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Lack of Spanish outreach may be cutting older Latinos off from senior services in NH

Flerida Moriel and her daughter, Mirla Cabrera, came to the United States from the Dominican Republic. Cabrera works long hours and would like to find community and services for her 79-year-old mother, but the language barrier holds them back. “I feel guilty,” Cabrera says.
Gabriela Lozada
Flerida Moriel and her daughter, Mirla Cabrera, came to the United States from the Dominican Republic. Cabrera works long hours and would like to find community and services for her 79-year-old mother, but the language barrier holds them back. “I feel guilty,” Cabrera says.

Flerida Moriel, 79, lives in an apartment complex in Manchester just two houses down from her daughter, Mirla Cabrera. They chat over Dominican coffee and listen to music in Flerida’s kitchen almost every night. But during the day, Moriel is alone in her apartment, with little to occupy her besides occasionally taking care of her grandchildren.

“I would like to get a job,” says Moriel, possibly cleaning houses as she used to before she retired. She says she doesn't need the money; it would just be something to do. She feels bored and depressed at home and would like to meet other people her age — people who speak Spanish like her.

But her daughter says looking for places where her mother can find community hasn’t been easy.

“I would like to find someone who can care for her so she has a little fun,” says Cabrera, who works long hours. “She spends too much time alone.”

Cabrera gets emotional when she talks about how her mother had to be hospitalized twice for depression. The doctors suggested getting her into more social activities, but the mother and daughter don’t know where to start. They’re intimidated by the language barrier.

About 3,500 Latinos aged 65 and older live in New Hampshire. Immigration advocates say many older Spanish-speaking immigrants constantly seek social activities and access to resources, like health and housing, but also protection in elder mistreatment or abuse cases.

However, only a few senior centers in the state do outreach in Spanish. NHPR contacted 25 private adult centers in Manchester and Nashua, the cities with New Hampshire's largest Latino populations. Only one center said it had some attendees whose primary language was not English.

Stereotypes getting in the way of outreach?

In Manchester, the publicly funded Cashin Senior Activity Center offers activities, such as free fitness, art, and computer classes on cyber fraud and other topics. It also helps seniors connect with the resources they need.

Kimberly Drohan, the senior center’s manager, says they serve about 150 seniors daily, but none are Latino immigrants.

Drohan says the center does not provide brochures and other written materials in Spanish, but they do have someone on staff who understands the language. She says they haven’t tried to reach out to this population specifically yet, because they haven’t seen enough interest from Latino residents.

“I think their families take care of them because that is in the culture," says Drohan. "They are more family-oriented, so they stay home together as a family."

But Rafael Calderon, an advocate who works with the Latino community, says that’s a stereotype that may be preventing public institutions from doing much-needed outreach to Latino and immigrant communities.

He says that, unlike what some people believe about Latino culture, many immigrants in the state have to “work multiple jobs and don’t have the time to be with their elders.” He says this may not happen in their countries of origin, where people care more for their elders at home.

He says local and state officials could do a better job reaching out to Spanish-speaking immigrants at fairs and events where the community gathers. He emphasizes that it’s not just social activities that are needed.

“We need a place with [Latino] advocates where people can ask for health and housing resources,” Calderon says.

That is something that a couple from Peru in their 70s say they desperately need. They moved to New Hampshire seven years ago and now live with their daughter. They say she takes their money and won’t allow them to leave the house other than to work.

“All we can do is walk in the yard in the summer, and in the winter, we are locked in our bedroom watching TV,” the husband says. “We feel powerless.”

The couple asked NHPR not to use their names to protect their identity.

Peru Couple
Gabriela Lozada
This couple from Peru says they have felt stressed and isolated since they moved to New Hampshire. The wife has seen notices for activities and affordable housing on Facebook, but since she doesn’t speak English, she’s unsure how to sign up. The husband hopes to find other Spanish-speaking immigrants who need community here.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services has an elder abuse hotline that provides Spanish interpreters, though it can take a few days to connect with one. The hotline does provide translations on its website, but NHPR contacted the department several times to ask if it has plans to increase Spanish-language outreach to older immigrants so that they know, in the first place, what services are available to them. So far, the department hasn’t provided a detailed response.

In March, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig proposed in her 2024 budget to create a Healthy Aging program to support seniors aging at home. It’s unclear if this would include outreach to the city’s immigrant communities.

In the meantime, the couple from Peru wonders if more New Hampshire Latino immigrants like them are out there, needing companionship and a place that can advocate for them in their language.

“I feel alone,” the husband says, “like in a desert.”

This story is part of “More than Words,” a Report for America initiative that brought together newsrooms covering Latino communities in eight states, with the support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, to examine the impact of language barriers on the social, economic and educational advancement of Latinos and the local efforts to close this gap.

Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.

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