Latin American culture is characterized mainly by the contrast of various cultural traditions and inter-civilizational interactions. Latin American ethnos began to form as a result of the collision of three genetically different cultures: Iberian, Indian, and African, which led to the questionable heterogenic characteristics, and symbiosis, inversion of various elements, and a high level of archaic features. Since the clashing cultures were qualitatively different from each other, their overall interaction in different parts of the continent had several levels, which can be traced today, thereby explaining their diversity (De la Fuente & Andrews, 2018). Their approach to healthcare reflects the diversification of their culture. Afro-Latin attitude towards health is characterized by the prevailing of the traditional healing practices over conventional medicine due to cultural, economic, and social barriers.
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The colonizing efforts of conquistadors characterize the first half of the XVI century. They, along with Spanish officials, and other colonists came to the New World to conquer new lands to expand their sphere of influence. As a result of Conquista, Iberian men became co-existing with locals, sometimes marrying Indian women and producing mestizos. Later in the same century, after the end of Conquista, Africans appeared on the continent. They were brought to America as slaves; however, they also took an active part in miscegenation, interracial mixing of the population of the New World (De la Fuente & Andrews, 2018). Colonizers imported African slaves to almost all European colonies in the Western Hemisphere, including Latin America. Therefore, a vast racially mixed and heterogeneous in its composition population was formed in that part of the world.
Moreover, in Brazil, the process of racial mixing covered almost all strata of slave society. The intensity of this growth catalyzed the appearance of such term as “Brazilian race” when referring to the citizens of that city because they were a mixture of a black and a white race with an admixture of an Indian (De la Fuente & Andrews, 2018). Thus, different tribes of Africans quickly integrated with Latin American society, mixing as well as with Iberian populations in the process of more than three centuries of miscegenation. This contributed to the emergence of a particular group of Afro-Latin people or Black Hispanics with African roots manifested in culture. Their heritage is as unique as the culture of their people. One can observe how the different traditions of Indians, Africans, and Iberian people integrated, creating an exclusive mixture, which is known as Latin American traditions.
The quality of Afro-Latin life was influenced by such factors as health and illness and their overall attitude towards healthcare. Several regional studies demonstrate a constant disparity between health indicators for Afro-Latinos and other populations in Latin America. Pan American Health Organization claims that this healthcare gap is a result of extreme poverty, cultural differences, and discrimination based on race, sex, and appearance. These factors severely limit the accessibility of healthcare and decrease the quality of provided services to the people of Latin America. Moreover, due to the low availability and quality of healthcare, Afro-Latins have an increased risk of developing terminal diseases without a proper chance to cure them.
The gap is visible in some Latin American countries with higher HIV rates, homicide, and infant mortality. Afro-Latinos suffer from these problems more than other people in Latin America. For example, the infant mortality rate in the Chocó, an Afro-Colombian region, is the highest in Colombia (Rodríguez-Lainz et al., 2016). Moreover, these people suffer severely because of inaccessibility to qualified psychologists, which is why the rates of suicides in that territory are higher than everywhere in the world. For instance, Esmeraldas, an Ecuador area with the majority of the Black Hispanic population, is characterized by the highest suicide rate. In Honduras, inhabited by African descendants, there is a much higher HIV rate than in other regions (Rodríguez-Lainz et al., 2016). This data demonstrates some of the health issues that Afro-Latin people face in Latin America.
Speaking about issues in healthcare, Cuevas et al. (2016) organized detailed research on differences between White Latin and Afro-Latin healthcare. Black Latinos have a higher chance of developing hypertension than White Latinos. Moreover, if to speak about Afro-Latin adolescents, they have a higher risk of developing depressive states due to the low level of law protection against child abuse (both sexual and physical). The research showcases that Afro-Latin citizens have higher risks of developing both mental and physical illnesses.
In addition, due to their low level of appropriate healthcare, the death rates are significantly higher than among White Latinos or white people. Studies have also shown that factors, which include immigration and overall self-identification, deeply affect both the mental and sometimes physical health of an Afro-Latin person. Discrimination is also attributed to the psychological and physical state of the health of these people. They are more likely to develop thyroid issues, heart problems, and cancer due to the higher stress levels in their living conditions. Therefore, Afro-Latin people should be able to have access to better healthcare.
