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Voices: Loneliness As Public Health Issue? Speak Some Spanish!

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File photo at a rally in San Diego in support of President Barack Obama’s plan to protect more than 4 million people living illegally in the U.S. from deportation in front of a church Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015. Gregory Bull / AP

NEW YORK, NY -- When I learned that researchers at Brigham Young University published a study determining that loneliness kills, my first thought was ‘That’s why the median age of Latinos is 109!’ After reading the full result and the researchers' call to action suggesting we make this a public health issue, I was sure there was a an easier way. My suggestion is that those at risk learn Spanish.

It’s not that Latinos are never lonely. It’s that when you’re Latino, you’re never really alone. Beyond the fact that the ideas of personal space, privacy, or ‘down time’ are completely anachronistic to anything we’ve ever been taught, Latinos are always ready to identify each other and bond. Whether its welcome or not.

Don’t believe me? Go to any Latino neighborhood in the U.S at a pharmacy’s rush hour or a doctors office. All it takes is a word of Spanish and the slightest even accidental eye contact for you to get diagnosed by everybody in ear shot. They will shamelessly ask what medicines you take, why you’re too fat or too skinny and suggest the latest root tea craze or soup diet a cousin sent them from somewhere in Latin America. And it’s not limited medical prognosticating.

Beyond the fact that the ideas of personal space, privacy, or ‘down time’ are completely anachronistic to anything we’ve ever been taught, Latinos are always ready to identify each other and bond. Don’t believe me—go to any Latino neighborhood in the US at a pharmacy’s rush hour or a doctors office.

I once sat down at a fast food place and a woman, eating a vanilla ice cream cone while dressed in a Chanel suit, noticed I was a little bummed. When we figured out we were both Cuban, she went on to tell me she was clairvoyant and she knew that a man was breaking my heart. She smiled and told me not to worry, that we would end up together with two kids. My heart jumped at her vision and I clung to every word she uttered as the ice-cream dripped down her crinkled hand.

Of course she was wrong. I’m still single, that man is now happily married and has a lovely family, while I have two pups that are like my children. But what I needed that day was hope. And she got me through that afternoon.

Now there is a price to pay for this comforting life-extending practice. You must abandon all boundaries, be prepared to breathe deep when somebody innocently offends you or gets too nosy, and stifle your joy when you learn to pronounce that rolling ‘r’. And whatever you do, you must not talk about the weather! It will out you as a gringo immediately, making you an outsider. You must be able to work a poker face like a Vegas pro.

Things will be shared. So many unexpected, surprising things. On the upside, you get to live a little longer, get to know people from all over Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain and walk away with the nice reminder that no matter what, we’re all in it together.