Cuban and Chinese Familial Health Traditions

Cuban Immigrant in the US

Maria Teresa Bravo grew up in Cuba. She jokes that she has always had very strong health, which is why she is not very well familiar with the Cuban health care system. However, when asked about the health traditions in Cuba, Sra Bravo affirmed that Cubans think about their health a lot.

First of all, there are a lot of doctors in present-day Cuba. They are part of a public system, which means they are paid from the state budget. The accessibility of health care is one of the main priorities of the socialist government. According to Campion and Morrissey (2013), in Cuba, “everybody has a family physician. Everything [in medical care] is free, totally free” (297). However, doctors receive relatively small salaries.

Sra Bravo was surprised when she heard for the first time that in the United States doctors were wealthy people. The public health system in Cuba also includes popularization of healthy lifestyles in various media, health education at schools, and preventive health care activities.

Sra Bravo thinks that such “extensive” health care is due to the Cuban cultural heritage that came from peasant communities. No-one back then wanted to be ill because when you are ill, you cannot work in the field, and other people have to look after you instead of working. That is why people took care of their health and took preventive measures not to get ill. Besides, in tight communities, when someone became ill, not only the family members could take care of him or her, but even neighbors. It was a manifestation of a collective mentality, which shaped the present-day socialist model of health care in Cuba.

Chinese Immigrant in the US

Chow often asks people to call him John because he thinks that Americans “butcher” the original pronunciation of his Chinese name. Chow is 30 years old. He was born in China and has been living in the United States since his family migrated 20 years ago.

When asked about the health traditions in the community of immigrants from China, Chow says that the image of the Chinese traditional medicine is very exaggerated in the popular culture. It is not like every Chinese family has a thousand of little jars with herbs and potions in them in their home. Chow says he actually knows very little about those ancient traditions. However, he was willing to talk about the hardship that Chinese immigrants go through in the US trying to adapt to the Western medicine.

Upon their arrival from China, Chow’s parents were reluctant to go to doctors. According to Kim and Keefe (2010), there are various barriers to health care among Asian Americans, which are not only about the culture differences, but also about the issues of language, access, and discrimination. Chow says his parents just did not trust American doctors. Instead, whenever Chow caught cold, his parents gave him cupping, which is placing hot bell jars on the back. The bell jars suck in the skin, leaving perfectly round purple bruises. Chow says that he hated these procedures because, at some point, he considered himself “an American kid” and though that cupping was barbarian.

According to Chow, the social change happens rather quickly among Chinese immigrants. Members of the community often become fully integrated into the American healthcare system. Most of them, however, still believe in cupping.


Campion, E. W., & Morrissey, S. (2013). A different model—Medical care in Cuba. New England Journal of Medicine, 368(4), 297-299.

Kim, W., & Keefe, R. H. (2010). Barriers to healthcare among Asian Americans. Social Work in Public Health, 25(3), 286-295.

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