By Melisa Franzen and Alberto Monserrate

To truly understand what communities of color need when it comes to health care we have to first create awareness. If we continue to assume we know what the barriers to better health are for a diverse population of New Americans we are missing the mark on understanding the variation in needs from family to family and from culture to culture. No ethnic group is monolithic. It’s like suggesting all Minnesotans have a grape salad family recipe. Clearly, we have commonalities within our cultures, but we also are unique individuals. First of all we need to start with the notion that diverse communities are highly complex from cultural and religious nuances to family dynamics that can be far from common in more traditional settings. Understanding the spectrum of nuances is a difficult task, but being open to learning can provide the needed insight to bringing awareness and provide solutions to meet the healthcare needs of our diverse families.

Before we are distracted on finding solutions for removing barriers to better health care outcomes for New Americans, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves what we know or don’t know that is unique to diverse communities. Immerse yourself in a particular culture and find ways to navigate it and genuinely understand its members. Taking this approach can prove beneficial by placing research before action. Healthcare providers and health advocates alike will have more success when we take time for engaging in cross cultural understanding. They can then bring resources and expertise to partner with diverse communities and learn together to offer solutions.

It is often noted that the best patient and consumer is one who is informed and able to be his or her own advocate. It is harder when that consumer brings a baggage of oppression, distrust or civil disengagement that marks their experience with any formal system including health care. It’s hard enough to navigate the current complex healthcare system for a “savvy” consumer much less a consumer who feels little choice due to a language barrier or a perceived systems barrier that brings mistrust with traditional markets. For many New Americans, frustration can often be compounded by facing a health care system that may not be as familiar with health issues common in countries of origin, but often not common to Minnesota health professionals. Overcoming this is not easy. A negative health care experience could take many to an appeals process, but to other communities it simply shuts you down. Health care literacy is much more needed in multicultural communities to serve families and provide more options to achieve better health results.

Let’s not forget that there are also differences within our New Americans from the more traditional senior population to the younger and more technology prone New American. This allows us to build into traditional marketing with relevant digital content as culturally diverse audiences become more and more mobile. They are also more flexible to weave in and out of their own cultural identities and bilingualism. A simple approach to reach these audiences does not exist. However, ways to partner and learn together to meet the needs of diverse communities does.

About the Authors: Melisa Franzen serves in the Minnesota Senate. Alberto Monserrate was the first Latino elected to the Minneapolis School Board. Together, they are co-founders of NewPublica (, a public relations and strategic communications firm with a broad focus on the mainstream and multicultural marketplace.