To Feign Ignorance: A Coping Tactic

With the Being Visible Report now released, I have been rehashing all the stories we heard over the past two years. As a team, we travelled across seven states, driving through back roads and cities, speaking with everyday people in the community – tienda owners in small-town Louisiana, farm workers in rural South Carolina, and Hispanic journalists in Alabama. We also met with people who have dedicated their lives to helping others access healthcare and live dignified lives, working in clinics, AIDS service organizations, health departments, churches and civic organizations. Looking back on all this time spent travelling around the South hearing about the health challenges and triumphs in local communities, there is one quote I really cannot get out of my head….

But first, a little back-story: In the past few months, I have been living outside the US – in Thailand. Here, busses with wooden flooring barely stop for you to jump on or off, there are five tones in the language (where “ma” has five different meanings, for each of the five tones), and it takes a month to figure out how to get Internet to your apartment. It’s exciting and exhausting at the same time. Every day is an eternity, in a good way.

One such adjustment is going to the immigration office to occasionally check in, extend my visa, and so on. It is stressful and every foreigner in the country has horror stories and advice on how to get through the process with the least hassles and most sanity.

“Don’t go on Monday or Friday. “

“Have all your paper work ready; with your picture!”

“Dress nice.”

“Don’t speak in Thai.”

This is when I started thinking back to the Being Visible Report and the relatively small tactics people are using to make their lives easier.

One of the health care workers that we interviewed was talking about Latino clients in her state and said: Sometimes it is worse if they speak English.

She described a man that came back to the doctor for seven months and didn’t fully understand his HIV test results, until he spoke with someone in Spanish. He said please tell me do I have HIV? I said no you’re not positive, but he needed to hear it in Spanish.” Since he spoke some English, they automatically assumed he understood everything.

When I went to the immigration office last week, I certainly used this tactic and said only ‘hello’ and ‘thank you in’ Thai; they had someone explain the process to me in English and I felt certain that I got it.

Throughout the Being Visible Report there are hundreds of stories that truly bring to life the lived experiences of Latinos in the Deep South. Particularly important are the coping tactics and key successes for local Latino communities – how did people deal with some of the harshest immigration policy in the country? They are organizing. They are mobilizing.

Whether or not we are living side by side with Latinos in the South, we should read this report. People are immigrating, migrating and making new homes all over the world. This trend will only increase as the changing climate, dwindling resources and regional conflicts converge to quicken the pace of migration. Our leaders are making policies that make a real impact on many peoples lives, for better or worse. In order to adapt to this changing world we need to be knowledgeable and we need to be tactical in how we move forward.  Understanding the challenges facing those in local Latino communities in the South, as well as how people are adapting and mobilizing, is key to us moving forward, together.

Emily Klukas, MPH

The Data Edge

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