Latino/Hispanic Heritage Month: An Important time for Area Agencies on Aging to Connect with the Latino and Hispanic Communities
Thursday, October 3, 2019
by: Olivia B. Guerrero

Section: USAging Blog

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.  
Euclid Street is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Globe, Arizona—and it’s where I grew up. Many young men in the neighborhood enlisted in the armed forces during World War II, just as my father did. And many of them, like my father, returned home proud after fighting for their country only to be told to sit on the Mexican side of the theatre, swim at the local pool only on certain days, and to sit in the pews at back of the church. These men were also refused food service at public restaurants and, when wanting to start a Euclid neighborhood Boy Scout troop for Latino youth, were denied. My father and mother would not follow these rules, an instead became community advocates and real heroes to many young families in the neighborhood. These are just some of the lessons my parents passed on to me—to be proud of who I am, where I came from and to value our accomplishments as Mexican Americans. 
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.
National Latino/Hispanic Heritage Month is a terrific opportunity for Area Agencies on Aging to conduct outreach to the Latino and Hispanic communities. During the month, Area Agency Board and Advisory Council members, AAA staff and provider agencies should consider attending events celebrating the Latino and Hispanic communities and 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.     
Many older Latinos have held on to their native and unique customs, beliefs, music, food, social values, faith, family ties and language. Although the Spanish language is shared by members of the Latino population, the dialect is different among the varied groups, making both oral and written communication particularly important as avenues individuals and groups can use to represent and express themselves. If older adults are not able to express their feelings, memories, views, health care history, and basic needs in the language they are comfortable speaking, they will not be able to be served appropriately. Therefore, the need to serve all populations in a multicultural and multilingual manner is priority if we are to serve this community appropriately and effectively with the quality services they need. 
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. 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. Latino older adults continue to have lower education levels, less health care insurance coverage, one or more chronic illnesses, lower social security benefits, and pensions, and have a higher poverty rate than any other older adult population.   
Our country has quite a diverse population that is rich with older adults from all backgrounds and cultures. It is time that we in the Aging Network reevaluate how well we are doing in each of our Planning and Service Areas with our service targets, outreach methods, cultural competency standards and goals that we have set. I know that I am going to reevaluate just how well my agency is prepared to address the opportunities and challenges represented by the increasing growth rate of our aging populations. Thank you for this opportunity to share a few of my life lessons with you.  
Olivia B. Guerrero, BSW, MS
Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens, Area Agency on Aging
(Member of the Diversity Committee N4A)