Ashley Gomez, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Pittsburgh, served as the keynote speaker for UMass Chan Medical School at an event concluding the Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations.
In her lecture “Mujeres Luchadoras: Labor and its impact on immigrant Latina health”, Dr. Gomez the relationship between work, migration, gender and health in the Latina population in the United States.
Gomez reported that Latinos make up 18.7 percent of the US population, of whom 5.9 percent are immigrants and 2.5 percent are undocumented. Latine refers to the entire Latino population; Latina refers to women.
“I bring this up for two reasons,” Gomez said. “First, people overestimate the number of Latinas who are immigrant and/or undocumented and because we are also driving US labor force growth. ”
Gomez challenged the audience to consider social determinants of health, such as work, as a major contributor to health disparities.
“Experiences differ not only by race and ethnicity, but also by gender and immigration status,” she said, explaining that within the Latin American population, Latinas are most affected by low-wage jobs. Immigrant Latinas are the lowest-income group compared to all other groups by race, ethnicity, and gender.
This was further explored in her research involving immigrant Latinas, who were labeled essential workers during the peak of COVID-19. In her research, Gomez noted that “Immigrant Latinas describe their work as having economic value for the convenience of clients and employers. But as compensation for their labor, immigrant Latinas themselves were treated as disposable, highlighted by their poor working conditions and lack of social and labor protections. This led to poor physical and mental health, both directly and indirectly.”
Their analysis found that commodification, in which people are valued only for what they can produce, is the common denominator associated with migration, work, health, and various social determinants of health and immigrant Latinas both inside and outside the workplace regards. This is best illustrated in how health inequalities are exacerbated by lack of access to social benefits, flexible working hours, paid holidays and worker protections; and low wages, she said.
Gomez said she hopes these shared experiences will lead to proactive approaches against systems of privilege and oppression, and she called for an intersectional approach.
“This framework allows us to study the relationship between work and health in people who share multiple social identities that overlap at the individual level,” Gomez said.
In his opening remarks to the virtual audience, Chancellor Michael F. Collins said: “We recognize and affirm the rich, diverse, vibrant, fundamental and enduring contributions of the Latinx communities to our nation; to our common values; to our traditions and our culture; and to our success – past, present and future.”
“While we are moving in the right direction, I think we all recognize that there is much more to be done,” said Chancellor Collins. “We’re committed to going through with it and I’m so encouraged by the consistent and ongoing discussion we have going on.