DGH Live Blog: Panel, “Preserving and Mobilizing Cultural Assets”

Cultural treasures are the people, groups, places that reflect the values of the community. They are powerful tools for building community, and make life worth living. Cultural resources can also be mobilized to improve health. All of these panel members today help their communities mobilize to preserve cultural treasures.


Ramiro Argueta:

His town, Estancia, in El Salvador, is an indigenous town, has had its own language and dialect, but this is becoming lost. Almost all of the elders who spoke the language have passed on. There is an indigenous organization that is trying to recover this language, but many young people haven't had the opportunity to learn.

Recently, the young people are leaving the community to try to get their college degrees, or technical degrees. Also, they also are at risk of losing their own culture by copying the culture of other countries. Now, things are changing, because young people have different interests - dyeing hair, other similar professions.

But other young people in the community have organized themselves to help with climate change, erosion, global warming. Now they are starting a recycling campaign and collection of solid waste, as the community is on the second largest river in El Salvador, so they are trying to preserve the water quality.

There are also young people who are interested in theater, music, arts and are trying to develop their skills. Unfortunately, there have been some who have been assassinated. (didn’t get the why).


Shaymara Salinas:

She is Mexican-American, bilingual in spanish and English, 15 years old, her organization is hoping to improve the lives of farmworker families, to have their voices heard. Trying to create a welcoming community. They are also creating digital stories of their experiences, for example, with the health care system. She hopes in the future to be a midwife, work with people during their pregnancy. Another thing the organization does is host events to celebrate their home cultures, helps people feel at home to be with their people, food, music that makes them feel at home.

When we work to preserve cultural assets, the community can start to have an awareness of why things are done the way they are here. For example working with doctors to tailor their  medical advice so that they can give better advice to the community, for example about which foods they should be eating or not. For example, a person was told that since they have diabetes, they can’t eat their favorite cultural foods - tacos, burritos, beans - and then they didn’t trust the doctor. The organization is trying to help that shift.


Anjuli Mishra:

Impressed with the idea of Liberation Medicine and the conference. She works with the Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans, state-mandated agency, to advocate to the legislature and the government about issues important to the community. The Asian Pacific Islander community is about 260,000 in Minnesota, representing about 40 different countries. Five largest communities are Hmong, Asian Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean. Majority of this population are refugees. This creates some challenges, it changes the conversation. For example, there is also a growing. The other large population is the Burmese population - fast growing. In 2010 was about 3000, has grown to 10,000 in last five years.

Public education system has linguistic issues. How do we begin to address these issues - first thing we look at is Language. In 2015, council did study on early childhood education. Found SE Asian families are not enrolling in Head Start because it’s all in English, and they are then worried about losing their connection to their heritage. Now the council is encouraging bilingual programs in certain communities, because it Pre-K education is critical for later success.

Another program is focused on building economic corridors and cultural corridors. For example, the Asian Economic Development Association has worked with artists and local businesses to create a sense of place. Place factors into a community’s sense of itself. Took a previously blighted neighborhood and re-branded it at the little Mekong neighborhood, has both provided support to the community and revitalized the neighborhood.

From policy development stage to the implementation stage, the council wants a community voice at the table in every stage of the process. For example, they encourage community members to testify at legislative hearings, rather than simply act as liaisons. Encourages legislators to really hear a different perspective, to hear an individual’s story about how legislation change would benefit their lives - really impacts the legislator in a different way to see the human side.

Also the council is working on combating domestic violence, realizing that cultural sensitivity is essential. Examining ways to talk about domestic violence within the asian community, by looking at their cultural values, and let them know that there are different expectations of behavior here.  


Huda Ahmed:

University of Minnesota Department of Family Medicine, Sub division on Health Disparities Research. The mission of this program is to achieve health equity through trusted partnerships. What makes her own role different, is that rather than focusing on one community, she is trying to reach all communities that are affected by health disparities.

By statistics, Minnesota is really one of the healthiest states in the US. But when you dive deeper in the statistics, you find that health status depends on color of skin. For example, there is twice the rate of infant mortality for black and native babies compared with white babies. Chronic disease also has much higher rates in communities of color. Among people of African descent, immigrants and refugees are actually healthier than people who have been here for generations. For example, a first-generation African-born immigrant mother is lower risk, than an African-American woman. But by the second generation, the risk starts to shoot up. It’s not a black gene that makes people have these higher risks, it is something in the environment here. A number of entities are doing soul-searching to try to figure out what’s going on.

