Choosing Awareness

Blog created by: Maddy Mitchell, Social Work with Latinos Certificate, University of Denver, GSSW

mercado Cinco de Mayo

El Mercado Cinco de Mayo in the city of Puebla

As a group of social work students who are a part of a Social Work with Latinos Certificate at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work, we have done a lot of self-reflection since arriving in Puebla, Pue.—Mexico to learn more about the Mexican culture and its people. Although I have been passionate about doing the certificate and working with the Latino population in Denver all along, I had trouble verbalizing why I was coming to Mexico and what the exact purpose of our trip was. Now after just a few days here in Puebla, I understand how critical this experience is for my development as a social worker and as a white American in particular. We´re only here for two weeks, which is no time at all but even this short stint of cultural immersion is going to be critical in helping me become a part of a movement for social change in an effective and genuine way. As a social work student, I have come to understand the importance of cultural competence—not assuming you have all the answers or know about every aspect of another person´s culture and beliefs, and also being respectful of that culture and not imposing your own beliefs and values on anyone else. But just like I think it is difficult to learn a language unless you are living in a place where you can completely immerse yourself in it, I think it would have been incredibly difficult to feel at all culturally competent when it comes to working with Latinos without this experience in Puebla. Obviously, I am only in one place talking to and interacting with a small percentage of people who are not representative of all Mexicans, but it is still so valuable to witness and hear about the problems and pain & suffering that are causing so many people to migrate to the United States. My hope is that this new knowledge and understanding will make me both a more empathetic and culturally competent social worker.

una calle de Puebla

a typical street in the city of Puebla

One of my biggest takeaways from this experience thus far is that as Americans we are unbelievably lucky simply to live in a country where we can fight for social change without the fear of death. The corruption and government control is so extensive here in Mexico that speaking out against the oppressive conditions automatically puts you at risk. There are a lot rights like free speech that feel so basic to us and we take for granted on a daily basis. So many of us are completely ignorant to how bleak the economic and social conditions are in Mexico and they are our neighbors! Seventy percent of the Mexican population lives in poverty. The unemployment rate here is a whopping fifty percent (highest in the world) compared to roughly a mere seven percent in the U.S. Although it has improved, the general consensus is that our job situation is pretty bleak. Imagine what life would be like for the majority of us if our unemployment rate was that high! Hearing these shocking statistics makes me wonder if our ignorance is chosen. If more people knew them, along with the role the U.S. has played in creating the situation, would there be increased empathy for the stream of immigrants coming to our country just to survive?

What I am realizing is that as social workers, especially those of us interested in community organizing and advocacy, it might be our job to educate the general population on such social injustices. It´s a job I am whole-heartedly committed to taking on, but I still wonder if it´s possible for me to genuinely be a part of the solution when I am passively part of the problem as a white American leading a very privileged life. I think the key is to treat my job as a future social worker as a process I continually approach with a sense of humility and desire to learn from those I am working with instead of on behalf of. If we have any chance of creating any real, lasting social change a sense of cooperation and continuous exchange of knowledge & ideas is absolutely crucial.

3 thoughts on “Choosing Awareness

  1. Nanda Scott

    It is so very hopeful to know someone with your awareness is in the field of social work/community organizing/advocacy, Maddy.
    And yes, I do think you can be effective with willingness to learn constantly and if you remember always that the work is ‘with’ people of a particular community and not ‘on behalf of’.

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