Latino Coalition for a Healthy California introduces legislation to disaggregate data collection for Indigenous Mesoamerican and Latine communities


Hannah Saunders


Last year, the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC) helped compose Senate Bill 435, which would have disaggregated data for Latine and Indigenous Mesoamerican communities in California. Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill, however, and the LCHC responded by presenting another bill with the same goals this year, SB 1016.

California has the largest Hispanic populations in the country—making up nearly 40 percent of the state’s total population—and the fastest growing Mesoamerican community, according to Mar Valez, director of policy for LCHC. Known as the Latino and Indigenous Disparities Reduction Act, SB 1016 would collect demographic and language data on cultures like the Zapotec and Mayans.

“Our government doesn’t recognize us as Indigenous people and continues to impose and force us to accept the label of Latino as an identity—and yes, we do take it because it’s a survival mechanism for us to exist—and with that existence there is a lot of violence. There’s a lot of violence against Indigenous people, what we call language violence.”

— Odilia Romero, co-founder and executive director of Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo (CIELO)

CIELO is an Indigenous and woman-led organization that focuses on combating racism, while securing resources and visibility to Indigenous communities. Romero said that language interpreters should not be seen as a service, but that communication in one’s native language is a human right. She provided an example of language violence, noting that if a parent takes their child to a doctor, receives medications, and no interpreter is provided, the parent may unintentionally misdose their child, which can lead to social services becoming involved and trauma for both the parent and child from court proceedings and foster care. 

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“We need the governor to be supporting our existence, just like we support the existence of California as a state,” Romero said.

Many Indigenous community members cannot access health or social services due to language barriers, Valez said. 

“We’ve also heard the need for more information on these communities from county workers, so they can appropriately provide services to clients.”

— Valez

Valez said the state cannot wait any longer to recognize Indigenous Mesoamerican and Latine communities within state data sets, and spoke briefly about SB 435. 

“Unfortunately, Gov. Newsom vetoed SB 435, citing that it would ‘Be premature for California to pass legislation related to data disaggregation when the federal government is scheduled to release updates to federal race and ethnicity standards this summer,’” Valez said.

In his veto letter, Newsom acknowledged that collecting detailed demographic data for Latine and Mesoamerican Indigenous nations is important to help identify disparities. He said his administration is monitoring and reviewing federal standards for the collection and reporting on ethnicity and race information.

“California is required to submit data to the federal government using these federal standards, and programs that receive federal funding must also use these standards. As such, implementing a different framework for data collection in California prior to the release of updated federal standards is premature,” Newsom said. 

Dr. Seciah Aquino, executive director of LCHC, said that when Indigenous Mesoamerican and Latine communities are all lumped into one larger group, important details become hidden, and it becomes challenging to strategically target health-related issues in time efficient ways. Data disaggregation would allow for a targeted approach to learn about the health status of members of these groups, and how to best provide care, Aquino said. 

“In short, the bill will collect and disaggregate data from state departments, including (the California Department of Public Health) and (the California Department of Social Services. We’re looking to collect data at that individual level for major Mesoamerican Indigenous nations including, but not limited to, Maya, Aztec, Mixteco, Zapoteco, (and) Triki.” 

— Aquino

Since working on SB 435 in 2023, Aquino has repeatedly noted that these communities are not a monolith.

“This bill is about justice, it’s about unity, it’s about love,” Aquino said. “SB 1016 is a fight for justice for our Indigenous Mesoamerican communities, our Latine subgroups, to make sure that we are taking care of our population.”

Aquino addressed Newsom’s decision to veto SB 435, and said she hopes California can continue to be a pioneer in the healthcare space. She said state agencies agree on data collection being a priority, and data collection and disaggregation is crucial for making important data-sound decisions. LCHC understands Newsom’s concerns in terms of federal alignment, but noted that California can create impactful change without waiting for federal changes. Aquino said she hopes California can be responsive to its population. 

“We’re simply saying it’s time,” Aquino added. “In times of budget constraints, data is critical to make those effective and efficient decisions. SB 1016 actually offers us that infrastructure to collect detailed data on the largest ethnic and racial demographic in California, to make sure that the decisions that we’re (making) this year and on are sound, effective, and successful.”

SB 1016 has a hearing scheduled on April 1. 

Those who want to learn more about legislative health initiatives in California can register for the 2024 Northern California State of Reform Health Policy Conference, which will be held on April 16 at the SAFE Credit Union Convention Center. Political insiders will speak on an “Insights into the California Legislature” panel there.

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