Celebrate Dr. Estela Garcia's Graduation!

Our last newsletter reported the news that Dr. Garcia would be “graduating” from IFR at the end of this year. We’ve decided it should go out with a bang! After dedicating 35 incredible years at IFR, she deserves a BIG party.

Estela’s graduation bash will take place on Saturday, December 5th at 6:00 pm. As with most things in the past year, this will largely be virtual – but that doesn’t mean it won’t be all that you’d expect from IFR. The only difference: you provide your food and drink; then, sit back and we’ll do the rest.

You can still get involved. We have a variety of tickets at different prices that offer you an opportunity to send Estela a video or written message. They’ll get included in Estela’s yearbook, which will compile everyone’s good wishes as she embarks on her new journey, and/or in the progam that evening.

Get your tickets now, and join us for a great celebration of Dr. Garcia’s many community contributions. Tickets can be purchased here.

If you have any questions or are interested in sponsorship opportunities, contact Noris Chavarria at [email protected].

See you on December 5th!

A Tribute to Latino Heritage Month

This past month, IFR did its part to recognize the rich talent, energy, commitment and beauty in our community. On Pa’delante, IFR’s policy/advocacy page, we honored a different amazing person from the past or present (or mythical) who has enriched our community.

This year, we recognized a tireless and exuberant Latina kindergarten teacher, a take-no-prisoners community leader, a doctor who has expanded our awareness and understanding of the Indigena community in San Francisco, a genderqueer artist whose talent knows no bounds, and a Latina lesbian who knows the workings of San Francisco City Hall better than anyone on the planet.

Here’s a short recap…

Roberto Hernandez, known by those "in the know" as the Mayor of the Mission, is also our very own Latino MacGyver. The way he took a phone, a clip board, a few friends, and a lot of love to build the Mission Food Hub is equal parts heartwarming and heroic. Tonight, there are thousands of Mission District children and families that won’t go hungry because of Roberto. Check out his story here

If you get the chance to meet Araceli Leon, she will blow you away. For REAL! This teacher takes kindergarten to a whole new level. She is beloved by her students and their parents because of the tremendous care and thought she puts into each part of the education experience. An admitted overachiever, we happen to know that Araceli is also an amazing musician - oh, and did we forget to mention, she’s also the president of LATA, the Latin American Teachers Association. Read her story here.  

Tina Valentin Aguirre has likely had 9 lives, and has done amazing things with each one of them. An artist, writer, poet, filmmaker, curator, HIV/AIDS activist, cultural worker, and mentor, their contributions are etched in dozens of reading rooms, murals, and queer Latinx poetry spaces. For us at Pa'delante, Tina’s greatest offering has to be the magic she sees and honors in others. Their story is profound in its commitment to maintaining fearless resilience. You can read their story here

Speaking of magic, few doctors have done what Dr. Alberto Perez has. He helped San Francisco see and appreciate the Indígena community living here. More important, he helped the Indígena of San Francisco find each other. As a result of his work, we have all enjoyed honoring and celebrating the customs, traditions, values, and beauty of the Indígena community. Take a look at Alberto’s story here.  

As leaders, all of honorees also know how to have fun. So we gave each of them the same Quick Fire challenge. Here's what they said:

What is your favorite meal?
Alberto: cochinita pibil
Roberto: nacatamales
Araceli: enchiladas de mole con pollo
Tina: carnitas
(Our kind of people!)

What's your favorite song of all time?
Alberto: Nicte-ha (a traditional Mayan song)
Roberto: Black Magic Woman/Santana
Araceli: Como Fue/Beny More
Tina: When Doves Cry
(Eclectic, but good taste, no?)

If we made a movie of your life, who would you want to play you?
Alberto: Diego Luna
Roberto: Benjamin Bratt
Araceli: Karrie Martin (Gentefied)
Tina: Guillermo de la Cruz (What We Do in the Shadows)
(Pa'delante sees in their future: "I'd like to thank the Academy...")

Who is your favorite hero, past or present?
Alberto: Jacinto Canek & Gaspar Yanga
Roberto: Cesar Chavez
Araceli: My parents, for their commitment to community and unconditional love
Tina: my mom, for her positivity and the glow about her
(A big awwwww to each of them)

What is your favorite pastime?
Alberto: Spending time with my 3 kids
Roberto: Reading a book while on a floatie in the water in Calistoga
Araceli: Cooking
Tina: Watching TV and chilling out
(We'd hang out with these incredible human beings any day of the week, but Roberto had us at floatie!)

