Last week, the CDC reported that Hispanics in the United States outlive non-Hispanic whites by more than two years and Blacks by more than seven. Some offered the “healthy migrant effect” as an explanation: healthy people are more likely to emigrate. But David Hayes-Bautista, the Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture observed that if it were, “we would see it in all immigrant groups” (USA Today). In other words, it must be something Latinos are doing.
So what is it then? Until Dr. Arias and her team can produce more research on causal factors, I provide here my very non-scientific theories on why we live longer:
1. We eat at home: My mother cooked A LOT. We rarely ate out. We never ordered in. And packaged, store-bought foods were as alien as to us as organic tofu. Cooking your own food is not only cheaper when you’re feeding four kids, it’s also healthier in the long run. (Besides, I would take my mami’s estofado over a fancy restaurant meal any day.)
2. We have big families (and they still live with us): In 2000, the birth rate for Hispanics was 96 per 1000, compared with 69 for Blacks and 57 for whites (CDC). This means we have more siblings, aunts, uncles and at least 150 cousins. The network of support in our immediate and extended families can help us better deal with life’s stresses, whether they be low-paying jobs or legislators in Arizona. We are also less likely to put our elders in nursing homes (Home Care Association). At 96, mi abuelita passed in her own bed in her daughter’s home.
3. We let things out: Latinos have a reputation for being loud or dramatic or emotional. So be it! Mental health experts agree that expressing your emotions can contribute to overall mental and physical well being. Maybe we overdo it from time to time, but bottling up emotions today can manifest into physical ailments tomorrow.
4. We use home remedies: According to Hayes-Bautista, Hispanics make fewer doctor visits and spend less time in hospitals. Maybe this has to do with access. But maybe it’s because we really believe in our mom’s caldo de pollo and the magic of rubbing Vicks VapoRub en el pecho while chanting sana sana culito de rana…
5. We work hard, but we play hard too: Latinos typically work longer hours for smaller wages, and are more likely to work after age 50 (Urban Institute). But Latinos also know how to have a good time. Even on very limited resources, you will find us sharing Coronas in front of our non-existent lawns while listening to the car radio on Tio’s beat up Volkswagen. We like partying (with our children and grandparents alike), dancing all night, and making music que levanta a los muertos. Our enjoyment of life inspires us to live long ones.