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A celebration of Latino art, health and community

on September 16, 2008


SEPT. 6 —  A short stretch of 58th street in North Oakland was alive with the sights, sounds and smells of Latin America this morning as local artisans lined the sun-bleached curb with their small works and residents took time out to talk, eat, laugh and dance in the street.

But this was no block party. Alongside the artists sat women’s healthcare advocates, and behind the makeshift bandstand on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and 58th Street loomed the Women’s Cancer Resource Center (WCRC.)

¡Salud! featured music, food and works by local artists, transforming the annual North Oakland health fair, sponsored by the Women's Cancer Resource Center, into a celebration of Latin American culture.

¡Salud!, an annual North Oakland health fair, featured Latin-infused music, food and works by local artists.

“When you have just a health fair, it’s hard to get people to come out,” said Margo Rivera-Weiss, the head of community outreach at the WCRC and the creator of today’s event, ¡Salud! “Cancer is still a taboo word in Latin-American and other communities. But here you have art and music and food.”

¡Salud! – known in full as “¡Salud! A Celebration of Latino Art, Health and Community” – was born in 2004 after Rivera-Weiss finally gave in to a persistent friend, Rae Louise Hayward, one of the co-founders of an Oakland-based art show featuring the works of African-American artists called “The Art of Living Black.”

“Ever since I met her, she said, ‘When are you going to do this for Latin-America artists?’” recalled Rivera-Weiss, upping the pitch of her voice in imitation of Hayward.

Rivera-Weiss said she liked the idea, calling Hayward’s initiative “very powerful and beautiful,” but added that she wanted to do more. She wanted to take advantage of the attention she believed the cultural display would attract in an effort to shed light on women’s health.

Coinciding with Latino Heritage Month, ¡Salud!, which means “health” in Spanish, turned the WCRC into an art gallery, a concert hall, a marketplace, and an alfresco restaurant. Mixed in with the free activities, the WCRC offered Latina-centric information about cancer risks, prevention and treatment.

Rivera-Weiss said that while neither ¡Salud! nor the WCRC excludes non-Hispanic women, there are unique obstacles facing area Latinas that warrant a little extra focus.

“Within the Latin-American community,” said Rivera-Weiss, “if someone is diagnosed [with cancer], there are a lot of issues going on.”

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Slideshow by Anna Bloom

One of the most prevalent of these issues is a lack of health insurance. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Latinas are the least likely female demographic to be insured, with an average of one out of every three Latinas not having health insurance. Studies have shown that uninsured people are less likely to receive regular checkups and less likely to have access to preventative care and treatment options, which, in the case of cancer, can become a matter of life and death.

According to Joanna Cuevas-Ingram, the Latina Program coordinator for the WCRC, these statistics are compounded by a language barrier, lower incomes, lack of immigration documents and what she calls “cultural myths.”

“We want to demystify cancer, to break down a lot of the myths around cancer,” said Cuevas-Ingram.

One such myth, said Cuevas-Ingram, is the belief that healthcare, especially preventative and holistic medicine, is a luxury reserved for the wealthy. This year, to combat this belief, the WCRC ran Spanish-language workshops on nutrition and yoga, and even had a masseuse on hand for impromptu massages.

“We want to encourage healthier lifestyles in our community,” said Cuevas-Ingram. “They should be available for everybody.

The core of ¡Salud!, however, is education: “If you detect it [cancer] early, you are pretty much likely to survive,” said Cuevas-Ingram in a tone that suggests she has said these same words to countless women. “If you catch it later, it’s a much harder battle to fight.”

Cuevas-Ingram, who has been with the WCRC for two years, said that her goal is to ensure all women, Latinas included, receive the cancer care they need – early detection, diagnosis, second opinions and appropriate treatments – with the comfort, language and cultural understanding she believes they deserve.

To facilitate this, the bilingual Cuevas-Ingram connects local Latinas to anyone who can help. The WCRC’s list of contacts ranges from Spanish-speaking doctors and homeopaths to attorneys and organizations that fight for healthcare rights. Many of these offer free services to lower income individuals while other organizations offer funding to make necessary cancer treatment a financially viable option.

“We are the grassroots link between these organizations and the community,” said Cuevas-Ingram. “We try to stay out of politics, but at the end of the day, we believe healthcare is a human right.”

This year’s ¡Salud! was bittersweet for Rivera-Weiss, who said goodbye to her old friend and muse Hayward in January, when she died from a rare form of cancer.

Still, ¡Salud! was a day of celebration.

“It’s very much within our culture to celebrate,” said Rivera-Weiss. “Which isn’t to say we don’t see the other side of things. But it’s done with, for lack of a better word, joie de vivre… We want to celebrate the people who are still with us.”||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||


  1. a- breast enhancement on March 20, 2009 at 9:45 am

    We need to encourage healthier lifestyles in our communities! is time to celebrate latino art!

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