Happy Latino Heritage Month to all of our honorees! You are all community stars. You have all deserved to engage in your favorite pastime, eating your favorite food, listening to your favorite songs, and planning your next amazing feats!

Vote Yes on Proposition C!

Last week on October 12, San Francisco celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day. It is a great opportunity to consider the unique cultures and contributions of the Indígena, including immigrants. One of the best ways you can show your support for immigrants is to VOTE YES ON PROP. C.

Proposition C will allow immigrants to serve on San Francisco’s various boards and commissions. They will participate in the same application and review process as all other interested San Franciscans.

Here’s why we believe this is a just, equitable, and reasonable measure.

Did you know immigrants bring in far more revenue than they cost? A 2014 article by Dan Kosten indicates that immigrants paid over $223 billion in federal taxes, and over $104 billion in state and local taxes. Immigrants are considered primary drivers in the agricultural, hospitality, tourism, and restaurant industries.

While immigrants don’t see a penny of what they contribute in Social Security and Medicare, San Francisco has a history of recognizing immigrant contributions. That’s why we are a Sanctuary City, why Healthy San Francisco is open to all who meet low income requirements, and why immigrants can vote in school board races. San Francisco doesn’t fear or denigrate diversity; we embrace and value it. We recognize our policies must reflect these values.

These policies lay a foundation of inclusion and equity, one of San Francisco’s greatest legacies. Immigrants’ taxes contribute to schools, police and fire, health care, and programs of all types throughout San Francisco. To date, non-citizens have had no voice in how their vast tax contributions are used or how San Francisco’s many programs impact their communities. This can’t be where our commitment to equity ends.

In this election, Proposition C allows immigrants to have a true voice in the policies impacting them and for which they pay taxes. The proposition would allow immigrants to serve on San Francisco boards and commissions, a right currently limited to citizens. This is a policy that is long overdue!

Does it make sense that non-citizens can’t be appointed to the Immigrant Rights Commission? Given the disparate impact of COVID-19 on Latinos, can you believe the wealth of information immigrants could contribute to the Health Commission, the Small Business Commission, or the Food Security Task Force? Wouldn’t it be nice to know and incorporate immigrant voices on the Park & Rec Commission, the Children and Families First Commission, and the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee?

Boards and commissions are one of the best ways for committed members of the public to contribute to their community, neighborhood and city. It is how interested citizens deepen their knowledge about issues they care about. Prop. C allows immigrants to participate in this process, and in so doing, they expand the discourse for all San Franciscans.

Immigrants contribute money through their taxes, but seek to also contribute their voices and ideas. Their voices enrich the public dialogue, bring new voices to the table that San Franciscans have demonstrated, through their votes, we care about. The opinions, concerns, and perspectives of immigrants matter. They are our neighbors, friends, and fellow workers. We can honor their contributions by giving them a true voice and seat at the table.

Support equity for immigrants!
Support Prop. C!

A Baton Will Soon Be Passed

Many have recently learned that IFR’s Executive Director, Dr. Estela Garcia, will “graduate” from IFR at the end of 2020. Just the mention of Estela’s departure sent ripples through the Latino community and beyond. Her 35-year tenure at IFR, with 15 of those years as the agency’s second Executive Director in over 40 years, Estela’s imprint on the San Francisco Chicanx/Latinx/Indigena community is incredibly deep and undeniably lasting.

When Estela joined IFR, the organization had one address with approximately 12 employees. Today, IFR staff exceeds 100 people who work in its main building and 5 satellite venues. Under Estela’s leadership, IFR achieved ownership of its building at 2919 Mission Street and the agency evolved into a multi-service organization, expanding services to include Indigena Health & Wellness, Roadmap to Peace, and SPARK. This is a minimalist view of Estela’s accomplishments. If we were to list the numerous collaborative bodies, kitchen cabinets, coalitions, and community efforts in which Estela has played a key role, it would require pages…and pages…and pages.

Perhaps more significant than her organizational achievements is Estela’s community presence. She is respected as a wise elder, a spiritual mentor, and a kind-hearted counselor. Whether it was in response to community unrest, the shooting of a young Latino, or the need to advocate for funding for our community, Estela’s humble tone of voice, gentle words, and clarity of purpose helped resolve conflicts, rebuilt bridges, and restored optimism.

Estela' contributions to IFR and the Latino community are immeasurable. The organization and the community are forever grateful and stronger because of her leadership.

