Cultural Competence & Sensitivity Around the Latino Community

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When doing outreach to all Latino communities there needs to be a clear degree of cultural sensitivity and competence, more so when discussing serious matters like income, legal status, employment, and health. Being multi-culturally competent and sensitive requires more than just wanting to be understood. It demands a clear sense of perspective as to the issues that affect a population, norms around culture, faith, and gender, and knowledge of the socio-political factors that have a bearing on the livelihood of a community.

In order to successfully engage and inform individuals one needs to be aware of sensitive subject areas that will cause mistrust or disengagement from the health enrollment process. Understanding the diversity within the Latino community as a whole ought to facilitate your working relationship with this group. The most important rule around engagement is not to assume based on general stereotypes of the Latino community.


Communicating with individuals in their preferred language is an important practice. Language is a critical component of the Latino community and serves as a mainstay of any culture. Equally important is the manner in which you communicate with consumers you are hoping to assist.

  • Do: approach a person to say hello in the language you are comfortable and equipped to successfully communicate about health insurance. By their response to your “Hello. How are you?” you will be able to gauge their comfort level with the English language and then engage accordingly.
  • Don’t: make assumptions about Latinos based on language abilities or preference to use a particular language. Judgments on levels of education, legal status, place of birth, or income levels should not be based on language fluency. Just because a person does not speak English does not mean they are less educated about their health insurance options. Conversely, do not assume that someone who speaks English understands the new coverage options available due to the Affordable Care Act.

Income and Education

Income and education are important topics but can be of high sensitivity to Latino consumers.

  • Do: explain that based on their income, they may be able to get financial assistance to help pay for the cost of coverage.
  • Don’t: take Latino families’ or individuals’ opposition to share information as a lack of interest. Not everyone is open to discussing their income, occupation, or level of education. The reluctance to share such information does not translate to lack of employment, education, or financial stability. Keep in mind that financial stability for one person is different to another. Latinos are known to have lesser representation when it comes to bank accounts, investments, or saving accounts, but it does not mean they lack access to liquid cash or purchasing power.

Legal Status

Individual’s legal status can be a subject of fear and vulnerability.

  • Do: work to build trust with Latino consumers, to provide as much information around health coverage options and to create a space where they are comfortable communicating without having to share their legal status. Furthermore, it is important to be aware that legal status in the U.S. has many variations. Simply because someone is not a citizen or legal permanent resident does not mean they are not part of a qualifying protected group that might be able to get health coverage through the new health insurance marketplaces – especially children. (Qualifying groups are provided in the Mixed Status Family section). If a person does share that they are undocumented or that a member of their family is undocumented you must reassure them that although the undocumented family member does not quality for health coverage there are still resources available via community health centers and other organizations without specific legal restrictions. Make sure you develop a list of these local resources if you are in area that might have a large population of undocumented people because you will be able to better reach all members of the household. It is also important to encourage their family members to apply for coverage.
  • Don’t: ask if they or someone else in the family is undocumented. Also, do not assume because a person is Latino, because they might have a low-wage occupation, because they primarily speak Spanish, or because they don’t care to share their legal status that they are probably undocumented.
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