NewsNationalTwo Americas


Organization breaks down cultural barriers to bring better health care access to Mayan community

Guatemalan Maya Center starting their own clinic
Posted at 12:24 PM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 18:20:53-05

LAKE WORTH, Fla. — An organization in Palm Beach County is working to battle cultural and language barriers to health care, making sure there is access for the local indigenous Maya community.

Staff at the Guatemalan Maya Center in Lake Worth Beach recently presented the problem to the National Center for Farmworker Health.

Olga said Mam is her indigenous Maya language, and when she first arrived in the U.S., it was not easy.

"When I come here, it's very, very difficult," she said. "It's too hard when I got pregnant."

Olga, Mayan native
Olga says the Guatemalan Maya Center helped her learn English after she came to the U.S.

She also now speaks English and Spanish.

"I need to find somebody to go with me to the clinic, and it's not easy," she said. "It's difficult to get access to what you want. Sometimes when you go there, nobody can help you."

Francisco Felipe didn't speak Spanish or English when he came here.

"It's kind of hard to express yourself to not speak Spanish or English," he said. "I spoke the Mayan languages — two different Mayan languages that I speak — when I got here."

Felipe said access to health care was a big problem, and it still is for many others.

"I think it was hard because you don't get access to different programs because of your language," he said. "[I wasn't able] to have a conversation about what I needed because they only speak Spanish or English. It is kind of difficult."

Francisco Felipe, Mayan immigrant
Francisco Felipe says he was able to learn both Spanish and English after migrating to the U.S.

Mariana Blanco, the assistant executive director of the Guatemalan Maya Center, recently gave a presentation about the problem to a group of health professionals, who work directly with farmworkers or the migrant population. She touched on the topic of language and cultural barriers.

"In working with the indigenous population, and when talking about health care specifically, we have to recognize Spanish may not be their main language," Blanco said. "For the Maya community, specifically the Guatemalan Maya community, there are 22 recognized languages."

Blanco said they are tackling this problem with their own health care clinic, something she called "long overdue."

"Giving them full access in the evening time with somebody that speaks their language, with translators, and in that comfortable environment where we are sensitive to some of the issues they might have, that's totally a game-changer for our crowd," she said.

The hope is to have the mobile health clinic up and running by May. It will operate out of the Guatemalan Maya Center.

Blanco said the location and hours are important.

Mariana Blanco, assistant executive director of the Guatemalan Maya Center
Mariana Blanco calls the new health care clinic "long overdue" for the Mayan community.

"Access for our people doesn't mean 9 to 5 hours. It means 5 to 8 or 5 to 10," she said. "Our people, for the most part, are living day-to-day, and they cannot afford to miss a day's work to take care of their health or check up on their health status."

The goal goes beyond their individual organization. Blanco said it's essential to empower the community and be proud of being Maya.

"The other part of it is also respecting the culture enough and making sure that our people are proud of their culture," she said. "What we are seeing is a lot of the children are not wanting to learn the native languages, because of bullying or the trauma from growing up Maya. Maya was not a term that was positively used in the past, and so we are still trying to remove that stigma."

Blanco believed that change would lead to other essential agencies looking to hire indigenous staff who speak Mayan languages. In turn, she thought it would better serve the community.

"Having a clinic here at the heart of Lake Worth where we've been established for over 30 years, we are known, trusted is a game-changer for the community," she said.

"Thank God it's here for the community," Olga said. "I am excited to come because a lot of people don't have access to going to the clinic. People who just come now, they don't speak very good Spanish and English, so it's amazing the clinic is coming."