Tibisay Zea, a reporter for GBH’s and PRX’s The World, is host of GBH News’ new Spanish-language program “Salud,” produced in partnership with El Planeta and Harvard Medical School. It airs Saturday mornings at 9:30am on GBH 89.7 and is available as a podcast. Focusing on health topics affecting Hispanics and Latino/a/e/x in the U.S., episodes will cover human longevity, Alzheimer's disease, nutrition, diabetes, long COVID, infertility and more. The podcast has had more than 16,000 downloads and has reached more than 9,000 listeners. And the audio app NPR One promoted the show on its podcast homepage. The season's last episode airs on December 10.
“This podcast allows us to super-serve the local and national Hispanic communities with in-depth stories of significant importance to their health and well-being,” said Pam Johnston, general manager for news at GBH. “Bringing these stories to the audience in their native language reflects our deep commitment to engage with a broad and growing range of listeners.
We asked Zea to tell us about the program’s genesis and importance.
Who had the idea for “Salud”?
During the pandemic, I was working for El Planeta, a Spanish newspaper based in Boston, and we noticed that misinformation in Spanish was a serious problem. We found that members of our Hispanic community in Chelsea and Lawrence, where the pandemic hit very hard, were getting wrong information on Facebook or WhatsApp groups. I applied for a grant from the International Center for Journalists to produce a pilot podcast. With El Planeta we formed a partnership with the Office for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Partnership at Harvard Medical School and found the support of the Boston Public Health Commission. We approached GBH, which agreed to lend its production facilities and distribution channels to the program.
Why is it important to focus on the Hispanic population in particular?
The U.S. has the second largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, with more than 40 million people speaking Spanish at home. In Boston, about 17 percent of the population speaks Spanish.
Where did you grow up?
I was raised in Venezuela and I studied journalism there. I got a scholarship to go to Spain to do a master's degree in multimedia journalism and lived there for three years. I worked for one of the biggest Spanish newspapers in Spain and moved to the U.S. as an adult. I learned to speak English here in this country.
What impact do you hope that “Salud” has?
I think it is a public service for the Spanish-speaking community. Health is a topic that is very important for our community. Immigrants come to this country to work, and many work two or three jobs, they work at odd hours, or do difficult jobs that nobody else wants to do. That has a huge toll on their health. But it can be difficult to find reliable information in Spanish about health care, prevention and lifestyle. Our goal is to help them understand how to take care of themselves and to connect them with the latest research.
What have you learned while making “Salud” podcast episodes?
I've learned a lot. For example, there is the “Hispanic paradox,” which is very interesting: Latina women have the highest life expectancy in the U.S. despite our socioeconomic disadvantages. Researchers have found that it has to do with many things — but one of them is our culture and our social habits. We tend to be more social than other cultures — we like to be surrounded by people. We express love very easily, compared to people who are more isolated. That has had a positive impact on our health.
How is “Salud” different than other podcasts?
We don’t just feature experts; we tell real stories of Latino immigrants. It’s a way for listeners to engage because they can relate to the stories. When you hear someone who speaks Spanish, who is also an immigrant, you feel a connection. I think that's very powerful.