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The fragmentation of the healthcare system has led to the fact that the Afro-Latin population lacks quality care. The reason for that is not only economic and racial barriers, but also cultural values that influence the attitude toward healthcare (Luquis & Castillo, 2016). This ethnic group prefers healing practices instead of proper healthcare because not only it is traditional for them, but also it is more affordable. Healers are rather famous throughout Latin America, especially in places where access to medical professionals is limited or too expensive. For example, Afro-Caribbean healing practices, such as Santería and Vodou, have developed due to African ancestry (Luquis & Castillo, 2016). Although such methods are incomprehensible and wild for some people, Afro-Latins usually use them as a ‘better’ alternative to modern healthcare practices. Sometimes Vodou and Santería include operations in unsanitary conditions, which further increases the death rates among Afro-Latin people. The majority of Afro-Latinos consult practitioners of religious teachings with West African roots on the issues related to illnesses.
Alternative medicine methods based on cultural beliefs and practices are widespread and popular among the Black Hispanic population. The philosophical and cultural foundations of alternative medicine create a specific culture that attracts people (Domínguez, 2018). Moreover, it is easier to believe that some potion is going to fix every problem than do an expensive operation in a hospital or take an equally costly course of medication. Perhaps, the attractiveness of alternative medicine is explained not by its effectiveness, but by those beliefs and ideas that unite the patient with the culture (Domínguez, 2018). In comparison with Western healthcare, alternative medicine relies on the primacy of natural vitality and spirituality. Thus, religious beliefs, cultural practices, and African ancestry have significantly influenced Afro-Latin people’s ideas of health and illness.
As a result of cultural and socioeconomic barriers, a noticeable disparity in the quality of healthcare for this population has appeared. For example, the Afro-Latin community has less health insurance coverage than other ethnic groups in Latin America and a limited number of healthcare providers. This fact resulted in the majority of patients visiting doctors only when an emergency occurs (Rodríguez-Lainz et al., 2016). The presented inequality in the healthcare system must be significantly improved, taking into account cultural beliefs and health perspectives among Afro-Latin people. Although this is rather difficult, it may be achieved with the help of the Western healthcare system’s predominance while maintaining the foundations of traditional folk medicine.
To conclude, multiculturalism has been a hallmark of Latin American civilization from the first decades. Latin American ethnos began to form as a result of the cultural fusion between Iberians, Indians, and Africans, which led to questionable health characteristics and higher risks of various illnesses. Culturally, Afro-Latins differentiate from White Latins because they tend to use such practices as Vodou and Santería, which are more affordable and deadlier than traditional healthcare. The phenomenon of their racial combination has influenced the formation of a unique worldview of Afro-Latin people, which is why they have a specific attitude towards health issues due to cultural, social, and economic factors. Although they are at higher risks of both mental and physical conditions, they still prefer to visit doctors only when an emergency occurs. To improve their healthcare, Western people have to create a specific affordable healthcare model with Western technologies and doctors’ predomination while maintaining the foundations of traditional folk medicine.
Cuevas, A. G., Dawson, B. A., & Williams, D. R. (2016). Race and skin color in Latino health: An analytic review. American Journal of Public Health, 106(12), 2131-2136. Web.
De la Fuente, A., & Andrews, G. R. (2018). Afro-Latin American studies: An introduction. Cambridge University Press.
Domínguez, J. I. (2018). Race and ethnicity in Latin America. Routledge.
Luquis, R. R., & Castillo, J. A. (2016). Complementary, alternative, and integrative health approaches among Hispanics/Latinos. In H. Pinzon-Perez & M. A. Pérez (Eds.). Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative Health: A Multicultural Perspective (207-234). Jossey-Bass.
Rodríguez-Lainz, A., McDonald, M., Penman-Aguilar, A., & Barrett, D. H. (2016). Getting data right—and righteous to improve Hispanic or Latino health. Journal of Healthcare, Science and the Humanities, 6(3), 60-83.