North Carolina’s Latino population has grown significantly over the past 15 years, doubling over that time to approximately 1.1 million people. But community workers at Charlotte’s Camino Health Center say the research hasn’t kept pace with the growth.
Data on North Carolina’s Latino community is lacking, says researcher Lennin Caro of the center’s Camino Research Institute. It is therefore difficult to develop health and education programs with a proven community need.
“When I was writing reports or even grant stories, I kept quoting from the same 2006 study that was done on Latino needs for Mecklenburg County,” Caro said. “As a Latino, I would like to know a little more or have more up-to-date data about my own community.
That’s when the Camino team began developing their report on the strengths and needs of Latinos in Mecklenburg County, published in September in English and Spanish.
The assessment interviewed nearly 500 respondents between September 2021 and May 2022. Nearly 90% of respondents were immigrants. While more than 60% of Latinos in North Carolina were born in the United States, Caro stressed the importance of surveying immigrants, who may be underrepresented in census data.
“Trust is everything for Latino immigrants, especially if they’re undocumented,” Caro said. “Thirty percent of participants in the Mecklenburg County survey told us they were undocumented. And we think that’s a really good indicator of the trust we had with the community to reveal that in the survey.
The report found that some common concerns, such as access to affordable vision and dental care, were shared between American-born Latinos and those who immigrated to the country.
“Many of the problems we find in this ongoing survey project were reported in 2006,” Caro said. “It’s frustrating for me as a Latino, as a member of this community, to see that after 15, 16 years since the last study, it doesn’t seem like a lot of things have been fully resolved. That tells us that we still have a lot of work to do within the community.
Among undocumented respondents, the survey revealed greater concern about domestic violence than among documented respondents. He also found anxiety among mostly Spanish-speaking Latinos when accessing health services or interacting with school officials.
To overcome these issues, Caro said solutions could be found by tapping into community strengths, such as interest in entrepreneurship and bilingualism.
“We kind of think, is there a way to uplift these bilingual people in our community and put them in positions of power where they can facilitate access to health and education services? ” Carol said. “I think it’s a strategy where we incorporate or look to the community first for solutions, rather than looking outward first.”
Insights from the survey results will also help Camino develop better programs for its uninsured and underinsured customers, said Paola Garcia, the organization’s public relations manager.
“Every program and service implemented here at Camino, we implemented it because a member of the community told us that is how they should be served,” Garcia said. “It’s so important to us because we’re never going to go into a community and tell them what they need.”
The Camino research team is now working to expand the investigation across the state. So far they have collected over 1,100 responses and their outreach work continues.