Which brings us to the leader who will succeed Estela. IFR's Board of Directors initiated a succession planning process in 2018 that was intended to identify a leader would would preserve the agency's legacy while introducing innovation needed to meet today's new challenges. We are thrilled with the results.

IFR is excited to have Gloria Romero assume the role of Executive Director in January 2021. Having worked in the San Francisco Latinx community for 25 years, Gloria has learned from many of the community veteranos, including Estela. She is earnest, has tremendous nonprofit and program experience, and exudes authenticity.

As the current Director of the Roadmap to Peace Initiative, Gloria is already familiar with IFR’s programs, philosophical tenets, and cultural approach to health and wellness. Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, Gloria spent her childhood years living in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Gloria is one of five girls born to Mexican parents. Her life trajectory is, in itself, a beautiful depiction of how community can indeed groom new leaders.

Attending San Francisco State, Gloria completed her undergraduate degree in Social Work, with a minor in Women’s Health. She readily attributes her desire to give back to her mother who always sought ways to help those in need. Upon leaving college, Gloria interned at the Real Alternatives Project (RAP) where Estela’s partner, Roban San Miguel, served as her supervisor. Immersed in community work, RAP hired Gloria upon completion of her internship where she worked at Casa de los Jovenes. IFR was a collaborative agency working with RAP. It was around that time that Gloria first learned about IFR.

When RAP closed, its various programs and services were split up in a heartbreaking community process. Hoping that something would arise to keep RAP alive, many, including Gloria, worked without pay for a while. When it was clear that RAP would be closing, various community organizations came forward to continue RAP programs and hire many of their staff.

When Gloria left RAP, she went to work at Mission Girls, one of RAP’s partner agencies, to implement its afterschool and summer program. Eventually, it became clear that the YWCA wasn’t the right home for Mission Girls, and Mission Neighborhood Centers (MNC) stepped up to house the program. For the next 16 years, Gloria served the community, first as its Girls Services Director, and later as its Youth and Family Services Director. 

In her role at MNC, Gloria was a natural to participate in the development of Roadmap to Peace. She had participated in months of planning and was a member of the Steering Committee. So, when she was ready to move to the next chapter of her life, Gloria applied for, and was hired as RTP’s Initiative Director, which is where she has been for the last three years. Because the RTP Initiative staff is housed under IFR, she has become well versed in IFR’s vision, mission, principles, and goals.

Gloria fully understands the tremendous shoes she has been entrusted to fill: “IFR’s legacy, and the legacy of Concha and Estela, are so special that it excites and humbles me all at the same time. So many people invested in me to develop my leadership and skills to help me get to this place. Through a special program that MNC was affiliated with, they paid for me to go to graduate school to get my Master’s degree in Public Administration. Roban gave me an immersion course in community work, and these six months learning from Estela is priceless.”

We are all confident that the community’s tremendous investment is Gloria will serve IFR well.

Her story is already a success for which we can all be proud.

Only one other time has IFR’s leadership baton been passed from one person to the next. In an organization where tradition, ceremony, and cultura are central, Estela’s graduation and Gloria’s new role hold great meaning.

Congratulations Estela and Gloria! We are happy for you both!

Black Lives Matter

IFR offers its sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and to those who have been harmed since their death for exercising their right to protest. Born from the struggle to serve our community with dignity and respect, IFR has never been silent about injustice, inequities, or our solidarity with all communities of color. As an organization deeply committed to healing and empowering individuals, families, and communities, we acknowledge the importance of naming racism, in all its manifestations, as the greatest acts of violence and threat to the lives of Black/ African Americans. We share in the heartbreak and righteous anger of our Black/ African American siblings who have sought justice for far too many and for far too long.

We share a legacy of nonviolent activism and protest for civil rights with the Black/ African American community. It is a powerful tool in our efforts to create social change. Whether in person or in spirit, many of us at IFR marched with the Black/ African American community to stand in solidarity against the actions that led to George Floyd’s death and the many that preceded him.

We encourage the legitimate expression of free speech and nonviolent protest; it is our right and responsibility to advocate for community justice. The courage to speak out, name and take actions to pursue justice is the responsibility of everyone from ” La Casa a la Calle,” from our homes to the street. Moreover, we cannot allow the divisive efforts of others to undercut our focus on George Floyd’s death and the Black/ African American community’s legitimate demand for justice.

