Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nacho’s Legacy in the San Francisco Bay Area

I knew of Ignacio Martín-Baró’s work long before I invited him to a conference on Central American refugees in the spring of 1988. It was his first visit to the San Francisco Bay Area. Having “Nacho” for a week in my house was a very special and transformative experience. Three of my cousins of were among his students of Psychology at UCA. One of them was brutally murdered when she was seven months pregnant. 
Ignacio Martín-Baró was “Nacho” to many of us who knew him, who love him and miss him.  At at the time of his assassination, he was the vice rector Central American University “Jose Simeon Cañas” (UCA, in Spanish). The University of Central America played a leading role in the effort to resolve El Salvador’s decades-long civil war. Jesuit faculty members, who often spoke out against human rights abuses, were accused by the government and the military of providing intellectual support for the FMLN rebel uprising.
Ignacio Martín-Baró, a Spanish-born Salvadoran citizen, at age 50 was best known as an analyst of national and regional affairs and as the founder and director of the Public Opinion Institute, a highly respected polling organization.  He was also a writer, teacher, and a pastor. He was killed along with five other Jesuit priests and two women on November 16, 1989. He was killed by a military battalion that had just returned form military training at the School Of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. It was not the first assassination of church leaders: 18 Catholic priests, including Father Rutilio Grande and Archbishop Oscar Romero, and four North American churchwomen, had been killed in El Salvador since the late 1970s - more than any other nation in the world.
Martín-Baró obtained his PhD at the University of Chicago, and visited the United States many times. He published eleven books and a long list of articles in Latin America and the US. His work dealt with the many issues connected with the field of social psychology. Most of his life was dedicated to ending injustice and understanding the impact of violence and terror both on the individual and the social body. His work has contributed to bridging the individual psychological trauma with the social, thus opening up the possibility of using psychotherapeutic methods to affect political emancipation.
Martín-Baró also incorporated in his framework basic postulates of Liberation Theology.  He would explain:  “For the oppressed of Latin America, the process implies a personal and a social transformation. Whether or not it manifests in individual disorders, the deterioration of social interaction [by war] is in and of itself a serious social disturbance, an erosion of our collective capacity to work and love, to assert our unique identity, to tell our personal and communal story in the history of peoples… For this reason, the challenge is not limited to addressing the destruction and disorders caused by the war. The challenge is to construct a new person in a new society."
Every Saturday at Clínica Martín-Baró, the pulse of the most vulnerable Latin@s is taken to understand their housing, employment, migration, family, social support, psychological and medical condition.  We are inspired by the work of Nacho and his desire and hope for a better world.
Clínica Martín-Baró's mission is to provide a preferential option for the poor in health care. We strive to promote wellness and address the health care needs of the underserved and economically disadvantaged Spanish-speaking community of the Mission District of San Francisco. We provide access to free health care, psychotherapy, and health education in Spanish and in a culturally sensitive manner.
Clínica Martín-Baró is a student-organized free clinic operating Saturdays. It is a collaboration between medical students and faculty from the UCSF School of Medicine, and undergraduates from the SFSU Latin@ Studies Department. We work together to serve and accompany while learning about the social and medical conditions facing immigrants. We provide a space for student volunteers to develop and strengthen a socio-economic analysis of the state of healthcare in the U.S, and an educational environment to create life-long advocates for underserved communities. We encourage, support and empower low-income students of color to pursue higher education (including but not limited to medical school) and a career that will benefit the needs of such communities. 
We do not receive any funds from corporations. We receive donations from people of conscience and fundraise by organizing social events and cultural performances. The structure of Clínica is horizontal a non-hierarchical.  We take political stands and learned from Nacho that we are not neutral about the political decisions that affect the lives in our community, such as impunity, gentrification and the commodification of health, education and housing.
Every Monday night, we reflect on the work we do from the perspective of our communities. The commitment among the volunteers has deepened over the years. Dedication has grown because student volunteers want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, have the power to make their own decisions, and do something that they have wanted to do their entire lives.
By Felix Salvador Kury

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