One issue is that the communities that interventions and policies are designed “for” are not often included in the planning process - their wisdom and expertise is not recognized. At the University, their role is to try to bring people in to inform the research and interventions. This is an uphill battle against longstanding power dynamic in medical schools.

The Department also engages with other community organizations outside university that are working on Health Equity. Helps decrease silo-ing, there are so many plans. The Department tries to get everyone to align their work for greater impact.

Pilot grants- awarded to community organizations of communities with health disparities. The community groups submit a research question, and then are matched with an academic who has expertise in that area.

However, research takes a long time, ten years, sometimes. Another intervention is implementing health screening services. For example, the Department is creating opportunities for health screening and building knowledge in the community. In African-American neighborhoods, barber shops are seen as trusted places. The Department is training barbers to have conversations with their clients about health and provide health screenings there.

Finally, is the health equity and policy initiative. Disparities keep reoccurring because errors or ideas are passed from research to policy. This initiative is trying to bridge the gap and get improved information out more quickly.

Louis Porter:

One recent project has been looking at sulfa allergies that are prevalent in black and brown people.

Started as director and in November. Bothered him that there was a schism between African-American people and newer African immigrants. He’s hoping to find ways that we can bridge the gap, wants to get people into the room, move beyond that schism.

In terms of the black experience, he feels it’s important to hear the voices that are out there. Also, another goal is to get voices from throughout the state. The council has been criticized for being too focused in the Twin Cities, but is now building offices in the rest of the state.

The Council is also working recently on a coalition to pull together an agenda for legislators. They brought together the Urban League, Black Lives Matter - twenty organizations - and came up with Minnesota’s first united black legislative agenda. This brought together groups that have a lot in common but also have a lot that separates them. Some agenda items: Ban on private prisons; Somali job training; Economic development initiative; Increasing penalty for hate crimes

Staff of four people, and still feels like they are understaffed - but each of the councils feels the same way - feel lucky to be charged with preserving the culture and honoring the community.




Interventions to improve health of African Americans: How do you determine the best interventions or the programs that will be implemented or tried out? Education of immigrants from different communities in their mother tongues as a way to keep them connected. How do you do that? A lot of cultures - Do you feel like this is going to create a sectorial identity rather than a unified American identity?



Huda: Researchers in department have expertise is in research. Needs to be sound science, but also in a language that community can understand. Minnesota has the largest Somali community outside of Somalia. East Africans has second highest rate of cervical cancer, first is Asia. Cervical cancer is caused by STD, Somali women weren’t willing to be involved in screening because wouldn’t admit that STD would be possible. Community said: First start with “what is cancer” and then engage faith leaders. The Department met with eight Imam’s and they all thought that the men couldn’t have transmitted this to their wives (they thought men were faithful). Now will be implementing a slower but more impactful program based on challenging all of these misbeliefs in a culturally appropriate way.


Ahmed: Second question about comments about language in Head Start. Remember, this came from SE Asian community. We have to ask, is it worth the state’s time, funding, etc to have unprepared students entering school vs. bilingual preschool program. She agrees, there are so many languages. So, to implement a program, is important to have critical mass.

Roseville (suburban St Paul) school district has a different solution: an interpreter at school district if there is at least one student of that language in the district. It’s great to have a part-time staff member or volunteer who can communicate with student and family. This also prevents the marginalization of English Language Learners - feeling marginalized already by family being subject to the struggles of immigration. Really helps ELL students from getting slowed down.

Preschool education - how does it come out as a policy? Better to have an educational system that embraces diversity rather than encouraging them to assimilate.



Complement and comment about the importance of comment about the Councils in Minnesota. Questioner suffers from G6PD enzyme deficiency and has been advocating for screening for this because it is more common in black and brown people. Also, one of the things she did was to research and find stories in folklore that go back to slavery times. They address this sulfa intolerance. Encouraged to present her research to the Council and from them, physician on council recommended mandatory screening. Becoming Policy!


Any final words? To inspire others who are doing similar work?


I want to invite everyone to think about how our youth is the present, not the future.


Youth should get more involved in the community.


I encourage all of us to participate in the political process, not just going out to vote. Visit your representative’s office. If you don’t go to that office then they won’t know you exist.


It’s ok to not know, even if you have expertise, it’s ok to just listen and learn.

In addition to going to your representatives, also call the cultural councils. As the Council leader, he was warned about gadflys who are always in the face of the councils, but actually he admires those who have a passion about issues and keep coming back.

Posted under