schools in Georgia. (Congressman Mitchell just donated the Georgia Project Papers to the Russell Library).
  • Panelist Coti-Perez commented that the Mexican Embassy does sponsor a healthcare week annually, during which time all citizens are invited to attend free health screenings in Atlanta.
Another member of the audience suggested that extending greater health care opportunities to illegal immigrants would, in the end, decrease the tremendous spending the in overall healthcare system. When someone has insurance, they don’t wait until an illness is incapacitating before visiting a doctor or rely on emergency room visits. Increases in preventative medicine and regular checkups, for anyone, reduces the bottom line in healthcare costs distributed to taxpayers.

Several in the audience asked what efforts were being made in Georgia to help aid immigrant communities, specifically those in Athens, and what we can all do in the future to help. A few suggestions from the panel:
  • Write to Your Representatives – ask them to advocate for immigrants’ rights, to make healthcare for these populations (including non-legal residents) a priority that benefits our entire society. If you feel local representatives won’t take you seriously, take it to the top – President Obama!
  • Be the First to Reach Out -- Sister Margarita shared positive stories of the interactions between students from UGA (who act as tutors) and the children who participate in her afterschool programs. “These children are their parents’ treasures,” she said, and when the parents can see that not all “gringos” are out to harm them – but in fact some are committed to helping their children achieve in school – that builds a base of trust that can lead to communication.
  • Working Toward a Common Language – Many addressed the apparent language barrier. Sharon Gibson submitted one way the Cooperative Extension encourages use of the English language – employing useful reading materials that engage! When you teach someone to read using a document that teaches them other useful skills – such as how to protect their families from pesticides – they are more willing to spend what little free time they might have available to learn the language.
The next program of the series, Episode 4: Bad Sugar, will take place on April 19th at 3 p.m. at the Athens Clarke County Public Library (2025 Baxter Street, Athens, GA 30606). This episode follows the lives of O’odham Indians, living on reservations in southern Arizona – a population with perhaps the highest rate of Type 2 diabetes in the world. For more information on this program, visit the Film & Discussion Series webpage or call (706) 542-5788.

Click here for more images from the event!
Post by Jan Levinson, Assistant Outreach Archivist, Russell Library

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