Our Cross Country Trip to Capture the Latino Voice
Jun 28, 2022
By María Otero, Latino Community Engagement Director
Patricia A. González-Portillo, Senior National Latino Media Director
The Compassion & Choices Latino Community Engagement and Media Relations team officially concluded our last video and photo shoot for our innovative cross-country Latino Video Project: ‘Nuestra Voz, Nuestras Historias’ (Our Voice, Our Stories.)
The goal of the two-year-old project led by Brandi Alexander, National Director of Community Engagement, was to create videos to engage the Latino community by covering seven topics 1) the importance of end-of-life planning, 2) cultural values and 3) faith, 4) dementia, 5) the reasons why Latinos are reluctant to talk about 6) death and 7) their thoughts about medical aid in dying.
The three-month adventure started by hiring a bilingual videographer who traveled with us to California, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, Washington D.C., and New York, where we met with Latino people from all walks of life.
In New Mexico, we met with a state representative, from the very rural community of Mesilla, where people still go to the Post Office to get their mail, to the state auditor, the Mexican consul in Albuquerque, policymakers, a social justice advocate, a community health worker (promotora) and a couple of LGBTQ advocates. We then traveled to Sacramento, to meet with civil rights activist Dolores Huerta and Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera, a Methodist minister, Both are members of our Latino Leadership Council.
From our respective homes in New Mexico and California we flew to Puerto Rico to meet with Nilsa Centeno, the mother of Compassion & Choices first terminally ill Latino volunteer advocate for medical aid in dying, Miguel Carrasquillo, who died from cancer in 2016 at age 35. We also met with a chemical engineer-turned musician, writer, comedian, entrepreneur and broadcasting media host in Puerto Rico, who is also a communications professor at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart University) in San Juan.
In New York and Washington, D.C., we met with presidents/CEOs of national organizations like the Latino Commission on AIDs, Latinos for Healthcare Equity to the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (the latter was created by the White House). Latino Engagement Manager Leslie Martinez, also connected us with the executive from a highly regarded New York City peer support organization of women affected by breast or ovarian cancer, among other diplomats from the Mexican Government.
The interviewees spoke with poise and composure. Within minutes, one by one, they detailed the myriad of inequities in healthcare that Latinos suffer from, such as the disproportionate amount of deaths from COVID-19, unwanted medical treatment, limited access to the full range of healthcare options, such as hospice and palliative care. They also discussed how religion guides their healthcare decisions at the end of life, even though their religion’s guidance may conflict with their personal beliefs.
Some held back tears as they spoke of their loved ones who died prematurely. Others invoked a prayer for those who clinged to their lives in their native countries. Others simply did not have the option to die peacefully.
We spent Mothers’ Day and Father’s Day away from our families and children but no one complained until we suddenly experienced head and body aches a day after our final shoot in San Juan. We thought the aches came from the stings of chiggers in the Puerto Rico jungle or from being out in the hot and muggy weather in the Island of Enchantment.
Our project came to a halt the first week of May, when body aches, a temperature of 103 and a rapid self-test in San Juan at 2 a.m. confirmed a positive for COVID test, forcing half of the team to cancel our trip home to stay in the COVID-ravaged Puerto Rico in a hotel eating cold rice and chips left outside our hotel room.
One by one, home tests came back positive with COVID, leaving all of us feeling miserable for about two weeks.
‘Nuestra Voz, Nuestras Historias’
At the end, our Latino team traveled more than 12,000 miles, tried new foods with Hatch Green Chile and plantain mofongo. We met with 17 advocates, some originally from Mexico, El Salvador, Peru and Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. We chanted religious hymns that are very prevalent in our Latino culture and our church. We cried with top executives, elected officials, a poet and university professor, musicians, LGBTQ advocates, policy makers, social and public health advocates, a mother who lost her son to cancer and we embraced members of our Latino Leadership Council.
We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to each and every one of our advocates who took the time to meet with us. Gracias Dolores, Ignacio, Silverio, Nilsa, María, Guillermo, Jaime, Brian, Norma VH. Norma A., Monica., Tony, Anthony, Claudia, Jairo, Micaela and Denicia.The ‘Nuestra Voz, Nuestras Historias’ initiative that started with the formalities of elected officials and top executives - became an intimate and unique project that somehow helped us heal our pain by coming together as a familia - one that will help Compassion & Choices raise awareness on the importance of end-of-life care planning to millions of our Latino brothers and sisters in the United States.