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Assimilation and Acculturation

Assimilation is a process in which people with a different culture of origin completely adapt to the culture of residency, leaving behind traits from their culture of origin. That has been the expected social standard in the US. Yet, Latinos have not and will not assimilate. Latinos and Americans are “acculturating” to each other. Acculturation and assimilation are two different terms and should not be used interchangeably.

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Your Spanish-speaking Patient: Low versus High Context Communication

Vitalworks-Hospital-CCO Public Domain

By Mari D. González

Published at DTC Perspectives on September 16, 2014

As a professional medical interpreter and a cross-cultural communication consultant, I find cultural contexts the most challenging and fascinating aspect of translating between Spanish-dominant patients and English-dominant doctors during medical interpreting assignments.

Cross-cultural communication refers to the comparing and contrasting of different communication styles based on culture. One of the basic tenets in cross-cultural communication is the influence of our personal and social identities on the way we communicate.

If we are dominant in one language—in the case of monolingual speakers—or more dominant in one language than another—in the case of Spanish-dominant or English-dominant speakers—a particular cultural programming or set of values, world view, or behavior always dominates when we converse. Harry C. Triandis observes in his article, “The Self and Social Behavior in Differing Cultural Contexts” that “People who speak different languages or live in nonadjacent locations…have different subjective cultures” (1989, p. 506). Our dominant or primary language provides an essential clue into our social upbringing and communication styles.

Spanish-dominant Latinos/Hispanics are predominantly “collectivist” and “high context” due to their group-based identity and their ability to get implied meanings in oral communication. Triandis further states, “Individualists give priority to personal goals over the goals of collectives; collectivists either make no distinctions between personal and collective goals, or if they do make such distinctions, they subordinate their personal goals to the collective goals” (p. 509).

Generally, Spanish-dominant patients lack the necessary knowledge of U.S. culture to completely understand the narrowness, linear-ness, and precision of “individualist” or “low context” communication. On the other hand, a medical provider or physician whose primary language is English may often get frustrated by the expansiveness, circular-ness and all-over-the-place “high-context” communication style of Spanish-dominant patients.

The medical interpreter, in her role as cultural broker, performs a delicate balancing act: She has to explain to doctors that the patient is giving the context for his or her answer while explaining to the patient that the doctor is looking for a precise, specific, and short answer. Impatience is the doctor’s natural reaction to a perceived overload of information. This need for exactness is crucial in the financial, accounting, and technology fields, but it is not always recommended at the doctor’s office because impatience does not help in building trust. It results in patients not asking the right questions or reporting inaccurate information due to a fear that the doctor may get upset.

People from collectivist cultures, such as Spanish-dominants, value harmony over confrontation. Harmony is an essential value if you come from a large and extended family. Maintaining harmony and balance is a requirement to keep large groups functioning. Furthermore, people from high-context societies sharply scan emotions and grasp what was not explicitly said. It does not matter if a doctor smiles at the patient while being impatient. The emotion and what he or she implied was perceived first.

To mediate this exchange of low context and high context communications, medical interpreters find themselves repeating the doctor’s linear and precise questions to patients who typically give the whole context by using stories and not answering with a yes or no or with a specific number. Most patients eventually understand that their doctors are looking for clear-cut information, but they do not always understand why the rest of the information is not as important.

Let’s not confuse a basic-to-intermediate-level of fluency in a foreign language with understanding the culture of those who speak it as their primary language. Applicants for jobs as health care providers may include fluency in Spanish, or any other second language for that matter, among their qualifications, but that may indicate nothing about their “cultural fluency.” Cultural fluency is gained through socialization or a constant association with those who speak a different language, which promotes a sense of shared comfortableness. If language fluency was acquired indirectly through media such as CDs, DVDs, books, or even through courses that are devoid of people from that culture, the cultural fluency that allows one to perceive differences in communications styles will be lacking.

Activist and Jornalist

Jorge RamosJorge Ramos’ track record as one the best journalists in the U.S. cannot be dismissed by his activism. Yet, simple-minded people who see the world as either/or and feel threatened by his influence wished they could so.

