March 7, 2014
By Dennis L. Taylor
Imagine traveling in Oaxaca and suddenly you are gripped by chest pains and gasping for air. A friend drives you to an emergency room where a doctor speaks a tongue not even your Spanish-speaking friend understands. Fear and panic set in as you desperately begin pointing at your chest in hopes of communicating.
Welcome to the world of indigenous immigrants in the Salinas Valley.
Natividad Medical Center on Thursday unveiled Indigenous Interpreting+, a program funded by Driscoll’s, The Agricultural Leadership Council (TALC), and the Community Foundation Monterey County.
“From the beginning when John D’Arrigo rallied the Salinas Valley agricultural community to form TALC, it has been our intent to help Natividad get the tools it needs to improve the quality of health care for agricultural workers and their families,” said Miles Reiter, chief executive officer of Driscoll’s. “The new Indigenous Interpreting+ business will help ensure health care is accessible and useful for farm workers.”
Linda Ford, president of the Natividad Medical Foundation, said that of the seven primary languages spoken by patients at NMC, three are indigenous Mexican tongues. It is a misconception to think the indigenous languages are dialects of Spanish. They are independent languages in Mexico and Central and South America.
Mixteco, Zapotec, Triqui and Chatino are languages spoken in the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla. All four of these indigenous languages are among the top-10 most common languages spoken by patients at Natividad Medical Center.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the most recent year from which statistics are available, 685,000 people identified themselves as Latinos of indigenous origin — a 68 percent increase since 2000.
In addition to California, there are large indigenous Mexican populations in Texas, New York, Arizona, Colorado and Illinois.
“California’s Central Coast is home to more than 27,000 indigenous immigrants and their families, many working in the fields of ‘America’s Salad Bowl,’ ” Ford said. “Several years ago we recognized the need to train interpreters who speak indigenous languages that are not available through traditional interpreting services in order to provide quality care for everyone. As word of our program spread, we began to receive calls from local and national organizations, and we realized this is an important service we can offer to communities around the country.”
Heading the new program is Victor Sosa, who explained to an audience of mostly indigenous members of the Salinas Valley community that misunderstanding is extremely dangerous in a medical setting. Erroneous communication can lead to poor decision-making on the part of both providers and patients.
Sosa will lead a team of interpreters of indigenous languages that several speakers Thursday noted is a pilot project with national implications.
Katharine Allen, co-president of InterpretAmerica and senior adviser to Indigenous Interpreting+, said, “This project is incredibly innovative. It will become an incredibly important program.”
The program was formed by Angelica Isidro, a Mixteco Medio/Bajo-Spanish interpreter and the co-founder of Indigenous Interpreting+. She came to the U.S. from Oaxaca in 1991 to work as a farm laborer. But her role became one of helping indigenous members of the Greenfield community after they were released from Natividad. They could not read the instructions or the dosages on their medications.
“Angelica would come back to the hospital with the patient to interpret for them,” Ford said.
Helping farm workers is both a business strategy and a humanitarian effort by the agricultural community in the county.
“TALC is proud to support Monterey County’s safety net hospital, a crucial resource for agricultural workers and their families,” said John D’Arrigo, CEO of D’Arrigo Bros., who founded TALC in 2010. “Over the past five years, farm families and the agricultural community have joined forces to truly change lives and save lives by raising funds to purchase more than 70 pieces of critical medical equipment and fund medical interpreting services for Natividad.”