10/31/2016 04:57 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2017

Health Equity Includes Identify Reform

As I get ready to do my civic duty and go to the polls on November 8th, I've been reflecting on some of the great contributions that the Latinx community has made in the United States. As one of the largest populations in this country, I am sometimes taken aback by the diversity that comes out of the Spanish-speaking world and the diversity in challenges we face that lead to health inequities. It is because of this diversity that I believe it is time for Latinx public health leaders to move our work away from this country's racial and ethnic social construct. For me, it is a big stretch to group a person who identifies as an Afro-Colombian with a person who identifies as a Quechua from Peru. But that is exactly what the United States government and mainstream media has chosen to do by using the terms Hispanic/Latino as classification terms.

For the 2020 census, the US Census Bureau is contemplating getting rid of "race" and "ethnicity" all together. This "shifting" is not an accident. It is as a result of the hard work and advocacy led by many national leaders who have consistently pushed for different groups of origin to be properly recognized by the federal government.

Here at the New York City Department of Health, I'm proud to say that we are having agency-wide conversations about how we can be more considerate of the heterogeneous make-up of the Latinx population of our city, specifically through our data collection tools. We are in the development of a special report on the health of Latinx New Yorkers, highlighting differences in selected health outcomes by subgroup, such as Dominican, Puerto Rican, etc. These data will be compiled over the next year and the report will be published during Latino Heritage Month 2017. I hope this can be an example to other health departments across the country and to the federal government to start collecting data that more accurately reflects the diversity of my people.

We want to move away from saying "Latinos have a hard time accessing fruits and vegetables" to a place where we are saying "Puerto Rican families living in the Bronx have limited access to fruits and vegetables as a result of their group having less fair wage jobs and sustainable housing." This type of analysis will create a specific call to action that does not require several layers of interpretation. And with more specific calls to action we are more likely to narrow the health disparities gap for the Latinx community.

With health equity moving the public health goal posts to include racial and social justice, public health leaders have the context and freedom to move away from socially constructed race and ethnic terminology as group identities.

So I invite all my Latinx public health leaders, who are in the health equity movement, to step away from the US racial and ethnic classifications that we and our work have been forced into, and instead begin the conversations that call out the diversity of our identities. We are more than just one.

Follow Javier Lopez on Twitter: @j_equity