Ma’am to Mija

My group and I are really taken aback by the positive reception of our study by the community.  It seems that people are really pleased to have the opportunity to talk about their computer literacy and are excited about the possibility of patient portals. I, myself, had one interaction with a participant that really stuck out.

When I first called the participant from the waiting room, he appeared a bit anxious. Each statement he directed towards me was prefaced with ma’am. Ma’am? What a sterile term. That title alone told me so much about the way that he viewed me—I was unfamiliar, clinical, someone that necessitated the use of formalities.

During the interview, I did my best to help him feel comfortable. I tried to speak to him in a way that conveyed my respect and gratitude for his participation. Apparently, I did something right. By the end of this 20-minute interview he wasn’t addressing me as ma’am anymore; in the second half of this interview, he called me mija.

Mija. It’s a slang term derived from Spanish. Strictly translated, it means “my daughter,” but it isn’t always used literally. It is a common term of endearment that you use to address someone younger than you.  If someone calls you mija, it is a sign of trust and closeness, regardless of blood relation.

Considering this connotation, it really meant a lot to be referred to in this manner…especially considering where the interview started. This man came into the interview tense and apprehensive, addressing me strictly as ma’am. Just twenty minutes later, he used this familiar term and really seemed to trust me and appreciate the time I spent with him. He thanked me several times. Unsolicited, he told me that “people realize the way you talk to them and when you respect them.” He told me that he hoped people like me would be around to help when the clinic introduces the new patient portal that we are testing.

Accomplishing this transition from ma’am to mija really boosted my confidence as an interviewer. It’s truly gratifying to have these indicators from our participants that my purpose for being here is apparent. My purpose in coming to Texas—and working in public health, in general—is to serve others and to act as a trusted resource to the community. This interview was really validating.  I can’t wait to meet with more participants tomorrow.

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