The concept of health and health practices vary from one culture to another. This report looks at the health practices of the largest minority group in American society. The minority group in this community comprises Italian-Americans and Jewish- Americans. This group has different beliefs about health, diseases and their causes as well as health practices. Their view on the American health system is that it is discriminatory and needs reform to cater for the health of all individuals in America regardless of their income level.
Information on this report was collected using primary and secondary sources. Several people from different walks of life from the two largest minority groups were interviewed. These people and the secondary sources provided an insight into the health practices of the communities.
Italian Americans are very superstitious. This stems from their traditional practices that have been passed down generations. They believe some diseases are caused by “an evil eye.” For instance, one baby became sick after an envious neighbor looked at her. The baby suffered from a strange disease, she could not sleep, and her ailment was unexplainable (Demetri, n.d, Evil Eye, para. 1). Thus, help had to be sought.
The health practice of the Italian Americans was to seek help from local healers. In the case of the baby, she was taken to a local healer who performed some rituals – dropped olive oil on a bowl of water and chanted some prayers that broke the oil ring thus breaking the evil spell and the baby recovered immediately (Demetri, n.d, Evil Eye, para. 1).
The Italians believe in wading evil off and the men wear amulets made from silver, red coral or gold. These amulets can be obtained from Italian stores. In addition, there is a belief of avoiding the evil eye that causes diseases by making a hand gesture called mano cornuta.
Birds are believed to cause diseases and for a long time many Italian Americans could not keep pet birds. Birds, especially peacocks are said to have an evil eye. This belief has its roots in the bible because a cock crowed after Peter denied Jesus three times (Demetri, n.d, The Devils Horn, para. 1).
Moving into a new house without sweeping with a new broom would bring about bad luck and this would lead to diseases. Therefore, new houses were swept to rid the house of evil spirits of the previous owners and salt scattered in the corners of the house. Traditional medicine was practiced together with witchcraft and in the community; there were witchdoctors who used different concoctions to treat various illnesses (Demetri, n.d, Blessing a new House, para. 1).
The Jewish belief that one should take care of one’s body to avoid bringing harm upon one’s health “circumspect in avoiding danger to life and limb than in the avoidance of other transgressions (Hertz, 1958, p 85). Thus, many practice healthy eating as studies have shown that most of the diseases are diet related. Thus, they are taught to depend on a vegetarian diet.
The Jewish people are of the view that health care should be universal because their Jewish teachings called tikkun olam urge that one should be provided with medical care regardless of the ability to pay. It is the obligation of the government or those with money to pay for the medical expenses of the poor. They feel that American health care is inadequate as it is because over forty seven million Americans do not have health care and so cannot afford proper medication. These scenarios are against their religious beliefs and want to see an overhaul of the system (Daroff & Hadar, 2009, para. 2).
From their advocates for universal health care we can tell that their cultural characteristics are different from those of Americans who are individualistic. This is because the current health system takes care of those who have money and leaves out the poor and the vulnerable. These communities are collectivistic and put the welfare of the whole society first.
From the findings, we see that these minority groups still value their tradition in their health although they have incorporated modern medicine. There is the belief that proper health practices will prevent diseases that otherwise kill people at very high rates.
Health is a very dear subject in the communities. They teach the people in the community how to avoid diseases by teaching them how to avoid falling sick. This is especially evident in the Jewish community. They use religion to appeal to people to lead a healthy lifestyle. This is a good strategy because most people tend to believe in religion and would practice the teachings more than they would a doctor’s advice.
Some of the beliefs about the causes of diseases show that ignorance about health persists. This is especially true in the Italian American community who believe that birds have an evil eye.
- Useful traditional health practices should be taught and encouraged.
- Diseases should be tackled at the source by leading healthy lifestyles instead of treating them, as this is very expensive.
- More education on health and health practices should be given to the people because ignorance is no defense.
- The health care system needs immediate overhaul to cover all the citizens as no life should be lost if something can be done to prevent such a loss.
Daroff, W., & Hadar, S., (2009). Speak out on Health Care Reform. Web.
Demetri, J., (n.d). Italian American Superstitions. 2010. Web.
Hertz, J., (1958). The Pentateuch and Haftorahs. London: Soncino Press.