European, Indigenous and African in Mexicans

I love personal stories and to see how they are part of that bigger picture. I have always been fascinated by the history of the borderlands. Although I majored in Business Management and Communications, I was allowed to do my senior research project on Chicano and Mexican-American literature.

As a lighter-skin Mexican who had grown up believing the myth of having mostly European ancestry, this project was a real eye opening. The more I learn about whom I considered the “other,” the more I feel connected with my indigenous side.

Culturally, Mexicans are more indigenous than we are ready to admit yet, “hay una directriz que nos separa,” there is fine line that separates us by color as a result of the almost gone colonialist ideas.

Let us reconcile our true history and embrace our indigenous people and the African-descent Mexicans as part of the Mexican society and who we are historically. By seeing them both as equal citizens, Mexicans will have acquired a broader ethnic identity.

Low-Context and High-Context at the Oscars

By Mari D. González

The Oscars’ controversial comment by Sean Penn when presenting Alejandro González Iñárritu is a great example on how communication between members of Low-context and High-context groups causes misinterpretation.

According to anthropologist and intercultural communication pioneer, Edward T. Hall, North European and North American macro-cultures would be defined as “Low-context” because their communication preference is characterized by explicit verbal messages. Hall further explains that in Low-context, “Effective verbal communication is expected to be direct and unambiguous.” On the other hand, societies from the rest of the world including Latin America, Asia, and Arab countries utilize “High-context” communication in which, “most of the information is part of the context or internalized in the person; very little is made explicit (Hall, as cited by de Mooij, 2014). In these countries, people are programmed to read context and meaning between words.

Low-context communication is related to an individualistic identity in which people are “I” conscious and express private opinions publicly. Conversely, in High-context or collectivist societies expressing personal opinions and disregarding group of reference’s perceptions is not recommended. There is a risk of making them feel humiliated or what Asians call “losing face.”

In collectivist cultures, personal identity is related to and not separate from that of the group of reference as in “we.” An offense to a person of that group is an offense to all members who identify with that in-group. Hence, a perceived offense to Iñárritu could be perceived as an offense to those who identify as Mexicans because their individual identity is not separate from that of the group of reference as it is for members of individualistic cultures.

Culture in Marketing

The best reading about culture is Geert Hofstede’s Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. There, he talks about 4 manifestations of culture: Symbols, Rituals, Heroes and values which are most subjective. All of these can be effectively used when creating advertisements.

I did a masters in cross-cultural communication (MAIR) with an emphasis in online marketing. When I graduated, I thought I had simply spent 6 years of my life studying what I was most passionate about and wondered if companies would ever be interested in cultural studies.

Surprisingly, 2015 has been the year in which companies and marketers are beginning to understand that “culture” (group behavior) not psychometrics is what drives social media and most earned and content marketing.

Huicholes: Los Últimos Guardianes del Peyote / The Last Peyote Guardians

A story about the Wixárika People, one of the last living Pre-Hispanic cultures in Latin America, and their struggle to preserve Wirikuta, their most sacred territory and the land where the peyote grows, the traditional medicine that keeps alive the knowledge of this iconic people of Mexico.

Una historia acerca del Pueblo Wixárika, una de las últimas culturas prehispánicas vivas en Latinoamérica, y su lucha ante el gobierno mexicano y corporaciones transnacionales mineras para preservar Wirikuta, su territorio más sagrado y la tierra donde crece el peyote, la medicina ancestral que mantiene vivo el conocimiento de este pueblo emblemático de México.

Available at/Disponible en: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/huicholesfilm

Millennials’ High Context is Influencing American Values

By Mari D. González

I’m pleased to see how millennials are influencing our current society. They have acquired a broader awareness of their social and global environments than previous generations.

Millennials are more “contextual” or high context and have influenced the workplace and our current societal values. They are more in tune with their immediate social environment and with global happenings and expect people to have a sense of a global community. They care about world affairs and social causes.

