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As the daughter of two parents with limited English language proficiency, I am part of the dual-lingual generation (in my case Spanglish) that straddles the fine line between child, translator, and teacher to their parents. I hated this role when I was a child, often wishing that I could just be a kid without the “translator” job title. While I had it easier because of my father’s good grasp of English, I remember my friends and I sitting around complaining about having adult responsibilities while having the social privileges of a toddler. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that these seemingly divergent roles have placed me, and all of us young adults who serve as translator to our parents, in the unique position of family consciousness raiser. As a generation of the bilingual babies, we can bring information to our parents as a trusted source about important issues and services that impact them directly (like access to new, affordable healthcare) without the shaming they might experience for having an accent in this country when they seek help.

Studies have shown that language assistance ensures immigrant minority communities receive access to equal, high-quality medical care. The “Language proficiency and adverse events in U.S. hospitals” pilot study by the Joint Commission found that problems with care (like advice, information, disclosure, follow-up, and diagnosis) were more likely to occur to limited English proficient patients (52.4%) than English speaking patients (35.9%) because of communication barriers. The Robert Wood Foundation study “Hablamos Juntos: We Speak Together” also points out that 94% of the surveyed service providers identified communication as an essential component in providing quality care to patients. The importance of language accessibility to healthcare is undeniable, and as bilingual youth, we can help close the gap of accessibility to quality health care in our communities caused by language disparities.

I know that inevitably people will read these statistics and say, “well they should just learn English.” I have heard this same statement so many times in reference to my brilliant mother, and I know that people just don’t get it. I think about all the times my mother has been treated as if she in unintelligent because of her accent—whether someone speaks to her with a slightly raised voice (she’s not deaf folks) or simply treat her with infuriating condescension. It’s no wonder that my mother, and countless others, would prefer to speak to their care provider in their native language. When you already feel vulnerable because you are talking about the complex issues surrounding health care, do YOU want to be treated with contempt or even simply risk missing important information? This is why as dual lingual daughters and sons, we HAVE to talk to our parents about health care. In a culture where we and our parents are shamed for maintaining our linguistic identity, we can make sure our abuelas, tias, primos, and sobrinas get the new, affordable healthcare coverage they need.

It doesn’t just end with telling Mami and Papi about it in passing. What I’m talking about is an intergenerational partnership that ensures everyone in your family gets covered. While we continue to work towards full-language access, we can play a pivotal role by asking our parents to call the 24/7 call center at 1-800-318-2596 (which supports 150 languages) or sit down with them at the computer to visit together. Also, if you have neighbors or friends who need help, be proactive and get them together and make sure they have the information they need to sign up.

The best thing about this partnership is that while you take on the role of translator and educator, Mami and Abuela are going to hold you and everyone in la familia accountable come enrollment time on October 1st. I went home last week to visit and brought this conversation up with my parents. They asked me detailed questions and insisted that I talk to my aunts and uncles too, but my greatest surprise was when my Mami asked “do you need to sign up for health care” followed by “do you need me to remind you to sign up” followed by “I’m going to put a note on the refrigerator to remind you.” I know without a shadow of a doubt that now that I’ve told my mom about the new, affordable health care options, she won’t stop calling la familia until each and everyone of us has insurance coverage.

See these resources for information to help you talk to family about health care:


-       Spread the Word to Family, Friends About New Options for Affordable Healthcare! (SEIU)

-       The Affordable Care Act Resource Center (APIAHF)

-       Aprenda cómo trabaja la ley de salud para usted y su familia (AARP)

-       Health Centers’ Role in Reducing Health Disparities Among Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders (AAPCHO)

-       National Council of Urban Indian Health

* A special thank you to the California Pan-Ethinic Health Network (CPEHN) for their great collection of resources and studies! 


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