By Jim Cochrane
Things take time to gestate, and there is no guarantee they will make it. They will need good earth and water to grow well and strong. This is one way of seeing the work of Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC), whose newly appointed Clinical Director, Elias Burboa (in black shirt), we met in Phoenix. Providing a wide range integrated health and human services for infants through seniors across numerous western states, CPLC focuses on treating the whole person in ways that are culturally-competent, family-focused, and designed to promote healthy, independent living.
That all sounds pretty standard. What CPLC is and does is not, however. How they flesh out those familiar phrases is pretty radical and what’s really interesting. As Elias led us around the impressive Maryvale Community Services Center in Phoenix, he talked not about great methods, impressive facilities, or high quality care – though all are clearly present in howCPLC works – but about its founding ethos and driving vision, the whatat the heart of their success.
Around 50 years ago, Cesar Chavez and others founded the farm workers movement for which he is famous. Elias, with obvious pride, recalls the story of how it fought successfully to eradicate the use of short hoes in the field that were literally breaking the backs of farm workers, and moved on from there, advocating for more humane working conditions, access to clean water, healthy food, and healthcare for migrant workers. Jim Croce’s song about “time in a bottle” is a lament about love in the face of mortality, but Chavez’s refrain depended upon something more powerful: tenacity over time in the battle for justice and, ultimately, for the well-being of all.
Chicanos Por La Causa rests within that history. It organizes itself in consciousness recognition of that to which it is a moral heir. One of the smartest, most inclusive, and highly integrated programs for the health of the people any of us have seen, it is a living embodiment of Chavez’s enduring vision and passion, more like a movement than a clinic or a facility.
So, for example, the Centro de la Familia and Maryvale Community Services Center we visited not only provides outpatient medical and behavioral health services but also key social services. With financing from United HealthCare, it has acquired and renovated around 250 rental apartments. How obvious can that be, providing stable, service-enriched housing to at-risk populations in tandem with more typical clinical services?
The physical Center itself is richly adorned with appropriate paintings by local artists. A huge mural in the brightly painted and warmly furnished reception area celebrates Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera hovering behind, and Pancho Villa on the right. One set of rooms is shared with culturally specific facilities for the with Native American community, a growing integration, with art work again offering a sense of belonging and respect. Architecture and art, we keep seeing, is not insignificant in how one experiences oneself and those one serves.
Other programs include Centro Esperanza for outpatient behavioral health services for severe mental illness; Friendship Community Mental Health Center (a subsidiary of CPLC), which offers partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient care, regular after care, non-title 19 Skill building, and specific programs specifically for veterans. Corazon has a structured substance abuse treatment program; the DeColores Domestic Violence program provides an off-site bilingual, bicultural domestic violence shelter and community outreach services; others provide HIV prevention education and supportive services, family support and education to help prevent child abuse, LBGTQ awareness and support, and dental services are being added, co-located with a primary care clinic run by the Indian Health Services.
This astonishing group began as a not-for-profit but has now split to include a for-profit arm whose leaders are motivated by the same rich heritage. Politically astute and business savvy, they have kept this work going for almost 50 years, serving not just “Chicanos” but everyone. Chavez and his companionsgave expression to the enduring reality of the human spirit and our creative capacity to transcend “the actual”—the way things are—to “make possible” that which we thought was not. They did so not merely in self-interest, but aware of the moral demand to act for the sake of all.
Chavez did what he could at the time, but what he did endured over time as well, inspiring others long after he had gone and the farm workers movement had morphed into a thousand flowers. One of those flowers—part of a far-flung field of them, actually—is Chicanos Por La Causa. As we keep hearing, the intergenerational long view is probably not just the most accurate but also extremely important in nurturing the tenacity required to build what we hope for.