We often think of health care in terms of policy or reform or coverage. It is mostly about how people take care of themselves and their families. In many ways, immigrants have a tough time. Health care in the United States is mind numbingly complicated and tied to the availability of insurance. In other ways, immigrants have passports to alternatives – to how it’s done elsewhere that they’re aware of and others aren’t because they or their parents grew up with other options.

In a continuing unique collaboration with Chicago area’s ethnic news media, Immigrant Connect looked beyond what most Americans are familiar with. There are stories–

of options – in community programs in Little Village to fight obesity, in medical tourism to Korea, in “family” caretakers for Filipino elderly, and in remedies available by mail from Lithuania; and

of risks – to South Asians of chewing tobacco and hookah, to Russians who were exposed to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl,  to Indians of a vegetarian diet, and to Africans of ignoring diabetes.

Nine ethnic media outlets collaborated on the project. They are Extra (Hispanic), Reflejos (Hispanic),  Pinoy Newsmagazine (Filipino), Al Moustaqbal: Future newspaper (Arab), India Tribune, Korea Daily NewsDraugas:The Lituanian World-wide Daily, Reklama (Russian) and the Urdu Times (Pakistani). The project also worked with 8th graders and their teachers at the Haines Elementary School in Chicago’s Chinatown in assisting the students appreciate their role as community journalists. The students produced short video documentaries that depicted health care issues in their families and community.

Read the stories here:

Tobacco repackaged: Paan Parag and hookah and their unappreciated risks

by Zul Kapadia and Lorraine Ma in collaboration with Urdu Times

Andha, who works at a rug store on Devon Ave., says chewing tobacco makes his mind work at double speed and remember things better. Apart from sometimes being short of breath, Andha is convinced he does not have any major health issues because he eats tobacco “with a style.”

Seeking closure after Chernobyl

by Katherine Jacobsen in collaboration with Reklama (read the story in Russian)

The after effects of Chernobyl are still felt by Jacob Zakon, who immigrated to the United States from Kiev in 1989. He does not hesitate to make the connection between his health problems and his exposure to nuclear radiation 25 years ago when he worked as an emergency liquidator after the Chernobyl explosion on April 26, 1986.

Medical tourism lures Korean immigrants home

by Katie Chen in collaboration with Korea Daily News

The price of health care in the U.S. is a burden for most Korean immigrants, with or without health insurance. After the passage of a law allowing private hospitals to advertise abroad, South Korea is becoming a hot spot of medical tourism. Dae B. Lee, one of the promoters of Korean hospitals, says the U.S. is the main market the Korean government is now targeting.

Lithuanian patients have a hard time letting go of the past

by Alexandra Sifferlin and Hayley MacMillen in collaboration with Draugas: The Lituanian World-wide Daily (read the story in Lithuanian)

Older Lithuanian immigrants in the Chicago area cling to memories of Soviet-era health care, in which herbal remedies and paying off doctors to ensure adequate care were common practice. Doctors often have difficulty gaining the trust of patients and persuading them to switch from outmoded and even dangerous remedies to modern pharmaceuticals.

Is the South Asian vegetarian diet bad for the immigrant heart?

by Zoe Fox in collaboration with India Tribune

South Asians around the world suffer from heart disease at rates up to four times the general population. Despite the known benefits of a vegetarian diet, South Asians must modify their cuisine and increase their exercise to overcome the community’s uphill battle with heart disease.

Promoting healthy eating from the ground up in Little Village’s Hispanic community

by Claire Thompson in collaboration with Extra (read the story in Spanish)

In Little Village, community members recognize that the fight against obesity in the Latino population has multiple fronts, and that a united effort on the part of parents, schools and neighborhood organizations to promote healthy eating has more of a chance of success than any isolated campaign.

Community programs needed to fight obesity among Latinos

by Miranda Viglietti in collaboration with Extra (read the story in Spanish)

Free exercise programs are an important component of combating obesity in Latino communities, where residents often have limited access to safe parks and recreational activities.

The silence of diabetes threatening the health of the African community

by Makda Fessahaye and Jeremy Intal in collaboration with Africa Today

Abdirahman Obste, a Somali immigrant, knew little about diabetes. Once the owner of a restaurant, Obste didn’t know how to react when a patron rushed into the dining room, demanded a muffin and claimed it was a matter of life or death. A growing number of African immigrants are suffering from diabetes at abnormally high rates, and even more, like Obste at the time, know little about how serious the problem has become.

Filipino elders find “family” in caretakers

by Annie Chang in collaboration with Pinoy Newsmagazine

In the Filipino culture, it is understood that elders are to be cared for by their children and other relatives. This is harder to accomplish in the U.S., where many Filipino American couples both find themselves employed and unable to care for their parents. As an alternative, home health care professionals of Filipino descent often stand in as “family members” for their patients.

A look into the complexities of refugee and immigrant health care coverage

by Anna Bisaro and Katie Prentiss in collaboration with Al Moustaqbal: Future newspaper

Immigrants and Refugees, though facing similar struggles in a new country, have very different options for health care in Illinois, a state that provides some of the health care options for them. For starters, refugees are guaranteed at least eight months of Medicaid, while immigrants aren’t.


The stories are being released in early June 2011. Each ethnic media outlet is carrying the story about how the issue affects its own community. For non-English publications, the stories are being translated into their respective languages.

Students at Northwestern University and its Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications reported and wrote the stories, while the publishers and editors helped shape the process through their work with Community Media Workshop’s Ethnic News Media Project and Medill’s Immigrant Connect project. The work is supported by grants from The Chicago Community Trust’s Community News Matters project, the McCormick Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation.

This is the fourth in the continuing partnership linking communities through their ethnic media. The first explored the impact of the 2010 U.S. Census count on their communities and were released simultaneously on Fri., Jan. 15, 2010, in the ethnic media and on Immigrant Connect. Check out the series here – Census stories link diverse immigrant communities

The second explored the relationships between immigrants and their children and discovered that immigrant communities are crossing the generational divide in ways that resonate for one another. They were released simultaneously in June 2010. That series is here – Immigrant communities cross the generational divide together

The third explored “the homeland, the place, the memory, the heritage” and the multiple meanings it has for Chicago’s immigrants. They were released in December 2010. That series is here – Home and the homeland: Chicago’s immigrants keep connecting

This is the only effort of this kind today in the U.S. as far as the partners know.