Embracing Culture and Community: My PHAST Experience in San Antonio


Wolfgang Bahr

2nd Year Dual Degree MPH Health Behavior Health Education and MSW Global Social Work Candidate

In May 2024, I joined PHAST to travel to San Antonio, Texas, for a project that turned out to be both a professional endeavor and a personal experience. As a Latino, being surrounded by Latinx culture in San Antonio, something I don’t often experience in Ann Arbor, was refreshing and heartwarming.

Our primary goal was to assess literacy levels and awareness regarding asthma in the Eastside community of San Antonio. From the moment we arrived, the community greeted us with their vibrant culture and warm hospitality. This trip wasn't just about collecting data but understanding and being part of a community.

We engaged in various activities and experiences throughout the week. We led a focus group with diverse participants organized by the South Central AHEC and the Ella Austin Center. Listening to their stories and health challenges made me realize the depth of asthma education issues that need addressing. Our key informant interview with Sulema Mendoza, a dedicated community health worker, provided us with a wealth of knowledge on effective strategies for asthma education tailored to the community's unique needs.

We also conducted a windshield tour of significant landmarks on the Eastside, revealing the area's beauty and challenges. Seeing the murals, sculptures, and community centers filled me with joy while also highlighting the pressing health inequities the residents face with only one community health center in the area.

The focus groups were particularly eye-opening. Participants shared their reliance on traditional remedies, like herbal teas and black coffee, to manage asthma symptoms. These discussions showed the importance of integrating culturally sensitive approaches in health education. One participant's thoughts, “Our community cannot breathe, and they don't know why or how to stop it,” illustrates the urgent need for asthma education programming for this community. Many community members expressed frustration with the healthcare system, noting a lack of time, preventative measures, and provider guidance. It was enlightening to hear how these systemic issues compounded the difficulties faced by the community, from inadequate insurance coverage to poor air quality in affordable housing.

This trip was more than just a project; it was a journey back to my cultural roots. It was a reminder of the rich heritage and the ongoing struggles faced by the Latino community. Contributing to such a meaningful cause was deeply fulfilling. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn, grow, and give back to a community that feels much like my home.

Our work in San Antonio reinforced my commitment to public health and highlighted the importance of culturally sensitive and community-driven efforts. I look forward to applying these insights and continuing to support initiatives that empower and uplift communities.