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Saber para la Gente: A Latino approach to healthcare whose time hasn’t come

It began with a state government report. The Health Department of the State of Wisconsin came out with its first Minority Health Report. The list of indicators showed that the health of Latino residents was not as good as that of other population groups. The report also indicated

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that more information was needed. What was behind those problem numbers? Numbers of teen pregnancies? Numbers of high school drop-outs? Numbers of tooth decay? Of work injuries? Indicators measure, but they don’t say enough.

What was needed was a study to answer this question: how do Latinos ‘live’ the indicators that their health is measured with?

That 2006-07 study came to be called: Saber para la Gente(Knowledge to the People). It was funded by the Medical College of Wisconsin. They partnered with the Spanish Center of Southeastern Wisconsin(now defunct) and the Milwaukee Public Theatre to use actors to help people understand what they were going through. The concept behind Saber para la Gente was based on a set of ideas that is intuitively accessible to people and, unlike traditional research, allows them to organize their experience in a matrix at the moment of sharing and be participants in the analysis made by the Principal Investigator, Dr. Carolina Gonzalez-Schlenker, then with the Medical College of Wisconsin.

The study gathered four groups of people from the Racine, Wisconsin Latino community: teens, women, men, and elders, and showed them the indicators that the health department was using to measure their health. People knew the stories behind the numbers and shared their experience with each other. Then each group made up a script that represented all their stories and watched and changed the play. Many realizations came up about what was going on. These were analyzed, and a summary was presented to all groups in a community forum.

The project attempted to turn emotions into words, words into scenarios, scenarios into creative ideas and creative ideas into health promotion interventions that have the input of the people they intend to reach. The information was integrated by nurses into a diagnosis-intervention-outcome that includes the contextual information.

What the plays showed was that the root cause of the problem was that people were losing their trust in each other, something they called their “Nosotros”, which means “we”, when, as new immigrants coming to the U.S., all their activities were timed to what became the most important thing in their lives: earning money. The study concluded that everything they did in the U.S. was running under “money time” and that this was problematic. So at the community forum, people said they wanted to protect their trust relationships from money time, because money can destroy trust, but trust cannot be bought back with money. But they didn’t know how! Finding out how to do that was to be one of the goals of a scheduled follow-up workshop.

There was no follow-up workshop though. The reason for this lack of follow-up was that the funding grant ran out and was not extended. Dr. Gonzalez-Schlenker continues to write about the concept. She co-authored an article on the project which appeared in the book, Creative Arts in Research for Community and Cultural Change, edited by Cheryl McLean and Robert Kelly Ph.D.,University of Calgary. The book was published by Detselig Temeron Press in 2011. She has continued attempts to implement it in her work in Mexico and Latin America also.

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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