The founders and co-hosts of the Southwest Health Equity Research Collaborative’s Fairness First podcast, Carmenlita Chief and Alexandra Samarron Longorio, are venturing into a new podcast format called “Health Equity Chitchat.”
In the span of about 30 minutes, the co-hosts discuss and unpack a critical scholarly publication produced by people identifying as queer or women of color, while also highlighting how the scholarship and knowledge can be applied to academic efforts to advance health justice in partnership with communities.
“We value the power that non-western ways of knowing have to inform health equity research design and implementation,” Samarron said. “Therefore, we believe that health equity researchers must engage the literary work of scholars who have created frameworks of knowledge that reflect the realities of communities impacted by health inequity.”
For their first Health Equity Chitchat, the senior research coordinators discuss queer, Chicanx community feminist Gloria Anzaldúa’s essay “La Conciencia de la Mestiza,” or “Toward a New Consciousness.”
“Anzaldúa’s piece represents a foundation for health equity researchers to recognize the need to engage communities into the research and social change process,” Samarron said.
She said that if studied, Anzaldúa’s piece allows anyone invested in creating equitable and healthier communities to: analyze their own positional connection to the work; study power dynamics; manage conversations about inequity with colleagues and communities; and understand what health equity is in the first place.
“As a feminist scholar and community activist, Gloria Anzaldúa represents a pillar of knowledge in understanding the realities of communities living on the Mexico/US border,” Samarron said. “Also, she has assisted historically marginalized communities in expanding their understanding of identity at the intersection of gender, sexuality, race and class.”
Connecting Anzaldúa’s knowledge to health equity
During their discussion, Chief said that mestiza consciousness is reflected in the Navajo philosophical way of living life—always aiming for a positive mindset, grasping for hope.
“From a Navajo perspective, hope is a heavy driver in health equity work. There is power in envisioning through a holistic lens and as a collective what a healthy community looks like, sounds like, and feels like for us,” Chief said. “Operating with hope steers us away from deficit-based approaches, which is not our way of restoring wellness, and allows us to focus on problem-solving and solutions development using our identified cultural assets and strengths.”
Chief said that in looking at self-determination through Anzaldúa’s essay, she sees that it is important to respect the cultural knowledge of others and to listen to their wisdom.
“Anzaldúa said because she is mestiza, or a woman of mixed ancestry, she continually walks out of one culture and into another – she is all cultures at the same time. Initially, this can produce a collision of values and beliefs because of the expectation to operate in duality, to choose one over the other,” Chief said. “Embracing a mestiza consciousness means thinking outside of rigid boundaries and to synthesize ideas. Imposition of a dominant culture’s views and beliefs does not move us toward health equity. We must also open ourselves to other cultural ways of knowing and being.”
Chief said that in the essay’s “El Retorno,” or “The Return,” section, Anzaldúa is saying that for any issue, and in the context of health equity, she proposes that people “go back to the root,” whether the root is a place or a group of people.
Chief said that the exercise of returning to the root of an issue is helpful for everyone, especially for health equity project coordinators, research assistants and community members.
“Where do you return when feeling lost in public health and health equity research?” Chief said. “What are the things that you miss?”
She said that everyone who is invested in advancing health equity needs to think about the “home base” for everyone involved. Chief said the discussion of roots makes her think about how in Navajo culture, when a child is born, there is a practice where the umbilical cord, after has been separated from the baby and the mother, is buried somewhere around the homestead.
“If you want the child to be very good at raising animals, you would bury it near the sheep corral or the horse corral, or if you want them to be proficient at farming, you would bury it near the farm, the cornfields,” Chief said. “That always signals that at some point, wherever life takes you, even if you’re taken far abroad, away from the homelands, you’re always going to come home at some point and you’re always going to remember how that contributes to your identity.
“It also reminds you of what your responsibilities are to provide back all that you have learned based on your experiences, your knowledge, the things that you have gained,” she said. “How are you going to give back to your family, to your community and to the next generations?”
Chief said that in her own experience, when she feels inundated with bureaucracies and cultural conflicts that cause tension and she needs a break, she takes a walk in the forest in Flagstaff to ground herself and to remember her connection to the natural world. She also said that as we [as a society] progress forward, the only constant is always going to be a connection back to the land and our relationship to it, which influences our values, our beliefs and the way we do things.
“And what’s very important in health equity work, in doing community-based participatory research, is being able to connect, leaving your comfort zone, leaving this institution, leaving the lab, actually going out and creating and forging those relationships,” she said. “Getting to know people, getting to know what they laugh at, what they delight in, what they eat, what are some of their dreams? It’s getting at that mestiza consciousness, of embracing that there are different realities.”
Chief said that now she is in a place where she thinks about how we make a future that benefits all people and is respectful of “our ways of living and knowing and being like me.”
“Speaking as an Indigenous person and Indigenous woman, I’m very interested in the work that it takes and the research that will help inform the future—our futures,” she said.
Samarron said that she hopes that by participating in the Health Equity Chitchats, people will grow, and that they will learn what it takes to make health equity a reality.
“We hope that our audience feels more confident about having conversations on positionality and power difference within their own research and community teams,” Samarron said. “We also hope to encourage health equity leaders and researchers, who are part of the non-dominant culture, to affirm the value of their knowledge and skills in academic spaces, to voice their needs and limitations and to be unafraid to speak their own truths and be their unquestionable selves within research.”
For more information and to read the transcript, visit the Fairness First podcast webpage.
The Fairness First Campaign receives funding from the Southwest Health Equity Research Collaborative at Northern Arizona University (U54MD012388), which is sponsored by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD).