Tag Archives: Latino

What happens when the doctor says ‘hospice’ and you understand ‘poorhouse’?

Ospizio al Colle del Piccolo S.Bernardo, Italy. Languages such as Italian ('ospizio') and Spanish ('hospicio') have words that sound like 'hospice'. But they mean something different: old people's home, poorhouse, refuge for migrants. (ro_buk/Flickr)

Ospizio al Colle del Piccolo S.Bernardo, Italy. Languages such as Italian (‘ospizio’) and Spanish (‘hospicio’) have words that sound like ‘hospice’. But they mean something different: old people’s home, poorhouse, refuge for migrants. (ro_buk/Flickr)


Here’s a guest post from Los Angeles-based reporter Daniela Gerson.

Beware of false friends — similar-sounding words with common etymologies. False friends like hospice and hospicio don’t mean the same thing.

The Spanish-language pages of Medicare and the National Institutes of Health translate hospice as hospicio. To Los Angeles resident Manuela Flores this just seems bizarre

Hospicio is a place for orphans,” says Flores, an immigrant from Nicaragua who has lived in the United States for nearly three decades. Spanish speakers from other countries give different definitions— to some it’s a refuge for migrants, to others a home for elderly people who have no family to support them. But whatever the variation hospicio means a place for the destitute, and definitely not somewhere you want your loved ones to end up.

Nicaraguan-born Manuela Flores misunderstood what hospice meant. (courtesy Manuela Flores)

Nicaraguan-born Manuela Flores misunderstood what hospice meant. (courtesy Manuela Flores)

Flores says until recently she had never come across the concept of hospice care, and she would not even know how to give a name to it in Spanish. In English, hospice means an end-of-life program that includes at home medical services as well as psychological and social support. For anyone who is eligible for Medicare or Medicaid, hospice care is free. But Hispanics nationwide are making use of hospice services at lower rates. Researchers have found linguistic and cultural barriers are part of the reason.

“You have patients being offered basically to go to the poorhouse to die and they say, of course I don’t want to do that,” says, Jason Bowman, a Brown University medical student who has devoted himself to studying hospice care and Hispanics ever since he took a trip to Ecuador and learned the word was being mistranslated. Bowman, working with Dr. Joan Teno, recently completed a national study that documented that the rate of whites being treated with hospice was 30 percent higher than Hispanics.

“I think it is heartbreaking,” Bowman says, “because the Hispanic culture possibly more than any other that I’ve studied would benefit most from the central themes of hospice which are quality care focused around family and friends and support, holistic incorporating religion and spirituality, avoiding invasive sterile environments like a hospital.”

The Spanish and English words for hospice have the same Latin root: hospes. In Spanish the word came to mean a home for the poor who were unable to care for themselves. In English, the concept of hospice as a service to care for the dying took off in the 1940s in Britain. It was brought to the United States in the 1960s.

Overall, hospice care in the US is growing. And people who provide the service are starting to market it to Hispanics.

Hospice of the Valley in central Arizona is one such organization that’s creating marketing materials that cross cultural divides.

“It was difficult for me,” a man identified as Delmar Contreras says in a video produced by Hospice of the Valley. ” I was kind of skeptical of the whole idea of hospice, being a Hispanic, and we take care of our own. Me and my lady were struggling, how take care of Mami.” Contreras goes on to explain that when he realized that hospice was actually the best way he could care for his mother. “It’s the best decision that I ever made. I could never take care of my mom that way.”

That’s one person who was won over, but there are millions more facing deep cultural barriers. In California, Silvia Austerlic meets with groups of migrant workers as a cultural liaison for Hospice of Santa Cruz County.

“I say that I work for hospice and I ask, ‘Have you heard about hospice?’ And always there are many people who never heard about the service,” says Austerlic, a native of Argentina. “I say, ‘That’s great, so let me tell you.’ We don’t use the word in Spanish, hospicio; we use the words servicios de hospice.”

She uses the English word to avoid confusion. Then comes the key step of explaining a new concept.

