Recently I was listening to a radio program on NPR and the guest speakers were talking about the life expectancy for Mexicans and Mexican Americans throughout the United States, in comparison to other groups. They claimed that this ethnic group has a higher life expectancy than their White or African American counterparts, but only in places where the population was mostly Hispanic. The idea behind this claim is called “The Barrio Advantage”, where people living in neighborhoods with their same ethnic group produces significant advantages to one’s health. The population used in this sample were elderly immigrants and Mexican Americans who showed lower levels of chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and strokes. According to the study, the most significant factors for maintaining lower levels of mortality are related to: intact family structures, community institutions, and social kinship, which are beneficial to elderly people with deteriorating health.
Furthermore, assimilation into mainstream American culture plays a significant role in the deterioration of one’s health. As the Latino culture becomes more assimilated into mainstream society, illicit drug use, alcohol abuse, and smoking, especially amongst women, becomes higher, while diet and nutrition decreases. More assimilated Latinos eat less fruit, vegetables, fiber, and protein, and eat more fatty foods, and more assimilated Latina women showed higher rates of low birth weight, premature births, and teenage pregnancies. Also, more assimilated Latinos have higher rates of unstable mental health related to alienation, anxiety, and discrimination, which leads to higher rates of depression and suicide. As I listened to the program and researched the topic, it made complete sense, so I thought about the trajectory of a typical Mexican immigrant and used my parents as an example.
The majority of Mexican immigrants come from rural areas throughout the country and have low education levels. These homogenized rural areas have low crime levels and low drug use, and their diet is typical Mexican with a combination of all the food groups. Their main reason for immigrating is economic, thus upon arrival, their main concern is economic stability, social networks, and work. They usually maintain their same diet and incorporate mainstream fast food modestly. However, their children, now born in the United States, must learn to assimilate into mainstream society through language, diet, and activities. So as pressure groups in school become more prevalent, smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use becomes the norm, which in turn causes people to make premature mistakes with crime and sexual activity. Some of these mistakes cause us to develop high levels of stress and anxiety which is projected onto our own children, which leads to depression and other mental health concerns. And then our parents retire and return to Mexico to their small rural hometowns and go back to slow and simple living, or they stay in the barrio where they maintain their similar lifestyle because their children take them in.
So you wonder…what’s the point? Why would an immigrant want their children to be born and raised in the United States considering the staggering statistics? Well, I don’t have the answer but I’d like to hear what anyone out there thinks.