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Dr. Javier Sáenz
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*This portion of the interview can be seen as a video clip.
LESLIE KELEN: Good afternoon, Javier. Thank you for inviting us into your home. As we mentioned to you earlier, this project aims to give Latino high school students a chance to meet you and other leaders in the community, so that they can explore the nature of this community’s leadership and become better connected with the community’s history and development.
I think that’s a worthwhile project, very much so, because one of the things that’s been missing is almost a linkage between the present leadership and the past. Many of the people now are not aware that we’ve been struggling since the ’50s. In those days [there] were confrontations with agenciesgoing in and requesting information about things, and in one place or another being kicked out, things like that. We were very well organized way back when, and when the time changes, I think people just kind of lost somewhat the interest in leading and being so responsible to the community as well as to their families. And I think as all of us grow older, and then we just kind of concentrate more on our families and raise our kids. But I think there’s always been a core of people who we consultand we are consulted by different organizations. They’re ready to do it any time, you know. So that’s what we are right now. So I think you’ve come at a time that would be nice to have new blood and new leadership. And I do think that it is important. It doesn’t matter if you’re a leader or notbut it’s almost like [saying] it doesn’t matter if you lose or win the game, but I think it’s better to win it. I think leading is important. We need leaders badly. I get so tired of people just kind of grabbing their degree and disappearing into the institutions and becoming institutionalized themselves. I see that more and more, the assimilation going on rather than maintaining a sense of a pluralistic world that we would like to have, each one maintaining their own identity and part of their culture and those kinds of things.
LESLIE: Brennan, please ask the first question.
BRENNAN: Can you tell us where you were born and what challenges you faced while growing up, if any?
JAVIER: Well, I grew up in Panama City, which in those days was not as what it has become. I was just there a couple of months ago, and it’s a nightmare. It’s a little Hong Kong, or a little New York. It’s unbelievably crowded and tough. But in those days things were a lot easier. My father is a bookkeeper; my mother was a teacher. So we weren’t rich but we weren’t bad either. We lived comfortably. You know, [I] went to school; my sisters all graduated from college, my brother, too. Each one is doing their own thing now. My brother died a year ago, but my two sisters are now retired, and the third one just retired, too. She lives in Vegas and has her family there and [is] doing okay. I don’t think that I experienced being a minority in Panama. And sometime that’s important, because I think when your formative years are in a way that you have a sense of who you are, and this [identity] make[s] it easier to lead or to push, or to be aggressive looking for things. But if you start, really, like so many people have here in this country, [then] it’s hard for them to move from that. The challenges are a lot more difficult.
LESLIE: What do you mean, Javier, when you say “like so many people here in this country”? Can you explain that?
Well, some people are born into homes that [the] mother have to work, the father have to work to make ends meet. They have to worry if they’re illegalconstantly. I don’t know how they can survive, frankly. Every time I hear people say, “You know, these people want to have babies to stay here,” or “They’re really ripping us off.” Oh, Jesus, that’s so far from reality, that it’s stupid. Anyway, people [who] were born here in poverty or in conditions that are degrading, are very difficult for them to survive and strive. So then we wonder why they don’t[why] they are not more aggressive; [it’s] because you smash their life before they can really be somebody or feel that they are somebody. So that’s what I mean by the difference. When you’re born when you’re not a minority, you can be aware of both your strengths and your limitations very soon, and you know that if you stick with what you want and you make efforts to move on, you do [move on]. I think it’s getting to that way more here, too. I really think that there are more and more people who are going to school and who are now moving on rather than staying stifled. We still have a long ways to go. So for each one of you that make[s] it, there is hundreds that don’t. And [by] “make it,” I mean to get a decent job and raise a family and whatever. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, you know. Everybody doesn’t have to be Obama, so there’s different ways [to succeed].
JOSUE: Could you tell us a little bit about your parents? When you were a child, how did you see them?
