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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Evelyn Schmidt, February 9, 1999. Interview K-0137. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Challenges posed by a rising Hispanic population in Durham

Schmidt describes the challenges posed by a rising Hispanic population in Durham. Health professionals are confused about the kinds of services to which these new immigrants (Schmidt is presumably referring to non-citizens) are entitled. Schmidt does not believe that health care should be denied to anyone, but communication difficulties present barriers of their own despite good intentions, she believes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Evelyn Schmidt, February 9, 1999. Interview K-0137. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

EVELYN SCHMIDT:
Around '92, that we were seeing an increasing number of Hispanic population. And if you use the calendar year, we went from two-plus percent to four-plus percent, to seven-plus percent, to nine-plus percent. And in 1998, thirteen point six of our individual users were Hispanic.
ANN KAPLAN:
So from '92 to '98, you went from basically two to thirteen to fourteen percent. You jumped ten to eleven percent at least.
EVELYN SCHMIDT:
Now one of the things that concerned health centers very much is that the immigration laws, as you know, make it very difficult for people to know what services they are entitled to, what ones they can get on an emergency basis, what ones they never can get, what ones they jeopardize in terms of their legal status. Health centers have always said in objectives that basically we should not have to ask, as we differentiate ourselves from those places that had to. And at long last, just several months ago, we officially do not have to ask you whether you're legal or not. Very frankly, I don't think either education or health should be made to police it. We should be delighted that people want to be educated and that people want to be healthy, because this actually adds to our economy.
ANN KAPLAN:
So when was the health center officially able to say--?
EVELYN SCHMIDT:
That was in the latter part of '98. But we never had to ask. But the negotiations to make it official were going on, and those were finalized so that we were never put in the position of having to ask like some of the agencies that are required to. We never were, but the question was, whether we going to remain that, or were we going to be pushed into that classification where you had to. And so, we don't. As I said, my personal view is health and education should not be the barriers. I laugh to myself, because we would not be a nation if we did not have immigrants. And many of us would not be here if it weren't for our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents, who migrated to this country for one reason or another. So as I said, once you're here, want you healthy, want you educated, because as in many of the previous groups to come in, many of the people coming in are taking jobs that have not been filled before. Others are coming in and bringing resources. I think that we've been enriched by the community. I laughingly say we have a culture now which adds to our dimension of music and art and also culinary! [Laughter] So let's not, I mean seriously--.
ANN KAPLAN:
Limit our resources.
EVELYN SCHMIDT:
Yeah. Let's look at the enrichment that comes to your community too when another culture comes in and brings its heritage as well as themselves to your community. But as I said, I think, on the other hand, we really have to be able to say, "Do we have the access for people to get the services they need?" And we're so monolingual in this country, because you can go three thousand miles and speak only English, unlike in Europe where many people--and they don't have to be college graduates--speak several languages. Our immediate response is, "Why aren't you speaking English?" not realizing maybe this is an opportunity for us to begin to educate in another language. I laughingly say we could have a generation that's bilingual if our kids could learn Spanish in grade school and on through high school. They could have friends that they could talk with and use it. That would be good for whatever kind of business, trade, or profession you go into.
ANN KAPLAN:
I want to jump back just a little bit. You were talking about how with immigration laws the way they had been, and in some ways continue to be, that it's difficult for the Latin American population, in this area or in many areas in the US, to get the right information about where they can get services, what kind of services they can get.
EVELYN SCHMIDT:
For instance, as you heard, now we have CHIP, which is the Child Health Insurance Plan, which is really very good, meaning families between a hundred and two hundred percent of poverty now can qualify for an insurance plan which is not Medicaid but is being handled by the state employee insurance, which is actually handled through Blue Cross/Blue Shield. And basically it's a very good plan because it has added the enhancement things that Medicaid has, like hearing, vision, and dental. And if you were born in this country, you are eligible, but you have to help the family understand that they are not jeopardizing their status. In other words, the family may not, or some of the other kids may not be, but if you fill out the form, no one is going to come after you in terms of your status.
ANN KAPLAN:
Now this is what I would ask is, did you or did the health center staff, have experiences--? If you can offer any anecdotes or stories or types of experiences from '92 on.
EVELYN SCHMIDT:
Only in that we recognized that we needed to be sensitive to the newer population coming in. I remember when a Hispanic woman came down because, she complained, she felt that she was being discriminated--. What I realized was that sometimes when you don't speak the language, you sort of hold back, and it looks like you're being negative. It's your own inability to communicate that's reflected. And so met with staff and explained to them that body language means a whole lot and that we really to try and get some interpretive services for them. But in the meantime, your body language tells. Well, staff really took that to heart, and we've since hired some translators and tried to get some bilingual staff. But as I said, for the moment at least, people felt that they wanted to help. It might take a little time till we got someone to translate, etc., etc. At the same time, shortly after that incident, I was walking in the lobby and there was this man. He had a little African-American youngster on one side and a little Hispanic youngster on the other. And the kids were looking at a book and pointing like to a horse. And one youngster would say it in English and the other youngster would say it in Spanish. And I said, "If we leave it to the kids, we can get the world's problems settled." But it's that kind of exchange of communication that we should be promoting, whereby we learn as well as they learn.
ANN KAPLAN:
At what point did the health center begin to have interpretation or Spanish services?
EVELYN SCHMIDT:
We've had a translator for several years now, then we added a second translator. Now we have someone who's bilingual at the information desk. We have some bilingual people in finance. We have bilingual people scattered in some of the other services, so that again there was recognition that this was the new population coming in that needed to have services. And again it isn't just us. They need to be able to go to any of the agencies and be able to feel that they're comfortable. And the agencies feel comfortable, because if they don't speak the language, there's interpretation service available to them, because sometimes I do feel sorry for staff too. They're not necessarily bilingual and suddenly they're being besieged with questions they can't answer and there's no support for them to get the help. So it's a two-fer, on both sides. As a public agency, people are entitled to services. Now you're going to have to be able to offer those services in more than one language. Here we only have one language. I know of one of the New England centers, they are infiltrated with many, many people from the Asian countries, and one of the centers has umpteen number of dialects that they have to be able to deal with. So we're only really having one major. We have others. We do have some coming in from other parts of the world, but basically only one really major. Because people are moving into all parts of our country, and as you have noticed, I mentioned to you before, the paper said a few months ago Durham County is the twenty-fifth fastest growing county for Hispanic population for the years 1990 to 1996. And you are beginning to see many of the states--I call them the inner states rather than the border states or the coastal states--that are seeing populations moving around, because people are going where they think there are job opportunities, whether it's construction--. And although North Carolina has always been a large migrant state, as you know, that's where I think we mentally still only had people in the migrant--moving, right? Now suddenly you are seeing them settling into your urban areas or your surrounding areas to your urban areas. And bringing not just medical problems to you, but bringing the problems we all have, whether it's spousal abuse, child abuse, drug use, all of the problems no group is exempt from, economically, racially.
ANN KAPLAN:
So they need the same services.
EVELYN SCHMIDT:
They need the same services as everyone.