To our Black/ African American siblings, we are with you. We will continue to honor the life of George Floyd with a renewed commitment to fight for justice and social change.

Mastering Our Resilience - An interview with German Walteros

Throughout IFR’s history, few people have left as lasting a thumbprint on IFR’s programs as Associate Director, German Walteros. Working behind the scenes since 1983, his contributions are everywhere. Given his extensive work in community mental health, we sought out his thoughts on Latinos, COVID-19, and mental health. 

Many of us have learned about the high rates of infection in San Francisco, as well as in other parts of the country. This has created great concern and fear for many in the community. German’s broad perspective puts this in logical context: “Let me start with one simple truth: this virus doesn’t discriminate; society does. There isn’t any genetic reason that makes Latinos more susceptible to COVID-19. If there were social and economic disparities before, they will become magnified during a public health crisis. When you are poor, trying to find work, living with other families to save money – no matter who you are – you face increased risks.”

The same holds true for the mental health impacts on Latinos during this time. Ironically, we just ended mental health month in May. Yet, the well-being of Latinos is worsened as a result of COVID-19. Isolation and fear over how to earn a living have led to increased depression and anxiety among Latinos, particularly immigrants. As German explains: “As adults, we expect to have a certain level of mastery over our lives, which gives us a sense of predictability. But if I don’t know what will happen tomorrow morning – if I will have a job, or be able to feed my family – I no longer feel mastery or predictability in my life. This insecurity leads to increased anxiety. Our regular coping mechanisms don’t work, and must be strengthened.”

German further explains how current circumstances can lead to depression. “Depression is often about loss and grief. We have lost our access to our celebrations, community traditions, and interactions with friends and family. As a result, our community is grieving.” 

This is where IFR comes in to help participants develop new coping mechanisms to adapt to this new reality. This work is more challenging than it may appear due to past trauma experienced by many in our community. “Crisis triggers past historical and complex trauma,” offers German. “Whether it’s a sense of loss, lack of mastery or trauma associated with an immigrant’s journey, poverty, or living under a repressive government, our community has a long history of losses.”

Just as the social impacts and health disparities facing Latinos seem overwhelming, German displays one of his superpowers to explain things in a clear and straightforward way. “Trauma is caused by unhealthy relationships, but it’s also relationships that heal trauma.” 

Herein lies our solution. The power to heal trauma is evident in our ability as a community to come together. It is evident in our ability to step up and create masks (such as those sewn by Indigena Health and Wellness) for those who had none, outreach (such as that provided by Si a la Vida) to those ignored and forgotten, and lunches (such as those by Casa Corazon) for families in need. It is community resilience. 

Germán adds, “Despite ongoing hardships, I’ve heard las señoras say, ‘We’ve been here before, and we’ll get through it again.’ Memories of overcoming trauma are ingrained in people. It is one of our collective coping mechanisms. It is part of our past struggles and helps us cope with current ones. Put simply, we shall overcome.”

Stepping Up & Reaching Out - Si a la Vida engages the disenfranchised

Over the years, Si a la Vida has cultivated an incredible expertise in addressing HIV and creative wellness programs for the LGBTQ Latinx community. Their successes have encompassed prevention, education, and outreach efforts. Since these are also key areas of expertise required during a pandemic, it wasn’t surprising that the San Francisco Dept. of Public Health asked them to undertake outreach to the Latino community.  

As has often been the case, outreach was happening in the Mission but wasn’t coordinated or reaching those most in need. At the same time, everyone saw day laborers congregating as they sought work, and noticed that they weren’t practicing social distancing. It was clear that outreach and education weren’t reaching them. 

HIV education and outreach to the LGBTQ Latinx community isn’t as different from outreach to day laborers around COVID-19 as one might expect. As Si a la Vida Program Director Rafael “Rafa” Velazquez stated: “Trust, nonjudgmental and harm reduction principles apply to both populations. It’s about understanding the context in which they live.”

It’s true; their contexts are different. Rafa noted that when his team conducted HIV prevention outreach in a bar or club, people recognized them as outreach workers and understood their relationship. Ironically, someday laborers drink as a way of coping with their circumstances. They weren’t sure whether to trust this group of people reaching out to them. 

Rafa attributes this to a long history of neglect around issues impacting day laborers. “There is considerable discussion around homelessness in San Francisco, but day laborers have been missing from these conversations,” adds Rafa. “While they are not always homeless, day laborers are certainly marginally housed. Under this pandemic, they have lost work, they’ve probably lost housing, and don’t know how to navigate services for the homeless.”

