Many think a statement like “Using protection during sexual activity can reduce the risk of HIV transmission” can be easily translated into Spanish, reading: "Utilizar protección durante la actividad sexual puede reducir el riesgo de transmisión del VIH."
But easy isn’t always what gets the job done. Carlos, the son of Bolivian immigrants, knows that language is more than words. It’s a connection to culture, identity, and understanding—especially in Hispanic and Latino communities.
While grammatically correct, that simple Spanish translation could cause confusion because it doesn’t take cultural sensitivities and nuances into account.
As a multicultural communications specialist, Carlos understands that discussing sexual activity overtly could cause some in the community to avoid the information altogether. Variations in dialects could make some words seem nonsensical. And there’s even limited literacy awareness that “VIH” is “HIV.” The original English message also emphasizes the word “risk,” a very severe word in Spanish that often elicits fear of something life-threatening or unpreventable.
These distinctions, while seemingly small, can be deadly. 44% of Hispanic Americans believe that language barriers and cultural differences are a major reason why the community has generally worse health outcomes than other U.S. populations. When public health information is not clear and culturally relevant, many are unable to access essential services that inform treatments and improve health results.
Carlos knows this firsthand. He grew up in America translating critical health information from English-speaking doctors, government websites, and nurse practitioners for his Spanish-speaking parents. Starting at a very young age, Carlos’ family trusted him to advise them on health topics and make major health decisions on their behalf. Today, that lived experience drives his work.
“For me, it’s about empowering people with the knowledge they need to take control of their health and well-being.”
At ICF, Carlos works with organizations across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to create and launch nationwide public health campaigns that inform and engage Hispanics and Latinos on topics that disproportionally impact the community, such as HIV, cancer, heart disease, and more. Working alongside health experts and disease specialists, Carlos helps develop website content and promotional materials that accurately and appropriately share information that can improve health outcomes.
More than a translator, Carlos is a writer. A communicator. And a bridge-builder. He turns health information into culturally relevant content that reflects the nuances of the Spanish language and the Hispanic and Latino cultures. He deconstructs phrases and applies cultural empathy, understanding, and respect to convey information in a way that resonates with the people who need it.
For him, this gap became an opportunity to give back to his community—making sure public health information makes sense to everyone.