“Hospice is a program, but it’s also a philosophy,” says Austerlic. “When I say it’s a philosophy I look into the eyes of farm workers and they all nod. They understand it’s not just someone coming to your house at the end of life. It’s a different relationship with death. It’s not how you want to die. It’s how you want to live until the end.

That’s something that Manuela Flores, the Nicaraguan immigrant, wishes had been explained to her. Flores says her medical provider used the English word, but his explanation was inadequate. When her mother-in-law died less than 48 hours after her family had approved hospice care, Flores was terrified that they had “signed off on the death of la señora.”

Flores believes immigrants like her need to better informed about programs like hospice. “I am not going to return to my country,” she says in Spanish. “I am going to end my life here with all of my family. And so I need to know. Regardless if we know English, we are working here and we need to know about programs like this. There are people who have died without knowing about these programs.”


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Having an Accent in America: An Actor Speaks

Sara Loscos working on an accent exercise. (Photo provided by Sara Loscos)

Sara Loscos working on an accent exercise. (Photo provided by Sara Loscos)

Here’s a guest post Sara Loscos. Born in Barcelona, she now lives in New York.

I am a journalist, but I’m also an actress — and I have an accent. On my first day of acting school in Manhattan, as soon as I opened my mouth to say “good morning,” a nice academic advisor enrolled me in an accent reduction course. I met a lot of foreign actors like me there.

Accent exercises (Photo provided by Sara Loscos)

One of the first friends I made was Nanda Abella, who’s from Argentina.

“The moment you walk in the audition room, you see the faces when you have an accent. You see how they look at you,” she says.

Nanda eventually hired a private teacher. Every other week she pays $90 dollars for 45 minutes with an accent coach who helps her to sound more American.

Actress Nanda Abella

One thing is clear to Nanda — the combination of being a Latina and having the accent limits the kinds of roles she gets. She’s been a maid, a dance professor of Latin rhythms, a Latino working in a tattoo parlor – all of them a Latino “doing something.”

“I don’t mind being a Latina doing something,” she says. “I mind when it is a Latina in a position that denotes some kind of prejudice against the Latino population. I want to be the Latina lawyer, the Latina professional. You can’t be a successful woman because you are a Latina? Oh, c’mon!”

For Latinas who don’t look Latina, it can be even harder.

“I’ve met this Mexican girl, who looks like she is German, and the poor thing can’t work because she has a Spanish accent,” Nanda says. “But she can’t go for Latina, she doesn’t fit the stereotype of the Latina.”

Things are starting to change, though. Big stars like Sofia Vergara, of Modern Family, and Penelope Cruz, show starred in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, are slowly training the ears of mainstream American audiences to accept thick accents.

“The fact that Penelope Cruz can be in a leading part shows you that people are more open to hear those accents,” Nanda says. “I feel things are opening more and more.”

Rüya Koman sees it that way too. She’s an actress from Turkey, but last year, she got a role as a Latina in a play in New York. The director saw her headshot and assumed she was Colombian or Venezuelan, so she had to learn to speak with a Spanish accent.

“I was listening to Sofia Vergara for days,” Rüya says. “I tried to imitate her, but I didn’t have enough time to do it. Apparently, I sounded very Russian.”

Rüya’s still working on it, though.

“I really see a lot of casting calls where they need a Hispanic actress. I think there is a huge market of things you can do with an accent.”

It’s not just a growing market for actors. There are also more opportunities for Spanish-speaking journalists. That’s good news for me. But once again, the accent comes into play. I have a Castillian pronunciation, so even my Spanish sounds different from the Spanish we usually hear in the U.S. I guess I’ll always have an accent no matter what language I speak!

Check out Nanda Abella’s accented English in this scene from an upcoming movie:

Sara Loscos is with Feet in 2 Worlds, a project of the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.


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The Perils of Campaigning in Spanish

[This is a guest post from my colleague at the Big Show, Jason Margolis.]

This summer Mitt Romney appeared on a Cuban-American radio program in Florida. Romney was on his way to a fruit juice stand, so, the host asked him: What are your favorite types of fruit?

