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Latinx Heritage Month: A Conversation with the Instituto Familiar de la Raza

Tonal honors Latinx Heritage Month by partnering with a multi-service community health organization.

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In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, Tonal and Coach Pablo have partnered with the Instituto Familiar de la Raza (IFR) — a multi-service community health organization for the Latino community in our home city of San Francisco. IFR integrates Latino cultural values and traditions into their programs, services, and interventions. 

Coach Pablo sat down with IFR’s Policy and Communications Director, Esperanza Macias, to discuss IFR’s mission, the effects of COVID-19 on the Latinx community, and how you can make an impact.

Hi Esperanza! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. Can you tell me more about IFR’s programs and services?

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about IFR. As a multi-service community health organization for the Latino community — and because our community is so diverse — we identify health broadly, as many things can impact our wellbeing.

IFR’s programs include: 

a) La Clínica is a bilingual and bicultural outpatient mental health clinic providing individual and family therapy, case management, and psychiatric services for children, youth, adults, and families. This program targets a range of behavioral health issues, including severe and persistent mental illness, and trauma-related conditions.

b) Early Intervention Program provides childcare and school-based mental health consultations to children aged 0 to 17, as well as their families and caregivers. 

c) Sí a la Vida provides LGBTQ Latinos with wellness, case management, youth development, HIV-related education, testing, and support, and PrEP navigation and support.

d) Casa Corazón offers an array of family support services including safety net support, early intervention, intensive case management, parent education and leadership, early literacy, and differential response. 

e) La Cultura Cura provides youth programming — utilizing a strengths-based model to reduce violence and trauma among youth, build resiliency by providing intensive and restorative case management, trauma recovery and healing services, cultural arts, and afterschool programming to Latino youth at higher risk.

f) Indígena Health and Wellness provides health promotion, early identification, culturally affirmative activities, and training for Health Promoters, to the growing population of Mayans and other indigenous communities in San Francisco.

In addition to these programs, IFR also collaborates with other organizations to provide complementary services for Latino subpopulations throughout the city.

Why is it important to focus attention on providing services to the Latino and Hispanic population?

It is important to provide services to the Latino community because of the disparities impacting them. Many Latinos face barriers related to language, immigrant status, income, education, racism, and xenophobia. These barriers often prohibit them from accessing necessary services. 

We have also found that some Latinos — particularly newcomers and Spanish-speaking Latinos — feel either unwelcomed by mainstream organizations or distrustful of them. At IFR, we are able to remove these barriers so clients do not feel judged or at risk, and can comfortably receive critical health and wellness services. 

Culture is used as a vehicle to promote wellness, to ground clients in the community, and increase their resilience and leadership in their communities. The lens through which our programs are offered go beyond the definition of cultural competence and reach clients and participants where they are. 

The Latino and Hispanic population is the second-largest ethnic group in the USA and among the fastest-growing segment of the population. Who makes up Latino and Hispanic ethnic groups?

Latinos are extremely diverse. We can be distinguished by our countries of origin. In San Francisco, there are large numbers of Latinos from Mexico, El Salvador, and Nicaragua in smaller sizes. Latinos in San Francisco also come from many other Central and South American countries. 

We can also be distinguished by the generations we have been in the United States. San Francisco Latinos include those who have lived here for four or more generations and those who arrived in this country less than a year ago. Additionally, there are more Latino children in San Francisco than any other race or ethnic group after Chinese American children. 

What are some of the main concerns when it comes to the health and wellness of the Latino and Hispanic population?

Latinos face significant health disparities that could be improved with a greater focus on fitness. We are first or second in rates of cardiovascular disease, obesity, risk of stroke, and hypertension. In addition, a large number of Latinos experience varying levels of trauma resulting from experiences of violence while en route to the United States, as well as domestic or other street violence. 

COVID-19 has greatly affected American citizens. How has the Latino and Hispanic community been uniquely affected by the pandemic?

In San Francisco, Latinos have the highest rates of infection. The rates of infection among Latinos has also proven to be high throughout the country. This is largely because many low-income Latinos work in higher-risk jobs. As janitors, restaurant cooks and waitstaff, grocery clerks, and other occupations that involve high public contact, they are often more at risk than white-collar workers who can work from home. 

Moreover, those who are very poor share housing with multiple families, leaving themselves at greater exposure to COVID-19. 

How can someone show up and support IFR as an ally to the Latino and Hispanic population?

Individuals can support IFR’s efforts to promote the health and well-being of the Latino community in several ways. IFR often has events for which we seek volunteers. We have been fortunate at times to have volunteers from different companies participate in these events as a team activity. We also welcome individual contributions to IFR to further our work. 

To show up for the San Francisco Latino community overall, we encourage individuals to continue to support San Francisco’s Sanctuary City status, support Prop. C — which allows immigrants to serve on city boards and commissions, and support youth and afterschool programs targeting communities of color. 

Hispanic and Latinos make up around 18% of the US population. What would you say is one of the major contributions to American culture?

There are many, but I will focus on Latino arts. The impact of various types of Latino-based music on American culture is undeniable. Whether it is salsa, reggaeton, cumbia, rumba, or ranchera — Latino-based rhythms are an essential part of American culture. The same can be said for Latino visual arts where murals have become iconic. They can convey a community spirit, depict a movement, honor a hero, or simply portray simple community activities. 

Being such a huge ethnic group, yet still a minority, what are some of the stereotypes that affect Latino and Hispanics in the USA?

Particularly in this current political climate, some still believe immigrants want things handed to them for free. Despite a willingness to work long hours with minimal pay under sometimes hazardous conditions, Latinos are perceived stereotypically as lazy and untrustworthy. After working with Latinos from various countries, we believe this stereotype is unfounded and biased. 

In a highly urban environment, low-income Latino communities have limited access to open areas for hiking or other affordable fitness activities. However, in general, we are active people and love movement, dancing, Zumba, and many other fitness-related activities. Our limitations seem to be based on geographic and financial accessibility. 

Here at Tonal, we celebrate the unique strength of each and every person. What do you define as the Latino and Hispanic community’s biggest strength?

Our resilience is our greatest strength. Our community has experienced tremendous challenges and have used those experiences to persevere. Many immigrants risked their lives to be here, and many US-born Latinos have experienced tremendous poverty. Despite facing great adversity, the Latino community has been resilient. 

For further information and to learn more about how you can be an ally to the Latino and Hispanic community, please visit for more information.