Si a la Vida’s success with day laborers has gone deeper than COVID-19 outreach. “It is about recognizing them as members of our community. Most day laborers are not gay-identified. But it’s like speaking with an uncle or a cousin, not someone unfamiliar to us. We see them as people.” 

For weeks, Rafa and his team set out each day with information, occasional hot lunches provided by Casa Corazóón, and masks from Indigena Health and Wellness. “Just like with anyone else, day laborers want to know how to be part of the solution to COVID-19, but no one has taken the time to show them how they fit into it,” Rafa shares. “We show them how to practice social distancing, and share how they are helping to flatten the curve to control the virus sooner. Not only is this true, but it also becomes a reference point to integrate day laborers into the rest of the community.  They are an equal part of the solution.”

Healing in the times of COVID-19 - Indigena Health & Wellness does it part

Among the most popular cultural activities that Indígena’s senoras love is to come together to utilize traditional sewing skills. Not only does this help reduce isolation by bringing them together; it is an opportunity to maintain cultural traditions that provide healing and connection. But what does a program that serves among the most vulnerable and isolated in San Francisco do when they can’t bring them together to engage in these healing traditions? As it turns out, the answer is the same: they sew!

The story begins with Jose Luis, one of Indígena’s Promotores. He had an idea to sew a mask for employees in his partner’s auto shop. Deconstructing a standard blue mask, he created a pattern and made a mask. This effort evolved through multiple prototypes, incorporating CDC’s regulations. 

Enter Conchi, another Promotora, who created her own prototype. They conceived to integrate the masks into Indígena’s program. The first one was complete about two weeks into San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order. Soon thereafter, all of Indígena’s staff wanted to participate in the mask-making effort. One person obtained donations of cloth and elastic bands, another sewed the mask, and another added elastic bands. 

The new masks are being delivered to Indígena participants and day laborers, as well as IFR outreach staff.  Looking to the Super Winiketik (Supermen), an organized group of day laborers, outreach began by word of mouth. As Indígena Health & Wellness Program Manager Julia Orellana notes: “We see that day laborers need and want to work. They are told to stay inside, but not how to survive [this pandemic].”

As the project evolved, it became an opportunity to educate day laborers on how to stay safe. Small packets of detergent and information were handed out with each mask, as well as how to contact Indígena for additional support. 

Inspired by this work, Indígena Case Manager Carlos Izaguirre adds: “Everyone speaks about resilience. Yet, our Promotores saw a small piece of fabric and decided that they could make something valuable for the community. That’s amazing.”

To date, approximately 220 masks have been completed and distributed, and Indígena shows no sign of stopping. 

Julia summed it up best: “Sewing is an intervention to practice cultural traditions where the abuelitas and señoras come together. It isn’t always valued or respected. Yet, in multiple ways, sewing has proven itself to be community-building and life-saving. “ 

This pandemic is no different. 

Letter from the Executive Director

May this message reach you all in the best of health and strength of spirit. In response to the shelter-in-place order, Instituto Familiar IFR continues to provide its full range of services through teleservices, and remains accessible and connected to the community.

A central office number, 415-229-0500 is in place to provide access to an Officer of the Day for crisis or psychiatric services, and to prioritize face-to-face visits for new and current clients. Face-to-face visits must first be authorized by a supervisor and will follow DPH guidelines to minimize COVID-19 exposure. These services will be accessible through our central office at 2919 Mission Street, San Francisco by appointment only.

The shared goals of the Department of Public Health/Community Behavioral Health Division and IFR mental health services are intended to reduce emergency room visits and hospitalizations among community members, continue our mission to provide social and emotional support and share timely and reliable public health messaging to maximize health and safety. All IFR programs integrate public health messaging in routine calls to program participants, share resources with other providers in our networks, and use social media platforms that are age-appropriate to serve multigenerational families of origin and chosen families/friends.

As we all continue efforts to support the health and wellness of our communities, IFR remains committed as a healing institution to be accessible and responsive to community needs. I strongly believe and trust that, through our collective efforts, we will see the leveling of COVID-19 in the coming weeks and move forward, transformed but not defeated by this pandemic. It is my hope that this message will help answer any questions you have. We will share this through social media as well to support clients during this public health crisis.

On behalf of the Board, staff, volunteers, and the community members we serve thank you all for your devotion to all communities.

In health and community,
Estela Reyes Garcia
Executive Director

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