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A Dream Becomes Reality in Service of Community

Editor’s note: As NCOA takes the first steps on its journey to helping 40 million older adults by 2030, it is strengthening its ability to be responsive to the needs of local communities. That includes communicating with those communities in multiple languages, so older adults can find what they need with greater ease. It also means regularly amplifying the voices of groups not often given a spotlight, or disproportionately affected by obstacles to aging well. As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close, we are pleased to share this guest post from Francisco J. Ronquillo, who is leading an important effort to meet the health needs of New Mexico’s diverse population.

Latinos are a diverse group, but they are connected through a common native tongue. The Spanish language is flavorful, spiced with linguistic variations and glimmers of influential historical events. Depending on their country of origin, Latinos/as also have distinct types of music, food, and traditional healing practices that shape each group’s unique identity.

Prior to 1848 and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the territory of the Mexican government included what is now ten U.S. states: New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. These boundaries also encompassed the original inhabitants of New Mexico including the Navajo, Pueblo, Apache, other native tribes and indigenous and mixed-race peoples (Spaniards, Aztecs, Mayan, Mestizos, Criollos, Chicanos, Geniseros, Africanos). The mixing of these cultures occurred through both peaceful exchanges of choice and by the force of slavery and colonization by Europeans. This legacy has woven the rich and resilient social fabric of New Mexicans today. The people of this region firmly believe in the principle of “la cultura cura” which translates to “our culture cures.”

New Mexico is also one of the poorest states in the nation, which means the health needs of the people here are substantial. As Director of the Community Health Worker (CHW) Academy, I want to offer community-based and community-driven training for students at two New Mexico colleges to address the health needs of our state. This unique opportunity provides students with potential employment after completion of the Academy at a cost savings of up to 70%. This innovative approach to diversifying the workforce will help close the cultural and linguistic gaps that currently exist between the providers and patients receiving care.

Aside from the technical skills that the students will learn, they will be educated with an innovative emphasis on:

  • the Social Determinants of Health and how they impact overall well-being of individuals, families, and communities;
  • how racism and all types of discrimination can prevent individuals from reaching their maximum potential and inadvertently affect their health and mental health status;
  • how traumatic childhood events impact a person across the lifespan;
  • how working as an effective and equal member of the care team increases positive outcomes for everyone involved; and
  • how taking a humanistic approach to the delivery of healthcare can be part of the solutions to acquire social and health equity.

I recently joined the National Council on Aging for two webinars, one in English and one in Spanish, talking about the importance of cultural responsiveness when working with older adults. You can download the slides and use the information in your own work.

In honor of all our ancestors, ¡Salud on this Hispanic Heritage Month and thank you for sharing all your amor, conocimeintos e historias!

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About Francisco J. Ronquillo,

Francisco J. Ronquillo has a dual role an Interim Director of the Community Health Worker Initiatives and a Health Extension Officer under the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Community Health with the Health Sciences Center at the University of New Mexico. He has worked in the public health sector, for more than 20 years and is dedicated to tackling the social determinants of health and the needs of marginalized populations.