This month, we talked with Dr. Kasim Ortiz, Sociologist at the University of New Mexico, about his work.
How did you become interested in examining racial variations in health within the Latino population in the U.S.?
As an Afro-Latino (Puerto Rican and African-American), I’ve noticed that very little health disparities research has evaluated racial differences within the Latinx population, which includes individuals like me. An October 2016 American Journal of Public Health article[ co-authored by my now-colleague and collaborator Dr. Adolfo G. Cuevas reviewed literature evoking the need for greater attentiveness to intra-ethnic racial variations among Latinos in studies of health. Moreover, a mentor here at the University of New Mexico (Dr. Nancy López, Professor, Director and Co-Founder, Institute for the Study of “Race” & Social Justice) had been doing great policy-relevant research around this topic (see here). After consulting with Dr. López, I talked with Dr. Cuevas about this understudied area, which led to a collaboration.
It is important to denote that a plethora of scholarly and popular attention has been supplied to racial classification among Latinos [see resources provided below]. Some utilize Latino, some utilize Latinx, some utilize Hispanic. For Adolfo and I, we purposively utilize Latinx to denote a more contemporary acknowledgement of the systemic oppression of patriarchy and heteronormativity latent within the language confines of the Spanish language. Furthermore, as we are specifically concerned with assessing whether a racial gradient in health exists among Latinos, whereby those identifying as both “Black” AND “Latino” may exhibit poorer health, within our research we draw upon the term “Afro-Latino”.
I recently finished a publication assessing variations in waterpipe tobacco smoking behaviors (hookah smoking) across sexual orientation statuses using the National Adult Tobacco Survey (NATS) data. After reviewing some key publications that examined racial variations in health among Latinos, I realized that one simple measurement approach is to utilize cross-classifying census-derived racial group classifications with information about Hispanic/Latinx identity, both often found in social science datasets. Although racial and ethnic identification that is reflective of lived experiences is likely much more complex than these commonly used survey items can capture, data sources like the NATS can help us begin to understand the way intra-ethnic racial variations may shape substance use behaviors.
What were the biggest takeaways from this study, and did any of your findings surprise you?
We anticipated that Latinos identifying as Afro-Latinos or Black Latinos would exhibit higher prevalence of cigarette smoking and waterpipe tobacco smoking behaviors, compared to their White-Latino-identifying counterparts. However, we were surprised that in some of our analyses, Afro-Latinos exhibited a higher prevalence of substance use behaviors than did their non-Hispanic Black counterparts. We did not find differences in lifetime/recent and current cigarette smoking behaviors, but we found that Afro-Latino current smokers exhibited an increased prevalence of menthol cigarette smoking compared to their White Latino counterparts.
Dr. López’s work on intersectionality contributed to our analytic approach, and we also evaluated gender differences in these substance use behaviors. Surprisingly, Afro-Latinas exhibited higher prevalence of current waterpipe tobacco smoking compared to both their White Latina and non-Hispanic White women counterparts. Although cigarette smoking behaviors are decreasing in the general population, other types of tobacco consumption behaviors are increasing (i.e., waterpipe tobacco smoking), and this finding illuminated the need for greater attentiveness to racial stratification among Latinos as a new area warranting policy attention.
It is well-established that social determinants are important in shaping health disparities in the U.S., but our study suggests that the often heralded health behavior “advantages” of the Hispanic/Latinx population overall actually hide important variation in risk. Researchers should more thoroughly explore ways that racial identity within the very diverse Latino population shapes variation in health behaviors within the group, and when comparing Latino populations to other ethnoracial groups.
What’s next for your research?
Dr. Cuevas and I have organized an informal working group of scholars committed to exploring more exhaustively how racial variations among Latinos vary across multiple outcomes and measures of health. We have begun a systematized methodological review to identify other population-level datasets that will be useful for us and other population health scientists. We are also developing a project that will explore workplace discrimination experienced by Afro-Latinos, using experimental approaches. Working with Dr. S. Michael Gaddis (UCLA), who has strong expertise in audit studies and sociologically relevant experimental designs, we have begun to develop a project that builds on a previously submitted TESS (Time-sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences) proposal Dr. Cuevas and I developed.
For those who may be interested in learning more about intra-ethnic racial variations among Latino populations and how these variations shape health, what are some key texts, publications, or articles you would suggest?
Jiménez Román, Miriam and Juan Flores, eds. 2010. The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States. Durham, North Carolina, USA: Duke University Press.
Logan, John R. 2010. “How Race Counts for Hispanic Americans.” In: Román & Flores. The Afro-Latino@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States (pp.471—484). Durham, NC, USA: Duke University Press.
Hogan, Howard. 2017. “Reporting of Race among Hispanics: Analysis of Acs Data.” Pp. 169-91 in The Frontiers of Applied Demography: Springer.
Cuevas, Adolfo G., Beverly Araujo Dawson and David R. Williams. 2016. “Race and Skin Color in Latino Health: An Analytic Review.” American Journal of Public Health 106(12):2131-36. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2016.303452.
Borrell, Luisa N. 2005. “Racial Identity among Hispanics: Implications for Health and Well-Being.” American Journal of Public Health 95(3):379-81. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2004.058172
Resources for understanding racial classification among Latinx populations in the U.S….
- Rodríguez, C. E., Miyawaki, M. H. and Argeros, G. (2013), Latino Racial Reporting in the US: To Be or Not To Be. Sociology Compass, 7: 390-403. doi:10.1111/soc4.12032
- López, Nancy. 2013. “Killing Two Birds With One Stone? Why We Need Two Separate Questions on Race and Ethnicity in 2020 Census and Beyond.” Latino Studies Journal, 11(3): 428-438.
- Telles, E. (2018). Latinos, Race, and the US Census. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 677(1), 153-164.
- Garcia, John A. 2017. “The Race Project: Researching Race in the Social Sciences Researchers, Measures, and Scope of Studies.” The Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics 2 (2): 300–346. doi:10.1017/rep.2017.15.
- Markus, Hazel Rose. 2008. “Pride, Prejudice, and Ambivalence: Toward a Unified Theory of Race and Ethnicity.” American Psychologist 63 (8): 651–670.
- Mora, G. Cristina. 2014. “Cross-Field Effects and Ethnic Classification: The Institutionalization of Hispanic Panethnicity, 1965 to 1990.” American Sociological Review 79 (2): 183–210. doi:10.1177/0003122413509813.
- López, Nancy, Edward Vargas, Melina Juarez, Lisa Cacari-Stone and Sonia Bettez. 2017. “What’s Your “Street Race”? Leveraging Multidimensional Measures of Race and Intersectionality for Examining Physical and Mental Health Status among Latinxs.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. doi:10.1177/2332649217708798