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A Tale of Two Promotores

Filed Under: Family, Featured, Health, Immigrants, Programs

Neither Concepción “Conchy” Cruz nor Jose Luis Monarca would have ever expected that their work would improve the lives of indigenous communities in San Francisco. As Promotores de Salud (Health Promoters) with IFR’s Indígena Health & Wellness Collaborative program (IHWC) in partnership with Asociación Mayab, Conchy and Jose Luis are doing just that. Responsible for recruiting and engaging indigenous families, and connecting them to vital health and social services, few others have the skills, experiences, and cultural competence to reach these often ignored members of our community.

Born and raised in Chiapas, Mexico to the Tzeltal Mayan community, Conchy’s first language is Tzeltal. Her second language is Ch’ol, the Mayan language of the Ch’ol people of Chiapas, and her third language is Spanish. Recognizing the strong bonds created through language and culture, Conchy’s trilingualism is put to good use as she builds community among the Ch’ol community in San Francisco. On a personal level, Conchy remembers feeling great discrimination and disrespect for her cultural traditions when she first came to the United States. When she found IHWC, she knew she wanted to do this work so others might have a more positive and welcoming experience.

Jose Luis’ journey parallels Conchy’s story. As a native of Puebla, Mexico, Jose Luis speaks Spanish and Nahuatl, the native language of the Nahuas who formed part of the Aztec Empire. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million Nahua still speak Nahuatl. When Jose Luis came to the United States, his youthful spirit adapted fairly well to the faster-paced American culture. Still, he yearned for his cultural community in the midst of an increasingly gentrified Mission district. It was then that Jose Luis learned of Asociacion Mayab, a San Francisco organization that works to preserve and promote the culture of Yucatec Mayans. At that time, IHWC was just getting off the ground. When the program began training and hiring promotores, Jose Luis quickly submitted his application.

Both Jose Luis and Conchy work to develop support systems for the indigenous communities who often face trauma, isolation, and numerous stressors. In addition to their outreach activities, Conchy and Jose Luis facilitate a support group twice a week for the indigenous community where participants discuss health, wellness, culture, and values using art as a method of therapeutic self-expression. Several individuals join the group in search of emotional and social support through their cultural traditions. The group builds participants’ resilience as they engage in building their new community here in San Francisco.

Jose Luis says his biggest achievement is seeing members of his group and the broader indigenous community find personal success. It is empowering to him—and a testament to his and Conchy’s commitment—to help transform a vulnerable community into self-sufficient individuals who can use their newfound knowledge of resources and wellbeing to support other newcomers. This confirms Jose Luis’ beliefs that together, communities can succeed—¡que si se puede!

For Conchy, working as a Promotora allows her to work within a community that values her culture, traditions and language—something she never imagined was possible outside of Chiapas. Moreover, Conchy has become a great organizer. Her growing leadership skills are helping to spread the word that everyone is equal and worth the same. Conchy’s motto is a saying from her Tzeltal people:

“Teme xjulat ya me ka wich ha wip yuun yax jajchat. Yuun Ka naj vanty hayat. O Vanty tekelat. Yuun Ka wich ha wip.”

English translation: “If you stumble, you get up stronger.”

 

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