DIVERSITY IN ACTION
SOCK HOP, CINCO DE MAYO, AND MABUHAY:
DIVERSITY COUNCIL EVENTS YIELD MULTIPLE EPIPHANIES
(Originally published as lead article in the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) Health Services Administration Cultural Diversity Newsletter, June 1999. Reprinted with permission. Contact me for the photo gallery of these events.)
By Barry Hunt, MPA
When DHS Administrators Maria Andrade and Bob Leibowitz asked me to pen some thoughts about these Workplace Diversity Celebration events, I asked them where to begin. They said, “Express yourself and let it fly.” So here goes ...
Picture this: a co-worker encourages you to start “thinking outside the box,” and sells you a $2 ticket to a ‘50s/’60s Sock Hop in the Health Services Administration (HSA) Auditorium. You get swept away in the spirited crowd, meet a superb dance partner, and win the Dance Contest Grand Prize (cheering colleagues, $50 and a lunch.) That’s what happened to me on April 14, 1999. It led to a series of unforgettable transcultural experiences over the past month, courtesy of the HSA Local Diversity Council. This is a tale of fun with lessons for transcultural health care, linguistic and cultural competence and plain, old-fashioned goodwill for all.
At the Sock Hop, the winning combination was our concoction of the Bugaloo, Hully Gully, Temptation Walk, Twist, Fish, Soulful Strut, Swing, Polka, Chicken Dance and Cha Cha Cha. My dance partner, Sylvia Clemmons from the Office of Managed Care, inspired a spontaneous recall of all the steps I had learned as a Cheerleader at George Washington High School in South Central Los Angeles in 1966, and later in social dance classes at UCLA. The Emcee (Ray Noble, Advocate Unit) and the DJ (Charles Givings, Vital Records) were outstanding, as were the Juneteenth Committee (Yvonne Downs, Office of Managed Care) and the HSA Local Diversity Council who sponsored the event.
After lots of ribbing from colleagues about “Barry Travolta/Astaire,” I was coaxed into entering the Cinco de Mayo Celebration/Latin Music/Dance Demonstration in the HSA Auditorium on May 5, 1999. Luckily I found a courageous and talented dance partner -- Rosa Pinon, Facility Administrator of the Hollywood/Wilshire Health Center. She made my part easy. Selected by her peers in 1998 as L.A. County Employee of the Month and Public Health Employee of the Year, I knew Rosa would be popular on stage. Another fine dancer, Josephine Wacker of West Valley Public Health, gave us a CD with the perfect authentic tango, “La Cumparsita.” There was no stopping us now. A quick practice session and Rosa and I were ready to debut.
If you missed it, rest assured the Cinco de Mayo was the show of a lifetime. What a delight to see our colleagues singing, dancing and playing instruments with a first-rate mariachi band on stage. Performers from several Latin American countries were featured. Bilingual twin Emcees (Armando Lopez, Senior Executive, and Maria Andrade, Facilities Support Services), a gifted Producer (Judith Robb, Office of Managed Care), authentic costumes, colorful balloons, decorations and to-die-for prizes completed the fun-filled, South-of-the-Border atmosphere. The packed auditorium was standing room only and the whole crowd joined in this uplifting, educational experience.
The Pilipino Health Seminar in the HSA Auditorium on May 11 was also an eye-opener. Did you know that the silk for the China Poblana dresses of Oaxaca, Mexico came from the Phillippines? Central Health Center staff showed a video, answered our questions and gave us an insiders view of the culture. Attendees also met two enthusiastic Transcultural Nursing Educators from the LAC+USC Medical Center School of Nursing (identical twins, Carol and Carolyn Bloch). They are available for consultation and training throughout the Department.
Most rewarding in all of these events was meeting new friends and seeing familiar colleagues in a new light. Who would have imagined that these talented performers and educators are also well-respected providers and managers of health services ... and vice versa?
Reflecting on these experiences brought back transcultural memories from throughout my DHS career. It all started with a Spanish class for employees at the LAC+USC Medical Center in 1972. To my surprise, I was chosen as Valedictorian of the first Bilingual Graduation of this group in 1973. Then came the joy of practicing it all while touring Spain in 1974 and Mexico in 1979. Just my luck: On tour in 1976, I caught the chickenpox in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, then landed in the middle of the Anti-Peronista Coup d’etat in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the following day. Three days later I arrived in Santiago, Chile with full blown varicella (chicken pox). I had to be airlifted back to Los Angeles from Lima, Peru with a 104 degree fever, and missed out on Macchu Picchu. Now lots of other memories (hair-raising and otherwise) are flashing back from studying languages and/or visiting medical centers in France, England, Germany, Austria, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Japan and Canada during vacations in subsequent years.
For me this all started as a child with a dream of learning languages to discover world cultures. It was inspired by great language teachers in junior high school, high school and college. Then followed membership in language teachers organizations after graduating from UCLA in Public Administration. Over the years we’ve had countless language-immersion weekends and faculty retreats with “no English language allowed” rules. Most rewarding so far have been Spanish, French and German. Asian languages are next on my list. Interacting with native speakers has yielded marvelous insights into human nature from unique perspectives. Every August I spend a week with 150 California language teachers at the University of California at Santa Barbara. To practice new teaching techniques, we sing, dance, collaborate, web surf, write, go on treasure hunts, sample multi-ethnic cuisines and perform Spanish-language plays in the campus theater. The “communicative/multi-media/multiple intelligences approach” is the latest vogue. Of course, back home all of this cross-fertilizes the practice of public health and health care management.
If you have read down to here, you’re ready for the moral for DHS employees: I encourage you to occasionally step back from your personal priority “‘A’ List.” Go ahead and shake a few hands, lend your support, and interact with colleagues and others on diversity matters. You will learn, relieve stress, enjoy yourself and even take a vicarious vacation. Your transnational understanding, cultural competence and linguistic awareness will increase. DHS is the perfect learning laboratory for this. Besides the ethnic communities, don’t overlook the other affinity groups and subcultures that enrich our DHS family: the stairwell climbers, lunch hikers, arobicizers, luncheon fellowshippers, cafeteria denizens, Toastmasters, Sweet Adelines, vanpoolers, webpage builders, agency networkers, news junkies, policy wonks, e-mail humorists, voicemail artistes, swap meet aficionados, gourmet cooks, antique car restorers, weight lifters, chess players, soccer moms, spectator sports enthusiasts, folk and line dancers, film critics, opera buffs, outdoor balcony “free range smokers,” etc. Believe it or not, you will return inspired with new insights into your “‘A’ List.” As our Director, Mark Finucane says, diversity is not just a part of our business ... it is our business. See you at the next Diversity Council event!
(Article not written on County time.)
Note: Barry Hunt, MPA, is Area Administrator of six health centers in Community Health Services, Public Health Programs and Services. He also teaches health care management in the Health Science Department of the School of Health at California State University, Dominguez Hills.