Ervin: Su Casa es Mi Casa

Mike ErvinThere was a mystery entrée on my aunt’s dinner plate in the nursing home. It looked sort of like a hunk of meatloaf sandwiched between two pieces of yellowish sandpaper.

Was it lasagna? Or maybe a sad attempt at enchiladas? My aunt seemed to recall that whatever this main course was, it had a fancy Spanish name on the menu — something like fiesta whatnot. The nursing home dietician was quite adept at giving the cuisine fancy names. One night they served a pork “choppette,” which looked like some kind of ground meat vaguely molded into the shape of a mini pork chop. Another night they served “Jefferson” noodles, which appeared to be the buttered noodles of previous nights, minus the butter.

But this latest unidentified flying entrée probably did have a Mexican name because check out this statistic I came across recently:

* Ninety-three percent of American nursing homes have fewer than 11 Latino residents.

So that means it’s not just the Republican party that needs to step up its marketing efforts to sell itself to the growing Latino population. The nursing home industry is woefully behind, too. But if they play their ethnic cards right, they can tap into a vast new pool of cripples and old people to impoverish and lock up.

But it’s going take a whole lot more than the half-assed execution of some hijacked Taco Bell recipe. It’s going to take some serious, well-planned and well-executed cultural appropriation.

The first challenge for nursing administrators is to make their facilities feel like home for Latino people when they come for a tour. Therefore, every nursing home should be well stocked with rice-and-beans scented aerosol spray. There should also be a generous supply of piñatas kept in storage. These piñatas should be strategically hung about as a proactive, precautionary measure whenever someone appears on the tour list whose last name ends with the letters e-z or even e-s.

It’s probably a good idea to also have an item with the word fiesta in it always featured on the displayed menu. However, it’s probably a bad idea to let the touring family actually taste or even see that dish because that could easily ruin everything. The safest approach is to pretend that it was so delicious that everybody gobbled it up.

If these steps are successfully completed and a new patient comes on board, no further action steps may be necessary. The facility has to seem like a place Latinos could call home, but it doesn’t actually have to be a place Latinos could call home. Once the new patient signs over everything, it’s not like he or she can just up and leave.

A deeper commitment to hospitality could become complicated and not cost-effective. It will require increased cultural competency among employees. For example, somebody on the activity staff will have to know how to throw a Cinco de Mayo party. But even that might not be enough. Recent demographic research conducted by the Republican National Committee revealed the stunning possibility that not every Latino living in the United States comes from Mexico. The RNC stresses, however, that this is just a preliminary finding, so there is no need to panic just yet. More research will be conducted to confirm whether or not this is indeed true. But if it proves to be true, activity staff may have to commemorate a wide range of events from Dominican Independence Day to the birthday of Simon Bolivar.

Nursing home administrators will also have to increase exponentially the number of employees who speak Spanish. As a preliminary measure, until this human resources transition is complete, English-speaking staff can be taught how to say in Spanish the phrases most frequently used when communicating with nursing home residents, such as:

“Son las 7:30. Es la hora de que te vayas a la cama.” (“It’s 7:30. It’s time for you to go to bed.”)

“Lo siento, pero la ley sólo requiere que le demos una ducha dos veces a la semana.” (“I’m sorry but the law only requires that we give you a shower twice a week.”)

America is changing. There’s no going back.

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