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Cultural Awareness

VI. Cultural Identity and Cultural Clustering in Communities and Organizations:
     Implications for the Health and Mental Health Professional

=Traditionally and continuing into the present, immigrants and refugees have tended to settle in geographically distinct sections of urban areas. Such practices are completely understandable given the support and identity functions of people’s cultures.

Enclaves provide immigrants and refugees the comfort of being near people who share their values, norms of behavior, and language. Such cultural concentrations have been given such names as “Chinatown,” “Little Italy,” or “Little Saigon.” Often one or several of such cultural enclaves can be found within the catchment area of a clinic, hospital, or health plan.

Rather than viewing these communities as made up of persons who resist acculturation to the language and culture of the larger society, they can be seen as protective of individuals in the cultural group, buffering the effects of the “culture shock” that comes with entering a new society. These communities are health sustaining, because they function to prevent the debilitating effects of marginalization.

A culturally aware health and mental health care professional, seeking to give effective and appropriate care to all patients and clients, will see these communities as important resources and aids to cross-cultural understanding.

Not all cultural communities are formed willingly, however. Some communities in the U.S. have been formed by various types of coercion. Discriminatory housing policies and poverty have created barrios, ghettos, and slums. Moreover, indigenous peoples were forced onto reservations.

Cultural awareness requires that policy makers and planners as well as service providers understand the historical basis for cultural group clustering in their catchment areas, whether it is the result of choice, coercion, or a combination of both. Such understandings are necessary if health and mental health care organizations are to engage effectively in cooperative planning with the cultural groups who they hope will be satisfied consumers of care.


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