Social Determinants of Health

Addressing Social Needs and Structural Inequities to Reduce Health Disparities: A Call to Action for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

By Marshall H. Chin, M.D., M.P.H.
Richard Parrillo Family Professor of Healthcare Ethics in the Department of Medicine,
University of Chicago
Member, National Advisory Council on Minority Health and Health Disparities

Photo of Dr. Marshall H. Chin

Dr. Marshall H. Chin

When I was a kid, every Saturday my parents would pack my older sister, younger brother, and me into the family station wagon, and we’d drive 40 minutes on Route 2 East from Boston’s western suburbs into Chinatown. There we gathered with aunts, uncles, and cousins in the home of my grandparents, immigrants from Toisan in southern China. The conversations were loud, the play was very lively, and the wonderful aromas of roast chicken, fried noodles, and sizzling stir-fried vegetables filled the air.

An impressionable young child, I watched intently as my uncles played poker, cigar smoke wafting into the nighttime air. They taught me how to play poker at the ripe old age of 8, and I filled in when one had to take a break for a hand or two. Most of my paternal uncles worked in the laundries. My mother’s side was noodles. My uncles were bright men, but the bamboo ceiling—basically, exclusion from good jobs—limited their opportunities. “I don’t have a Chinaman’s chance,” they’d say as they folded a losing hand of cards.1

Running around Chinatown with my cousins, I saw that my uncles weren’t the only ones whose opportunities were limited. Housing was crowded, and the streets were dirty and smelled of garbage. Years later, when I worked part-time at the Federally Qualified Health Center in Boston’s Chinatown, I cared for many non–English speaking immigrants with limited education. They faced uphill battles as they dealt with their chronic health conditions, paid medical bills without health insurance, and attempted to advance in society. Continue reading “Addressing Social Needs and Structural Inequities to Reduce Health Disparities: A Call to Action for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month”

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