August 4, 2022

5 Questions with Doris Karpeh-Diaz of Centro De Amigos

5 Questions with Doris Karpeh-Diaz of Centro De Amigos

Doris Karpeh-Diaz is Director at Centro De Amigos, LLC, a Latino-focused Social Adult Day Services program.

Doris Karpeh-Diaz

In June, you presented a session at the Aging Concerns Unite Us conference describing the difference between "Hispanic" and "Latino." These identifiers have two different meanings. Can you explain?

Latino, quite literally, means someone from Latin America (but this area includes Brazil) and Hispanic means a person from a country that speaks mostly Spanish (but Spain is in Europe, so they’re culturally European). There are also many differences between Hispanics, depending upon the person’s country of origin or colonial heritage. Some of the most obvious differences are food and music preferences. Also, the actual words used to describe persons, places, actions, and things can vary immensely. These are only two of various identifiers used by people who predominantly speak Spanish in this country, and they are all used interchangeably.  

What about Latinx? What is the origin of this term, and when is it used?

Latinx is a fairly recent term used to describe people who are of, or can relate to, Latin American origin or descent. It is intended as a gender-neutral or nonbinary term, but it isn’t as widely accepted by the Spanish-speaking community because, as per Wikipedia, “the term does not follow traditional grammar, is difficult to pronounce, and is disrespectful toward conventional Spanish.” Honestly, the letter ‘X’ is barely used in the Spanish language at all because it does create a bit of a tongue-twister when annunciating. Generally speaking, the term has not been embraced by the senior Spanish-speaking community that we serve.

Are there any other cultural differences that aging services providers should be aware of when engaging with individuals who identify as Hispanic, Latino, or Latinx?

Since only 35 percent of communication is verbal, non-verbal cues, such as facial expression, tone, eye-contact, posture and movements will communicate your intention better than any language translator. To some Latinos, lack of touch, eye contact or directness could be interpreted as being cold or distant – but to Hispanics from South America, it may be just the opposite.

Like many providers know, communication is complicated. Head nodding does not necessarily signify agreement; it may signal only active listening. Your silence may more likely be construed as a sign of not understanding or disagreement rather than a sign of satisfaction at the end of a conversation. Let’s not forget that the custom of greeting each other with a kiss – once on the cheek – is a vital sign of familiarity and trust. I have to admit that sometimes it’s almost an unconscious behavior, but the significance is undeniable. And lastly, it helps providers to remember that most immigrants are still experiencing the trauma of migration and so any connection to their home county might be a source of comfort in this new, scary world.

Tell us about Centro De Amigos, the services it provides, and what it uniquely offers the community?

Quite simply, we ‘are’ the community we serve – that’s what makes us unique. More than just translate, we actually communicate.

Centro De Amigos is a Social Adult Day Center (SADC) that provides a culturally and linguistically specific (CLAS) day program focused on the needs of the Spanish-speaking community of Rockland County, NY. From the moment you enter, you’re immersed in the Latino sabor (taste, flavor). The smell of fresh bread and coffee, the tropical colors, the sultry music, the warm people…all trigger feelings of home. We have contracts with several Managed Long Term Care companies and the Rockland County Office for the Aging. Our service plans are centered on the social determinants of health. This community faces many invisible barriers to health care access; so our connection enables us to identify those barriers and bridge the connection of our members to these services. We serve as a resource for respite, education and, simply, amistad (friendship).

Since we have developed a connection with seniors and caregivers in a supportive role, we have now been able to bring services directly to the community through hosted collaborations like:

  • Participating in an ongoing Spanish-language demonstration “study” project called the “ADS Plus Program,” led by professionals from Johns Hopkins University and local staff.
  • Offering a home care training program for informal caregivers with the support of The Rockland County Department of Economic Development and Tourism. This free home health aide certification class was delivered 100 percent in Spanish, and the first class was 100 percent successful in adding new and “available” trained workers to the much-needed pool of caregivers. It was a community effort with local businesses paying for books and uniforms, local restaurants providing free lunch, and Centro de Amigos providing the location at no cost. 
  • Introducing the local community to the terms “social determinants of health” and “person-centered care planning” through a cohort targeting Spanish-speaking residents of Haverstraw (which is almost 70 percent Hispanic). Working in conjunction with the Theories University, The Learning Institute, and New York State Department of Health, this effort aims to make these concepts and terminology more culturally appropriate and relatable to the experiences of the participants, so that they can share the importance of understanding how these terms intersect with their quality of life.
  • An ongoing weekly COVID vaccination pop-up at the Center with City Drug Pharmacy (every Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m.). Through this effort, over 5,500 vaccines have been given out so far. At the start of vaccine availability, we saw the incredible need for health care navigation support, with hundreds of calls and visits to the Center from documented and undocumented persons seeking information and access to vaccines. Recognizing the difficulty of vaccine access for people with limited language proficiency in English and Spanish, we sourced vaccine providers and handed out pamphlets and educational materials. This effort continues to date.
  • We utilize all social media platforms that are familiar to this community and have developed an online relationship with thousands of viewers in our area. We have daily LIVE broadcasts from the center and weekly educational video classes through Facebook live, YouTube, Zoom, the Virtual Senior Center and on Jaypad. We have a Zoom room that enables us to provide daily exercises and activities to our members that may not be able to attend the Center's program in person. 

We – as Centro – want to educate, harmonize and raise the bar on senior services for Latinos in New York.  We can do this by learning more about our community’s needs and, in collaboration with health care providers, learn and grow as a more inclusive SADC industry to raise that bar as high as it can go. 

What resources are available for aging services providers who want to learn more about ways of effectively serving Hispanic, Latino/Latinx populations?  

Think Cultural Health is an Office of Minority Health initiative that provides information, continuing education opportunities, and resources for health professionals to learn about and implement culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLAS) and the national CLAS Standards.

But remember, honesty is a value shared amongst all people. So humble apologies for miscommunications go a long way and you’ll find that once you reach that soul-to-soul connection with a Hispanic/Latino client, the trust is lifelong.

Additionally, if you want to experience this flavor for yourself – check us out at and come visit us in person!  We’ll be waiting for you with a Cafecito and lots, lots, lots of love.