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Latino/Hispanic Heritage Month: A AAA Director's Perspective on Connecting With Latino and Hispanic Communities

In the newest blog post from n4a's Diversity Task Force, Olivia B. Guerrero, President and CEO of the Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens Area Agency on Aging, shares some family history and describes the opportunity for AAAs presented by Latino/Hispanic Heritage Month.

I am a proud Latina! This is a result of my parents and my Latino background. Born as a third generation U.S. citizen, I grew up in a poor, lower-working-class neighborhood. I thank my mother Gloria, 93, and my late father, Ventura, for the life lessons, pride in our Mexican culture, and heart-felt love for our family and community that they embedded within me. Our neighbors were mostly of Mexican decent and their trade was copper mining. Relatives, extended families and neighbors relied on each other for moral and, yes, sometimes financial support. I still remember my parents' stories. As the oldest child, my father worked from a very early age to support his widowed mother and five siblings while also attending school. As a child, my mother was embarrassed to tell her friends that she hadn't eaten that morning and would instead tell them about the big breakfast she had just eaten. She now has dementia and still cries today about this. Often, I cry with her.  

National Latino/Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the diversity, cultural contributions and accomplishments that Latinos and Hispanics have made in the United States. Usually celebrated from September 15 through October 15, the month is a time for celebration, festivals, music, dancing, delicious food, history—and an appreciation of the cultural differences and similarities represented by the various Latino cultures that exist throughout the U.S. Many don't know this, but the Latino and Hispanic population living in the United States consists of people who have various origins, including Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, as well as individuals from Spain, South America, Central America and other Latin countries. Many Latinos and Hispanics were born in the U.S.

This month is a terrific opportunity for Area Agencies on Aging to conduct outreach to the Latino and Hispanic Community. During the month, Area Agency Board and Advisory Council members, AAA staff and provider agencies should consider attending events celebrating the Latino community and consider co-sponsoring or hosting some of these events. These events are usually attended by older adults who are often surrounded by their families, caregivers, grandchildren, adult children and extended families and friends. AAA participation in these events will provide an introduction to Area Agencies on Aging for Latino and Hispanic communities that may otherwise be hard to reach.   
 
Most older Latinos and Hispanics take strength from their family bonds, so if trust is established within the family unit first, AAAs may stand a better chance of serving the underserved and un-served older Latinos with much-needed health promotion, prevention, and home and community-based services. Taking these steps may also foster new ethnic minority membership for AAA governing boards, councils and commissions. With the Latino population increasing at a fast rate, it has been documented that the number of Latino and Hispanic millennials who are serving as caregivers for older family members is also growing. Meeting and identifying these caregivers to offer training opportunities would be invaluable to both the senior being cared for and the family who may need support services. AAA Area Plan on Aging needs assessment surveys are usually easy to administer at community events.    

As n4a Board President Deborah Stone-Walls wrote in her blog post, the need for cultural competency training and standards among AAAs is a priority and will become more and more important as the population of Latinos and Hispanics continues to rapidly grow and age along with the rest of us. It is my personal opinion that with all the proposed and new changes in immigration laws, older Latinos and Hispanics will be more fearful and may not apply for our OAA-funded and health care services. Because Latinos and Hispanics have historically been fearful of seeking help from institutions. Therefore, now is truly the time to make inroads if you haven't already in your local Latino communities. 

According to ACL's Profile of Older Americans and U.S. Census Bureau population estimates, the number of Hispanic adults age 65 and older is projected to grow by 19.9 million by 2060, representing 21 percent of the total number of older adults living in the United States. To meet the needs of rising numbers of Latino older adults as AAAs, we must reevaluate how well we are doing in meeting their needs—now and in the future.

Olivia B. Guerrero, BSW, MS
President/CEO
Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens, Area Agency on Aging
(Member of the n4a Diversity Task Force)
To read Olivia's full blog entry, please visit n4a's blog.

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