FLINT, MI–For immigrants in a new country, the language barrier is a known obstacle. But beyond just an ability to communicate or understand English, other facets of life are dramatically impacted – everything from accessing healthcare to finding a job that matches an individual’s professional experiences or licensures can prove to be difficult.
As an international medical graduate (IMG) and also an immigrant, Mildred Silva is intimately familiar with those experiences, helping her understand the unique and specific resource needs that exist among Hispanic women in the community. For Mes de la Historia de la Mujer (International Women’s Day), Silva, a volunteer health and resource coordinator at the Flint Latinx Technology and Community Center and former community outreach Spanish interpreter and enrollment navigator at Hamilton Community Health Network, organized an event to begin connecting women with needed healthcare, workforce, and community resources on March 25, 2023, at Flint Public Library.
“I am an immigrant. I understand the different challenges that we go through when coming to this country,” said Silva. “I think it is important to have a support group where we can share different resources and experiences.”
The Friends of The Flint Public Library meeting room was filled with more than 30 Spanish and a few non-Spanish speaking women. Live Spanish and English interpretation was available during the presentations from guest speakers that included Dr. Aisha Harris, Mala Blanco, CEO of the Clutch Beauty Program, Grecia Mondragon, the Latinx Center’s language services coordinator, Evelyn Cano, community interpreter, Frankie McIntosh, executive director of Mindfulness Poetry, and Canisha Bell, certified health education and yoga instructor.
“The Latinx community in Flint is very talented,” said Silva. “We have teachers, psychologists, doctors, economists and other professions. It is important to support these people so they can join the workforce in this city.”
The event helped attendees connect with local health and business leaders while finding out how to get interpretation services that can help with careers, licenses, health, and other vital needs.
“Unfortunately it is difficult to access healthcare in our language [Spanish], there is a systematic problem in the community when it comes to providing services,” Silva said. “A very difficult point is for women who suffer from domestic violence. Living in an abusive home is difficult for the victim. Now imagine a Spanish-speaking victim trying to make a phone call to ask for help from one of the organizations that we have in Flint and there is no support in your language.”
Those barriers lead to gaps in services all over the Flint area and beyond, especially in healthcare. Fears or previous experiences with discrimination in healthcare and social inequities often lead Hispanic people, especially women, to avoid seeking out care even when it is needed, according to research from faculty at Columbia University. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Latinx populations have been two times more likely to be hospitalized than non-Hispanic white people. The disparities in healthcare utilization among foreign-born Latinx women persist in particular because of the way structural inequities are compounded by competing priorities – motherhood, in particular.
Harris, a Flint native and the medical provider at Harris Family Health, works to provide quality care for patients by decreasing barriers and limitations of insurance, and increasing adequate access to healthcare. Harris, with live interpretive services for the audience, was able to speak freely on health literacy and provide important health information in an approachable way. Women were able to ask Harris about their personal questions about menopause, medications, and how to find financial resources to obtain imaging screenings.
“I wanted to give people the opportunity to ask a doctor questions in a safe space and help their family and friends get answers to questions they may also have,” Harris said. “When it comes to women’s health there are so many things that impact us. It was just nice to be able to address some questions and concerns that people may have been wondering about for a while.”
Finding career opportunities in line with immigrants’ actual skills and experience is another challenge when coming to the U.S. Spanish-speaking immigrants often face difficulties obtaining and transferring education transcripts and navigating professional equivalences in America. Silva said that connecting immigrants with career resources that allow them to fully use their skillsets enriches the entire community.
“I enjoy seeing the power that Latinx women have in this community and I enjoy having a space that embraces our experiences,” Silva said.