By Yonair M. Rivera

Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the remarkable contributions of Hispanics and communities in the United States. It is also a time to reflect on how we can improve the well-being of these community members by reducing existing health inequalities.

Social determinants are the root cause of most health inequalities. These determinants are often multi-layered and may include lack of access to health care and health insurance; socio-economic status; language barriers; levels of acculturation; immigration status; cultural norms that perpetuate fatalistic views of illness; lack of infrastructure to support improved health (such as accessible transportation or childcare); and racism and discrimination toward (and within) Latino constituents.

Addressing health disparities in our communities requires culturally tailored approaches that empower Latinos to take control of their health. It is important that our leaders and institutions understand the diverse subethnic, political, and social realities that diverse Latinx constituents face, as each level of group identity will contribute to how they receive the health message.

This empowerment cannot be directed at individual members of the community; it also requires the use of partnerships that facilitate collective action. Efforts focused on the perspectives of trusted community leaders and organizations are important in addressing issues that contribute to inequities in Latinx communities, as their expertise is central to providing services that respond to local issues.

Listening to community leaders and helping them find local solutions builds the trust and fosters a sense of collective identity that is needed to effect long-term change. Adequately addressing health disparities also requires ongoing training of bilingual and bicultural health professionals and academics who can address issues facing Latino communities through rigorous research and community-led, evidence-based prioritization.

Investing in a diverse workforce that understands our communities will enable the development of programs and research that address the root causes of health inequities and improve quality of life for all.

Continuemo siendo agentes de cambio en nuestra comunidad amada.

Yonaira M. Rivera is an assistant professor of health communication at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information, where she studies how to reduce health inequities and improve the well-being of Latino/a communities through health communication initiatives and community engagement research.

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