by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
November 20, 2007
TIME OUT FOR A SURVEY
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- A courtesy call following auto repair is routine, and other services follow up by asking for a few minutes of your time to answer a brief survey. Well, they're trying to please the customers and if I can help toward that end, I do. I always offer my honest opinions. Of course, the companies who provide this are usually perfect anyway and just want me to know exactly how perfect they are by having me answer "excellent" five times during a brief conversation.
If a friend or neighbor asks me for a recommendation, the word "excellent" rolls off my tongue as I say, "By, all means, go to the one on Maple Avenue. They're excellent."
And so it is that I'm filling out a survey for the hospital - I had a four-day stay there in October - where my experience was so satisfying that I don't hesitate to sit down and give the long questionnaire my full attention. I was able to answer every question with a firm 10 where the grading went from 1 to 10, 10 being the best.
Yes, it was quiet overnight; yes, the meals arrived on time and hot; yes, the nurses responded to the bell instantly; yes, all questions were answered; yes, the room was attractive and kept well-made up at all times; etc. In other words, all my needs were met and I didn't have to compromise my wishes with hospital policy.
I was pleased that I had an opportunity to send praises. Of course, like most organizations assessing their performances, this hospital already knows it's perfect.
But wait a minute. What's this? The stamped-addressed envelope will be going to South Bend, Indiana to a Survey Company. The hospital is in Brunswick, Georgia. The staff I praised so highly will not see the personal comments I wrote in.
This "fill in the dots" survey is just data to be entered and computed along with thousands of others in order to grade the hospital and the staff - perhaps for purposes of receiving Federal Grants, or to be highlighted in the brochures put out by the Chamber of Commerce.
A good old-fashioned thank you note that the nurses will tack above their work stations for all the world to see will do more good for the people who do the work than a cold-hearted evaluation.
They each have their place but I notice the printed survey goes on to ask questions I find inappropriate, and I penned in my opinion about that. This is the section headed ABOUT YOU. They asked education level with five possibilities.
Then the question: Are you of Spanish, Hispanic or Latino origin or descent? The multiple choices are: No, not Spanish, Hispanic or Latino origin.
Yes, Puerto Rican. Yes, Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano. Yes, Cuban. Yes, other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino.
The surveys next question: What is your race? White. Black or African American. Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. American Indian or Alaska Native.
The last question: What language do you mainly speak at home: English, Spanish, some other language (please print).
I doubt if my marginal comments will be seen by anyone who understands how inappropriate the questions are. Similar questions are on the United States Decennial Census but they are broader and ask ethnic heritage, not just our Spanish speaking population.
Census-taking has a broad look at our citizenry and is used for creating Congressional Districts, for one thing. These public records are used by industry to determine locations, etc. They are important. I recall working for the Census Bureau in Cincinnati during the 1990 collection of data. There was a family who would not respond to the questions. They were Native Americans and it took me 20 minutes on the telephone to convince the woman of the house why she should comply.
The first argument we were trained to use is family history, genealogy, children interested in their heritage, etc. "We have all that. We keep our own history and have it going back 400 years."
Other persuasive arguments followed but she couldn't be persuaded. I tried using city services and snowplows, power outages and school buses - all based on population.
Finally, I used a hypothetical example: "Suppose you lived on the same street as 17 other Native American families and none of these agrees to be counted, although you drive on the roads and walk on the sidewalks. There is one other family on the street, not Native American.
Your street may be full of potholes and cracked pavement but when the Department of Public Works gets a call and says "we'll be there tomorrow," and then looks at the record, they will see there is only one family on the street. They won't fire up their utility vehicles for one family. That street will go to the end of the list. How could he know there were 17 other families? Nobody ever counted them. Maybe this never happened, maybe it never will. But it could." She complied.
The questions on the hospital survey certainly come across as racist to me. It was surely designed by someone who does not know the correct terms. Luckily for those of us who aren't quite sure, most Hispanics don't care one way or the other if you use Latino or Hispanic. So also, are Asian and Oriental used interchangeably, although I learned a long time ago Asian is a person and Oriental is a rug. Cubans can just as easily be black or white and still Spanish-speaking Cubans.
Hispanic is not a race. If Hispanic is listed as a choice, Hispanics will check it. If it is not, they will check White, even if, as many Cuban natives are, jet black. Obviously, they are lumping all Spanish-speaking people together under one umbrella and calling them Hispanics. It makes as little sense as lumping all English-speaking people under one umbrella: Irish, English, Australian, South African, Scottish, Welsh, those from India when it was under British rule. We couldn't be more different.
But, we're also all alike in many ways: we don't want anyone to think we're like "them." And it doesn't matter who they are. I worked with Magdalena, my Mexican boss at the University of Pittsburgh. She used to laugh at the young Mexican men back home. "Oh, they couldn't wait to grow a mustache."
I thought of the Mexican actors I knew and, yes, they all had mustaches. "Why?" I said. "So that no one would think they were Indians, Indians can't grow facial hair." Yet, Native Americans are proud of not growing facial hair: "It means we are pure blooded. It's only when someone mates with a European that they grow facial hair." According to Magdalena, they'd say: "Why would I want to grow a mustache? Someone might mistake me for a Mexican."
You might say that racism in reverse is racial pride.