The fate of Senate Bill 435, which would require California departments to collect and release disaggregated data for Indigenous and Latinx nations, is now up to Governor Gavin Newsom. With over 60 statewide organizations in support, and after the unanimous passing of the bill through the Assembly and Senate, the bill is awaiting Newsom’s signature.
Mar Velez, director of policy for the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC), said during a press briefing on Thursday that the bill is critical for improving health data collection for the state’s diverse Latino community, which makes up 40% of the state’s total population.
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“California can achieve and advance health equity, representation, and empowerment for these communities.”
Current law requires certain state agencies, boards, and commissions to use separate collection categories when collecting demographic data related to ancestry or ethnic origins of Californians. However, California doesn’t currently disaggregate that data for the state’s various Latinx and Indigenous populations.
The bill would disaggregate data for Mesoamerican Indigenous and Latinx nations, including subgroups such as Mexican, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Puerto Rican, and others. The bill would also implement reporting requirements for the state, including the publishing of disaggregated ancestry and ethnic origin data on or after July 1st, 2027.
“The bill would also collect information on 13 Indigenous languages,” Velez said, adding that the intent is “so that we can better understand the health needs of Latino and Indigenous populations in our state.”
During the briefing, Dr. Seciah Aquino, executive director of LCHC, cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of health equity, which is a state where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to obtain their highest level of health. Aquino said that in order to achieve health equity, the state must acknowledge how Latinx and Indigenous communities have different experiences based on spoken languages and skin color, which can result in negative outcomes due to systemic racism.
“California is powerful because of our diversity, and we must acknowledge that Latinos are not a monolith—we are unique.”
To begin a conversation around equity, Aquino said it’s crucial to understand how each group experiences the healthcare system—which disaggregated data can help with comprehending.
“If we don’t have the detailed data that we need, then how do we know that we’re making the best informed decision?” Aquino asked.
With Latinos and Indigenous groups making up such a significant portion of California’s population, Aquino noted that they contribute $83 billion in taxes annually and hold $184 billion in spending power. In order to keep the Californian economy healthy, the state needs to keep the Latino and Indigenous communities healthy.
“Signing SB 435 into law will allow California to remain as a leader across the nation in advancing and achieving health equity,” Aquino said.
Arcenio Lopez, executive director of Mixteco/Indigena Community Organization Project, said that when individuals seek medical or legal services and are identified as Mexican, assumptions arise, such as the assumption that the individual speaks Spanish—which is not always the case.
“We are being trapped under this category of Latinx, Hispanic, when many of us don’t speak Spanish, and … being trapped in the Latinx, Hispanic umbrella [is dangerous],” Lopez said. “I think providing language access is just a basic human right—especially to the original people of the continent.”
If the governor doesn’t sign SB 435 into law, Odilia Romero, co-founder and executive director of Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo (CIELO), said this discrimination against the existence of Indigenous communities will continue. She emphasized the harm associated with conflating Latino and indigenous populations.
“It’s a violation of our language right, and a violation of our existence—labeling us as Latinos,” Romero said. “The government needs to acknowledge our contribution. That the state of California has a large economy that wouldn’t exist without … Indigenous people.”
When data is disaggregated, it alters services individuals receive, and Romero said that data and language are linked. If it’s assumed an individual is Latino and doesn’t have space to write that they’re Zapoteco, then that person will never get services or information in Zapotec.
With much excitement about the final step of this bill, the organizations plan to celebrate, whether approved or rejected by Newsom. LCHC will host a “Regeneracion” policy summit in October to discuss the Latinx health equity policy agenda going forward. CIELO is hosting an artisanal Mezcal night later this month. Mixteco/Indigena Community Organization Project is hosting a concert for Dia de Muertos at the end of October.
The public is welcome to attend any of these events to celebrate the Latinx and Indigenous communities that bring a wealth of culture to the state.