Why Hispanics Live Long Lives

My mom (at age 80) and my children

My mom (at age 80) and my children

U.S. Hispanics tend to live longer than non-Hispanics despite many circumstances that negatively affect Latino longevity.  This is a fact that continues to puzzle the medical community.  On the surface it does not make a lot of sense.  Hispanics, for example, are more prone to illnesses like Diabetes and often suffer from high cholesterol.  While the Latino diet varies from country to country, most of the cuisines pay little attention to health implications and Latinos continue to use unhealthy ingredients like fatty meats and animal lard.  More alarmingly, Latinos in the U.S. have inadequate access to healthcare services / information and most of the new immigrants lack health insurance.  Latinos are also more likely than non-Hispanics to avoid going to the doctor and to not engage in preventive care.  So how is it, one must ask, that we generally live longer?  Here are some plausible explanations based on my own qualitative research exploration.

The Mañana Syndrome

It is a well known fact that Latinos are generally more laid-back than non-Hispanics. It is also a scientific fact that by not stressing over issues our bodies are more able to fight diseases and remain healthy. My paternal grandmother is a great example of a wonderful person who knew the importance of taking it easy. She passed at the age of 102 with her laid-back outlook of life completely intact. I always tell the story of when the whole family gathered to celebrate her 100th birthday. I was unable to travel to Puerto Rico with all of my children and abuela wanted to hear how her great-grandchildren were doing. She sat next to me for lunch (I remember her having a large piece of steak) and said “I may have asked you this already and I’m sure I will ask it again; you will just have to deal with that; how are the children?” Despite her age she remembered the names of my children (I had four at the time) and asked about them my name. In trying to recall the name of my ex-wife she got confused; I recall that at that point she closed her eyes briefly and said; “it is not that important to remember everything; is she still being difficult?” My abuela knew how to avoid stress; and that kept her healthy despite being blind as a result of her Diabetes. The tendency to take it easy in life have often been criticized by those who find the mañana attitude inefficient; but it may very well be the key to a long and happy life.

Abuela at her 100th birthday!

Abuela at her 100th birthday!

A Purpose At an Old Age

I have conducted many interviews with Latinos regarding the idea of retirement. When it comes to retirement, Hispanics and non-Hispanics have very different points of view. Most Hispanics feel that their purpose in retirement is to help their family in any way they can. The tendency is to move closer to the family or with one of the family members. The role of the Hispanic grandparent is very important in the Latino family and many Hispanics rely on the grandparents for support. The idea of moving to a retirement community is foreign and uncanny to most Hispanics. In my interviews with Latino seniors I often hear comments like: “Why would anyone want to move away from the family to live with other old people? I want to retire to dedicate my time to my children and grandchildren; I want to be with them.”

My mother, who is 82, lives in Miami where most of my family now lives. Despite the fact that she has many family members and friends there, she often laments not being able to live closer to me (we live in New Jersey) so that she could help us out. I invited her to come over for a few days next month because she really wants to see the grandchildren; yet she forewarned us already saying that she is not coming on vacation. She said: “Last time I was there you were catering to me all the time and I did not feel useful; I may be old but there is still a lot that I can do, so start thinking of some things that I can help with while I am there.” Latino seniors demand to be a part of the family and work hard to make real contributions to the family. This cultural tendency makes Latinos feel needed and useful in their old age; and having a purpose in life is usually linked to longevity.

Not Wanting to Die

I have written here before about the Latino fear of death and how it is not as much a fear of the unknown as it is the fear of leaving loved ones without adequate support (See Here). Not wanting to die has been proven to be a key to staying alive. The simple desire of wanting to stay in this world in order to support the family may be a potent contributor to Latino longevity.

Exercise and Physical Fitness

While Hispanics may not be as much into exercise and physical fitness as their non-Hispanic counterparts; most Latinos exercise more than non-Hispanics because they are more likely to work in blue collar jobs that require them to be physically fit.

Chispa

One of the characteristics that is generally shared by all Latino sub-groups is something that Hispanics call “chispa” or Latino wit. Latinos will agree that they know how to have fun. Latino gatherings always include music, storytelling, joking, dancing, and tons of laughter. And Latinos gather very often; at the very minimum Latino families get together for parties every weekend. Laughter is known to trigger the release of endorphins, our body’s natural painkillers. Sharing with family and friends also produces a general sense of well-being that contributes to a healthy lifestyle.

This is not to say that there is no drama or stress in a Latino gathering; there definitely is. But in my experience doing ethnographic work with Latino families I have witness the positive effects of music, dancing, and laughter. The Latino tendency to have fun is a very strong antidote to the disease ridden stress and negativity that often permeates our American society.

5 comments on “Why Hispanics Live Long Lives

  1. Gil Pizano on said:

    Very good article! Thank you for sharing! Best Regards!

  2. Maria Solarez on said:

    Ricardo,

    Enjoyed your fun and loving presentation of the family. I agree about wanting to be close to my sons as they grow older and have their own families. I so like that the abuela inserted herself right in the middle! You go Abuelita!!