These facts are relevant to cross-cultural communication because millennials are changing the emerging fabric of the American culture.  I’d attribute these changes to two factors. One is the circularity and interconnectedness that online communication offers. Secondly, a great majority of millennials come from cultures that are collectivists such as Latino and Asian.

More on this topic at Hiring Millennial: You’re Likely Missing the Point.

Latinos in the U.S.

By Mari D. González

This is a comment I shared on the Hispanic Professionals LinkedIn Group discussion titled, “Bilingualism Key to Breach the Gap.”

“The hope for the advancement of Latinos in the U.S. lies among young educated and aware Latinos/Hispanics who are the product of bilingualism for they did not grow up during the time when speaking Spanish was prohibited.

Unfortunately, before the 1970′s  Latinos or Mexican Americans were either forced to identify  with the general, macro, dominant culture–white–or to be secluded in cluster communities up to the explosion of the Chicano Movement which proclaimed the recognition of the indigenous roots of Mexican culture and empowered Mexican Americans to advance politically.  As radical as it was, the painful conscientious movement was indeed needed.

As a result, young Latinos and Latinas are enjoying one of the greatest legacies from it–bilingualism. We are also more knowledgeable of the two cultures that makes us up. We are integrated. We are expanding our awareness of our culture of origin–Latin America–by socializing online, by traveling and by being more exposed to different cultures and places.

Young Latinos and Latinas are currently graduating from college in record numbers. This can be attributed to our collectivist values, or group efforts to mentor and tutor, to expand culturally appropriate program in colleges and high schools such as Puente and above all to having a willingness of being role models to upcoming students.

That is what differentiates Latinos from whites and blacks. Latinos have a strong commitment to improve their communities. Even when succeeding Latinos might leave their neighborhoods to study or work, most return to uplift others.

Who needs JLo, Jessica de Alba, Ted Cruz, or any of those washed out Latinos. While they might be popular, they have no true influence. Influence is acquired by taking responsibility for and by making an impact on others’ lives and by uplifting human values.

Being Latino is not a label. Being Latino is a strong community commitment to help Latinos in need. Yet, we need to move away from history to create a clear vision of the future as one cultural group. We must ask ourselves, What is it that we want as a group?  Where are we moving toward? What our direction should be?”

Bio-Cognition and Culture

SINGAPORE LIFESTYLE And CULTURES

SINGAPORE LIFESTYLE And CULTURES (Photo credit: Kenny Teo (zoompict))

By Mari D. González

Here is an audio interview with Dr. Mario Martinez, a licensed clinical neuropsychologist, in which he talks about how our cultural contexts or social environments affect our cognition and health.

Dr. Martinez is a neurologist and a clinical psychologist who studies cultural anthropology.  He draws his insights on health and longevity from these three fields.  Like many of us from high context societies—I’ll cover this topic in a later post—Dr. Martinez acknowledges his frustration with the narrowness in the field of psychology and mind-body medicine.  On his website he declares that “Academic science continues to divide mind and body, as well as ignore the influence cultural contexts have on the process of health, illness, and aging.”

According to his cross-cultural analysis in medicine, “a migraine in the U.S. is treated as a vascular problem. In England and Wales, they believe that a migraine is gastrointestinal, and in France, it is treated as being caused by the liver.” He concludes that medicine is also cultural. He explains that the attribution of certain symptoms is related to our social view of aging, which is ingrained by our context in our culture.

He proposes a radical view of medical research and pushes the boundaries.  He criticizes the inadequacy of utilizing animals on which to base medical research that will be applied to human beings who are rational and who also search for meaning. He points out, “While rat research could be productive, the results must be interpreted as responses from animals that do not have the capacity to find meaning in their actions and awareness of their mortality.” And he concludes by saying, “Cultural anthropology is the missing link of psychoneuroimmunology” (a branch of medicine concerned with how emotions affect the immune system).

I find his perspective not only fascinating but ground-breaking. He highlights the fact that external factors—including social and cultural—have a greater impact on our health than genetics, a belief that has more weight in the medical field outside the U.S.