CSULB graduate student earns scholarship, travels to U.S. Virgin Islands

Lupita Cardenas was awarded the scholarship to attend a conference last week.

Cal State Long Beach graduate student Lupita Cardenas’ research on unorthodox healing methods in the Latino community took her to the U.S. Virgin Islands last week.

Cardenas, a social work graduate student, was awarded a scholarship to attend the 7th Annual National Health Disparities conference in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

At the conference, which was held from Nov. 13 to Saturday, Cardenas presented her research on the relationship between income and the use of folk healing among the Latino community.

Folk healing is a spiritual type of medicine, involving herbal remedies and “Curanderos,” or types of healers or shamans believed to have healing powers, Cardenas said.

Cardenas said she researched various methods of folk healing and whether there were correlations between the use of folk healing and levels of income.

For her research, Cardenas said she interacted with many people who use folk healing and found that many people were not comfortable sharing their stories because of the stigma attached to it.

This trend, she said, may have contributed to her findings that there wasn’t a significant relationship between folk healing and income.

Cardenas said she came across other limitations in her study as well.

“In order to help the clients or protect the individual’s identity, the surveys were self administered,” she said. “They weren’t able to ask questions, so if [the participants] weren’t able to understand the question, they interpreted it however they felt fit.”

Cardenas said she thought that the Latino communities she researched, which had high levels of anxiety and depression, were underutilizing mental health resources. She thinks, though, that “income will influence the [Latino community’s] likeliness to seek alternative medicine.”

By learning the cultural aspects behind folk healing, Cardenas said she hopes to educate and transition people from folk healing to modern medicine.

Cardenas said she included her findings in an abstract of her research, which she submitted to the conference.  Other abstracts submitted came from students nationwide and included topics relating to health disparities in the basic sciences, clinical sciences and population, behavioral and social sciences.

At the conference, Cardenas said she and other students presented the findings included in their abstracts to a panel of judges and other participants.

The top abstracts were then chosen for an oral presentation in which students competed for a cash award, according to the conference’s website. Cardenas, though, wasn’t selected for the award.

Cardenas said she wants to focus her future studies on foreign-born Latinos, primarily Mexicans.

“Individuals who are foreign born are more likely to be a vulnerable population because they can develop high levels of stress and anxiety due to fear of deportation,” she said. “They also might not have any health coverage or know where to access mental health service or medical service.”

Eileen Pasztor, professor in the social work department and Cardenas’ graduate thesis professor, said Cardenas is a competent and excellent student who believes in the importance of relationships.

“[Cardenas] reflects our National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics: competence, dignity, integrity, importance of relationships, service and social justice,” Pasztor said.