“I am a big fan of mango, papaya, and guava,” said Romney.

The hosts couldn’t suppress their laughter.

The chuckles were because Romney said he likes papaya. That might not strike you as all that that funny. But papaya is Cuban slang for vagina.

Now, c’mon. Let’s be mature and fair here. Who, besides a Cuban or Cuban American, would know that?

But that’s not the only Spanish slip-up from Romney. His most notorious one came five years ago when he was giving an impassioned anti-Castro speech in Miami.

“And at the end of speech, Romney had the crowd fired up,” said Joe Garcia, a Cuban American in Miami who unsuccessfully ran for US Congress in Miami as a Democrat. “And he (Romney) ended, ‘Patria o Muerte, Venceremos — the nation or death we shall win,’ which is the closing line of all of Fidel Castro’s speeches, right? It’s a great line. Unfortunately for Romney it was the wrong line in this crowd.”

But Romney is far from alone having problems with Spanish.

In 2008, then Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told the crowd, “Sí, se pueda.”

She meant to say “Sí, se puede,” instead of “Sí, se pueda.” Not a huge deal, but it is among the most famous American political phrases in Spanish, made famous by Cesar Chavez in the 1960’s.

Then there’s the downright bad Spanish from Newt Gingrich.

But at the end of the day, does it really matter if an English-speaking politician has a bad accent or mess up a few words?

In Denver, I met American voters Maria Young, originally from Mexico, and Martha Caban from Puerto Rico. I asked them what they thought of candidates who mangle their Spanish.

“I will say a couple of brownie points, yes, because at least they tried,” said Young.

Caban said, “I give them points too, following what Maria said, because at least they’re honoring and respecting us and trying to do something to connect with us.”

But what if they really, really screw it up like Romney did in Miami, speaking to Cuban American voters and quoting Fidel Castro?

“It will not matter. I am used to bad translations, so it doesn’t matter,” said Young.

And that’s coming from an Obama supporter.

But Christine Marquez-Hudson of the Mi Casa Resource Center in Denver said, “I think it can come across as patronizing.”

She said if a politician’s message is inauthentic, she doesn’t want to hear their Spanish.

“When someone comes out who has absolutely no personal connection and says, ‘hola, bienvenido,’ and they say it in a really terrible accent. I think it can be offensive.”

But Marquez-Hudson doesn’t see this from either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. She says Romney’s connection to Latin America gives his attempts at Spanish some authenticity. And she appreciates when President Obama uses his favorite Spanish phrase, “Sí, se puede.”

Marquez-Hudson said, “The thing about Obama is that he was a community organizer, and Sí, se puede is a community organizing chant, and so that’s the connection for me.”

Presidential candidates and their surrogates have been speaking some Spanish as far back as the 1960’s.

John F. Kennedy “Viva Kennedy” campaign reached out to Latino voters.

Since then, many presidential candidates have tried some Spanish here and there, most notably President George W. Bush who often spoke the language.

President Bush was applauded by many for speaking Spanish. Though, many also made fun of his Texas accent.

Democratic presidential candidate US Senator Obama campaigns at the Los Angele Trade Technical College. (Photo: Jason Reed/REUTERS)

Democratic presidential candidate US Senator Obama campaigns at the Los Angele Trade Technical College. (Photo: Jason Reed/REUTERS)

So, at the end of the day, what’s a candidate do? Try a little Spanish? Not try? Why bother if it can result in endless ridicule?

I asked Diane McGreal what she would advise. McGreal works with the language company Berlitz and directs the company’s global leadership training program.

“I would inoculate the audience. I would say to them right up front, I would start out by saying, I want to apologize for any mistakes that I make and then say a few words. And then the next step would be to ask their permission to continue in English, to say it’s important that that the message I get across is clear and understood.”

And there is one other way to make absolutely certain you get your Spanish correct. Pre-record the message. Mitt Romney ends his Spanish-language campaigns flawlessly staying, “Soy Mitt Romney y apruebo este mensaje.”



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