How these two Oaxacan students fight to bring linguistic diversity to health spaces


By: Miguel Hernandez

(Listen to the audio in Spanish and Mixteco, variant from Guadalupe Nundaca, 5 min)

For many, migration to the United States is no easy feat, but for the indigenous migrant community, this journey is much more difficult and complex. One of the challenges this community faces is the linguistic barrier that consists of not only learning English but also learning Spanish. The inability to communicate basic needs becomes a problem that can be life or death.

One place where this becomes specifically dangerous is in healthcare spaces, such as clinics and hospitals.

“The inability for a person to communicate a medical emergency because the provider does not speak the language is a problem that no one should ever face,” mentioned an indigenous-speaking migrant.

But for some, these injustices are a means of motivation to make systematic changes to the health system and how it interacts with indigenous communities.

This was the case of two Oaxacan students:

María and Bulmaro García are two students who were born in Asunción, Oaxaca, and emigrated to the United States when they were only 8 and 11 years old. In an interview with María, she recounts how upon arriving in the United States she faced the challenges of not knowing how to speak English, and not having a stable place to live. María also mentions how it was very difficult and frustrating for her to have to live in a place where no one understood her and where she did not understand anyone.

María and her family mostly speak Zapotec, an indigenous language, and when they arrived in the United States they had to learn the new language and the new lifestyle. María mentioned how when they arrived in the United States, her family began to work in the fields.

María also shared how on one occasion she accompanied her parents to work in the field, and picked strawberries for a while, but discovered that life in the field was very difficult, and instead, she wanted to chase her dream of becoming educated. 

Now, decades later, Maria and Bulmaro are about to graduate from college as nurses. Maria gives thanks for the opportunities in life that gave her the opportunity to go to college and graduate. Finally, María recognizes that not many people in her community have the same opportunities as her and wants to make a positive change for her community by becoming a bilingual nurse who speaks Spanish and Zapotec.

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