For eight weeks this summer, 28 students worked on gaining the skills they will need to improve the health of Spanish-speaking immigrants. They spent mornings immersed in interactive conversational Spanish classes, and in the afternoon, each participated in a research, service, or clinical project in a Spanish-speaking environment in Washington Heights or Inwood. In addition to attending lectures on such topics as immigration and cultural competence, they went on regular outings to see movies, eat meals, walk through the community, learn salsa, and play dominoes.
The students—24 from CUMC, two from the Sophie Davis School at City College, and two from New York City’s PENCIL program for public high school students—were taking part in Digame (Spanish for “tell me”), a summer Spanish-language and cultural-immersion program offered for the third year by the IFAP Global Health Program, with major underwriting from Paul Maddon, MD, PhD (P&S ’87).
“Simply learning Spanish medical terms is not enough,” said Dr. Ana Esteban Gonzalez, Digame co-founder and teacher. “The key is also to learn something about Latinos’ culture and their health beliefs. Latinos now make up 28 percent of New York’s population. We are preparing students to have successful careers, and wherever they go in this country, these skills will be needed.”
At the Aug. 8 graduation ceremony, New York City Council member Ydanis Rodrigueza, a Dominican immigrant who has represented Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill since 2009, spoke of the importance of health care for immigrants. He related the challenges he and his wife faced when their daughter was diagnosed with asthma. They were told that swimming would help her condition.
“But you know,” he said, “there is no swimming pool in Northern Manhattan.” He gave this as an example of medical advice that is well intended but lacking in knowledge of patients’ lives and environments. He also spoke of how difficult it is for people from one place to understand those from elsewhere. “I will leave you with this advice,” he said. “One culture should not judge another one.”