This Blog Post Written By
Krista Amira Calvo
“Los medicos no saben nada” (doctors don’t know anything) is a common phrase echoed in the halls of the few and far between migrant clinics in the American Southwest and along the Western Coast of the United States. This phrase is very disconcerting, as it embodies the way that the majority of migrants feel about the Western healthcare system. There is a wild misconception that migrants who cross the border from Mexico into Arizona are all Mestizo. This misinformation stems from language fed to us by the press that generalizes Latinx peoples as all having come from one place, that place being Mexico. In actuality, the migrant diversity is very wide; border crosser demographics include Hondurans, Guatemalans, El Salvadorans, Panamanians and the occasional Belizean.
populations can be broken down into even further marginalized groups of the
Indigenous populations of the aforementioned countries. With Spanish being broadly
spoken in Mexico and Central America, these Indigenous communities are at a
loss in regards to communication with Spanish speakers and, more critically,
the English speaking clinicians that struggle to provide adequate healthcare on
the U.S. side of the border.
|Image by John Barletti|
The Triqui people, Indigenous to Oaxaca, speak Trique, a language belonging to a Mixtecan branch of Mixtec languages. Trique is a tonal, pre-Columbian language, and is as related to Spanish as English is to Mandarin (Porzucki 2016). In addition, four varieties of Trique are spoken in different geographical regions of Oaxaca. The inability to communicate with their peers on the farms, overseers and other staff hinder their ability to acquire the basics they need to survive; among these needs is proper medical care.
Clinics accessible to migrants are often under-funded public facilities that take patients from every walk of life. From the moment a migrant steps in the door, there is an aversion to treatment because of anticipated communication issues. This is due largely to the fact that interpreters in these clinics are very few and far between, and the majority only speak Spanish.
One of the most common issues faced is in
obtaining accurate information about the patient’s symptoms and medical
history, a seemingly impossible feat when such an aggressive language barrier
is the elephant in the room. In his 2013 book, Fresh Fruit Broken Bodies, Dr. Seth Holmes tells the story of one
such Triqui migrant named Bernardo. Bernardo was admitted to a local hospital
with complaints of stomach-pain. There was no translator available to create a
communication pathway between Bernardo and his physician, forcing his Mixtec
daughter in law who spoke no Trique and minimal English to serve as the
linguistic liaison. Despite doing her best, his medical history was summed up
as Bernardo having been an “older boxer who wonders if possibly the blunt
trauma to his abdomen could contribute to his present condition.” The physician,
who assumed Bernardo to be a hispanic who spoke poor Spanish, noted that he
“tended to perseverate on unrelated things from the questions that were asked,
but these things were usually not translated to me.” In his frustration, the
physician wove his own story in order to fulfill the requirement of creating a
medical history for Bernardo, but decided that Bernardo did not have one at
|TTUHSC El Paso|