Unnatural Causes: Becoming American

This weeks documentary episode “Becoming American” discusses immigrants and their experience coming to America. It introduces the idea that immigrants may be healthier than US citizens and when they arrive in the US, but after spending time here, their health quickly declines. In the words of the documentary, the health that immigrants arrive to the US with often has an expiration date. Now, why is this the case? It is possible that it is because of the obvious descrepency in resources that immigrants receive in comparison to US citizens, or the adjustment to the United States lifestyle. Regardless of the exact cause, the documentary makes a case that immigrants health declines once they live in the United States.

To humanize this general idea, they tell the story of a Mexican Immigrant who settled down in Pennsylvania in a town where Mexicans make up 1/4 of the town’s population. After 25 years in the US, this man never once went to the doctor. Hearing this shocked me because I am confident that there were situations where he probably should have or needed to go to the doctor and chose not to. To me it seems that professional medical care in our country is intimidating and unapproachable for those of different backgrounds. There are stereotypes and expectations of certain groups which creates an unsafe environment. Asking for help from someone else is difficult and it only becomes more difficult when you think they have a certain expectation about you or your group that isn’t true. For the Mexican population, they deal with the generalization that they are always late and irresponsible when it comes to seeing the doctor.

This story about the Mexican immigrant who moves to Pennsylvania relates very closely to this weeks readings on cultural competence. If medical professionals were consciously paying attention to being understanding and creating a safe environment for people of all cultures and backgrounds, I’m sure this man would have been more likely to visit the doctor during his first 25 years in the US. Feeling understood and accepted is so important and allows people to feel comfortable seeking the care they need.

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