© 2023 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

To better serve the Latino population, one clinic surveys the local community

 Lennin Caro, right, sits with a focus group of Latina women in Mecklenburg County.
Camino Research Institute
Lennin Caro, right, sits with a focus group of Latina women in Mecklenburg County.

This story was produced through a collaboration between WFAE and La Noticia. You canread it in Spanishat La Noticia. Puedes leer la nota en español en La Noticia.

North Carolina’s Latino population has grown significantly in the past 15 years, doubling in that time to about 1.1 million people. But community workers at Charlotte’s Camino Health Center say research hasn’t kept pace with the growth.

Data on North Carolina’s Latino community is lacking, says researcher Lennin Caro with the center’s Camino Research Institute. That makes it difficult to develop health and education programs with a proven community need.

“When I was writing reports or even grant narratives, I kept citing the same 2006 study that was conducted on Latino needs for Mecklenburg County," Caro said. “As a Latino, I wish that I knew a bit more or had more updated data about my own community.”

That’s when the Camino team began developing their strengths and needs report on Mecklenburg County Latinos, published in September inEnglish and Spanish.

The assessment surveyed nearly 500 respondents between September 2021 and May 2022. Almost 90% of those surveyed were immigrants. While more than 60% of North Carolina Latinos are U.S.-born, Caro underlined 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 the participants of the Mecklenburg County survey disclosed to us that they were undocumented. And we think that's a really big indicator of how much trust we had with the community in order for them to disclose that in the survey.”

The report found some common concerns, like access to affordable vision and dental care, were shared between U.S.-born Latinos and those who immigrated to the country.

“A lot of the issues that we're finding in this current survey project were reported back in 2006,” Caro said. “It's frustrating to 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 has been totally resolved. It tells us that we still have a lot of work to do within the community.”

Among undocumented respondents, the survey found greater concern about domestic violence than among documented respondents. It also found anxiety among primarily Spanish-speaking Latinos when accessing health services or interacting with school officials.

To overcome these issues, Caro said solutions might be found by tapping into the community’s strengths, like interest in entrepreneurship and bilingualism.

“We're kind of thinking, is there a way where we can raise up these bilingual-speaking people in our community and put them in positions of power in which they can make access to services easier for health and for education?” Caro said. “I think that's one strategy in which we incorporate or we look at the community first to achieve solutions, rather than looking outside first.”

The insight from the survey results will also help Camino develop better programs for its uninsured and underinsured clients, said Paola Garcia, the organization’s public relations manager.

“Every program and service that's implemented here at Camino, we have implemented because a community member told us that's the way that they need to be served,” Garcia said. “It's so important for 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 survey across the state. So far, they’ve gathered more than 1,100 responses and their outreach work continues.

Sign up for EQUALibrium

Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.