21 February, 2024 9:48 AM

Jornal-Heroes: An Empowering Space for Indigenous Male Workers

Jornal Heroes men group photo

The needs of jornaleros/day laborers, particularly indigenous workers, have long been ignored. As immigrants who may be in this country alone or trying to support their families, they regularly face economic difficulties, labor exploitation, and a sense of displacement. Yet, few have gone beyond addressing their employment needs. Enter Jornal-Heroes, a program designed to support indigenous laborers as individuals and as men.

Jornal-Heroes had its origin in 2019 when Conchi Cruz, an experienced Promotora in IFR’s Indígena Health and Wellness (IHW) program, recognized the difficulties facing the Mayan-Tzeltal indigenous community in San Francisco. This community, particularly the men identified, had become isolated, needing navigation support as well as healthy outlets to express themselves. IHW jumped into action. They began reaching out to the Tzeltal on soccer fields, where they simultaneously attracted the attention of other laborers who didn’t identify themselves as indigenous. Little by little, IHW began to host meetings and seminars for interested attendees. What emerged was Jornal-Heroes. 

Carlos Izaguirre, Director of Indigena Health and Wellness, explains that Jornal-Heroes is a psychosocial support group that strives to address both the basic safety net needs as well as the often-overlooked emotional needs of jornaleros. Carlos shares that, initially, he received criticism for promoting this program. “People asked me why I was focusing on this group of men. We see the impacts of ignoring this population—they end up on the streets, where their circumstances only get worse. But what is being done to care about them?” 

Francisco Icala, IHW’s Case Manager and Coordinator of Jornal-Heroes, points out that indigenous day laborers’ distrust is a significant obstacle to their participation. The community has lived through a painful history of deception and labor exploitation that has left deep scars, making people hesitant to share personal information, even when seeking basic assistance. Working through these levels of oppression to earn the trust of indigenous immigrants is one of the many ways in which IHW excels. Despite their initial reluctance, Jornal-Heroes began to grow.

In 2019, less than 15 participants attended Jornal-Heroes’ monthly meetings. Searching new ways to adapt the program, make it more accessible and approachable, IHW transformed the format and even kept it alive during the pandemic by shifting to virtual sessions. Even with challenges posed by the digital divide and the need to accommodate participants' work schedules, Jornal-Heroes persevered. Today, an average of 50 men attend the weekly in-person sessions to obtain support and personal growth.

IHW is proud of the inclusive and participatory approach of Jornal-Heroes. Unlike other programs, it is primarily led by the participants themselves. Participants choose discussion topics themselves, which can range from disease prevention to personal growth through art. This approach empowers the jornaleros, giving them a much-needed sense of self-esteem and connection, and recognition.

Photo of Francisco Icala and Jose a participnat in the groupThat’s what happened with Jose, a jornalero who came to the group seeking assistance with food and housing after losing his job and struggling to support his family during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jose discovered a talent for painting, but more importantly, he discovered a place where he could escape all the pressure he was experiencing.

"Painting helps me relax, to find myself—from the body making art, playing with the assortment of stories and feelings, seeking the wellness that reflects on my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. There is only complete healing if we join our true selves, nature, and stories with all the medicines that help us to achieve wellness, in this case, art". Excerpt from: From the Shadow to the Spotlight, the Indigenous Male-Identified Needs By Carlos Izaguirre, Indígena Health & Wellness Program Director, IFR.

Art has proven to be a powerful tool for Jornal-Heroes, attracting indigenous men who may have initially felt insecure about engaging in activities such as painting. The creation of hand-painted bags, a recent Jornal-Heroes activity, has not only been successful in encouraging participation but also serves as a means to promote self-expression and challenge preconceived gender norms. Carlos also notes that these activities allow them to dismantle toxic masculinity and recognize that vulnerability and sensitivity are positive, valid, and healthy human qualities.

Jornal Heroes meeting and painting bags at 2919

Carlos and Francisco are quick to point out that Jornal-Heroes is also much more than a set of group activities. It is a safe place and moment where participants can explore difficult topics such as mental health and sexual identity without fear of judgment or discrimination. Stories of abuse and discrimination resonate among members, creating a sense of solidarity and mutual understanding.

Carlos has every reason to believe that their program can benefit not only indigenous communities but other marginalized groups as well. They envision Jornal-Heroes as a pilot program that can be expanded to offer comprehensive support to all men who face emotional, social, and economic challenges. He offers, “The key to Jornal-Heroes' success lies in its adaptable and human approach that places individuals at the center of the program's intervention.”

Unwilling to leave out or ignore segments of the indigenous community, Jornal-Heroes has been willing to stand out and insist that indigenous men be given support, respect, and a voice. In Jornal-Heroes, laborers may come to get practical support but may leave with a community that empowers them to face life's challenges with courage and dignity.

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