  3. Rita Martins on said:

    Hello Ricardo!

    Great blog, very very interesting articles!
    I am not hispanic, i’m portuguese, but i can relate with many of the things you say in your writting. Portugal is not hispanic, but is quite a latino country :) ! The post where you talk about fragances and their relations in the latino’s life was one of the most insightful and original articles i’ve read in a long time!

    Once again: Great blog!

  4. Jaime on said:

    ***My college Latin American/Latino Studies class had us write a paper analyzing why this argument is horrible. Here you go:

    In Why Hispanics Live Long Lives, Ricardo A. Lopéz presents an incredibly flawed argument because of excessive generalizations and invalid support. Lopez argues that Hispanics live longer than non-Hispanics in the US because of their laidback culture, elder value in the family unit, fear of death, blue-collar employment fitness, and fun gatherings. However, all of Lopez’s points lack strong evidence, and his overall argument is exceptionally weak and invalid because of the inclusion of the unacceptable premises of hasty generalizations and the fallacies of composition and division.
    Lopez’s first point, that Latinos are healthier because they are more laid back than other ethnicities, is flawed because it generalizes racial populations, lacks citations for scientific support, and utilizes the fallacy of composition. In the topic sentence, “it is a well known fact that Latinos are generally more laid-back than non-Hispanics (Lopez 2009),” the author discredits his argument by hastily generalizing the racial groups of Latinos and non-Hispanics. This is an unacceptable premise for arguments (Vaughn 2010). Even if Lopez conducted thorough quantitative surveys of large numbers of both ethnicities to determine cultural degrees of being laidback, this assertion would always be flawed because it generalizes all members of both racial groups and thus cannot be valid. Additionally, the Lopez claims that lack of stress is scientifically proven to increase health, but does not cite his source for scientific studies. This is another flaw in his argument because he makes unsupported claims and there is no way to check his ‘science’. Finally, Lopez’s qualitative findings for the relationship between the “Mañana Syndrome” and his grandmother’s health fall into the fallacy of composition, an irrelevant premise of assuming what is true of one individual is true of the whole group of individuals (Vaughn 2010). In this case, Lopez argues that his abuela’s tendency to avoid stress is responsible for her long life, but unwisely assumes this micro-example to be true for the entire macrocosmic group of Latinos.
    Lopez continues to invalidate his argument by stating that the social purpose Latino elders have to contribute to the family is a factor for longevity. While there may be some potential truth to this claim, Lopez fails to provide adequate evidence to support his argument, which is filled with fallacies of composition and division. The author mentions that he’s “conducted many interviews with Latinos regarding the idea of retirement (Lopez 2009),” but does not include any findings beyond those of his own mother. This is a detriment to the strength of Lopez’s argument because, although he attempts to establish credibility by stating how he’s conducted interview-based research, he discredits himself by not including any legitimate findings beyond one source. Additionally, this argument that having a purpose at an old age is further invalid because it is filled with fallacies of composition and division. Lopez’s findings that his own mother feels compelled to help out in his family are unwisely applied to the entire population of Latinos, which assumes that what is true of the parts is true of the whole, thus fulfilling a fallacy of composition. This argument also includes a fallacy of division because the assumption that having a purpose in life contributes to longevity is applied to Lopez’s mother, despite any strong evidence proving that she is in good health. This point that, “having a purpose in life is usually linked to longevity (Lopez 2009),” is devoid of scientific support and is thus invalid, which further weakens Lopez’s argument. This unsupported assumption is applied and deduced with fallacies of division and composition, which obliterates the strength of Lopez’s argument that elder social value contributes to longevity.
    Lopez states more unsupported ‘facts’ in his arguments that longevity is tied to not wanting to die as well as having fun at fiestas. The assertion that, “not wanting to die has been proven to be a key to staying alive (Lopez 2009),” lacks any scientific support to establish the proof behind the statement. Lopez also lacks strong evidence in his argument that Latinos having fun in weekly gatherings reduces disease ridden stress because he does not cite any relationship between fun and reducing stress or risk of disease.
    Without the incredibly flawed argument methodology, some of Lopez’s assumptions may be applicable to Latino culture and true for concepts of relating longevity to positive cultural traits of being laid back, having fun, and supporting la familia. However, this argument is exceptionally weak and invalid because it generalizes all Latinos and non-Hispanics, lacks strong evidence for ‘scientific’ claims, and is filled with fallacies of composition and division. Lopez’s blog- Latinoopinion.com- needs to be rephrased to be named “Lopez’sopinion.com” because his arguments do not incorporate any legitimate representation of any people beyond Lopez’s immediate family- the subject of his ‘qualitative research’ and the only samples included in his argument.

  5. Ricardo A. López on said:

    Wow! Thank you for the feedback. That Latinos live longer is a scientific fact; everything else was just me trying to come up with an explanation as to why this is the case. All speculation without scientific support- I agree. Glad I was able to help your class! :-) As to the issue of generalizations… I work in marketing research; we are in the business of generalizations! ;-)

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