JAVIER: I had one of [the] sweetest, most considerate caring mothers anybody could have. She was a good Latin mother. One of the things I remember is that she sang to all of us when we were little, as babies. Oh, she’d put you to sleep singing, so she was very, very caring. And very sort of an unconditional love kind of thing. My father, on the other hand, was the authority, but everybody knows that the wife is the one who runs the rooster. The father is just making noises and bring[s] the paycheck. He was from a village about 80 miles from the city. I spent a lot of time with his family. He was the oldest of 11, and his father died when he was 32 years old. So I wonder how many they would have had if he lived a little bit longer [Chuckles], because, actually, his wife, my grandmother, died when she was 102. She raised all the kids, was [the owner] of what we’d call today a bed and breakfast, or something like that. She had a little place where people stayed, and when people would come from the mountains to bring their products and stuff, they stayed with her. She also sold food for the people in the village. She did well, but they worked hard, very hard. In those days [there] were no roads, so they would make something that is called thetamarindoI don’t know if you ever heard about that; and they brought chickens from their village to the city by boat. They were hard-working people. My father was in politics most of his life. He was sort of a representative of his province in what [we] would call the, or what would be here like a senatorCamára de Diputados.
LESLIE: I think we interrupted your thought about your father being a politician…
JAVIER: My father represented his province in what we called the Camára de Diputados, which was like a senate. We don’t have twoCamáras, there is just one. He was a member of that for many years. But he also worked for a hospital, did a lot of the purchasing and bookkeeping for the hospital and staff.
JOSUE: What did you do on the holidays? When it was Christmas, when you were a child with your family, what did you do? How did you feel, how did you express when that time came?
JAVIER: How did we celebrate? Well, pretty much like we do here in terms of Misa de Gallo. You go to that and you come home and have a dinner at midnight. And the next day or the day afterit’s been so long, I can’t remember all the detailsthen the El Ni?o Dios bring the gifts, then everybody opened their gifts. Usually the relatives come in and visit the large family, they all sort of enjoy themselves. It is a day for visiting. In some countries, I understand, the Ni?o Dios doesn’t come until January, and that’s when the Reyes Magos [celebrations take place]. Yeah, that’s a little different, but ours is more of a home type of thing. You know, it’s not like national holidays. It’s more of a family type of thing. I think that my home has the same characteristics I see here in a lot of Hispanic or Mexican or Latino homes, where people are very tight as a family, which in some ways is an advantage and in some ways a disadvantage. They don’t allow you to grow, and there is some need to see you little and helpless. And you remain little and helpless in Latino [homes] [laughs] until a legal age. I see that so much in Latin America. Then we almost transfer those feelings of the parents to the government. The government shouldn’t be doing things for you, and we have the fantasy that one person can do it all, if it’s the president. We do the same thing here to some degree. But it is even more common, because over there you’re either in or you’re out. You’re inside the government or you’re outside the government. When you’re outside the government, you can starve to death. So it’s very important to be in, if you can.
MARGARITA: So how was like your home? What did it look like and what do you remember?
JAVIER: Where I grew up, it’s sort of like what would be here like a big condominium. It was in the 8th Street and A Avenue, and it took almost the whole block. There were a lot of apartments, and that’s where I grew up. At the time I moved to the States, I was 18, and my family had just bought a house. I never lived in it. They just bought it, and they developed a sort of a new development for teachers. They could buy there and so on, so they bought a little house, both of my sisters were teachers. They moved in the house that they bought, and my parents, too. My two sisters live there still. But I grew up in the city in a very busy area, 8th Street. There were a lot of kids and the ocean was just about a block from us, and that’s where we liked to play ball and everything else. It was a big playground, you know, sandbox, a big sandbox. Is there anything particular that you were [interested in] c?
MARGARITA: No, that’s fine.
JOSUE: When you were growing up, did you ever face any discrimination?
JAVIER: Not in Panama, no, I didn’t find any. I wasn’t a minority. But there is discrimination in just about every country, and Panama is not the exception. The discrimination in Panama is primarily to the blacks, but mostly the blacks from Jamaica. When the Americans were building the canal, they could not communicate with the Panamanians because they didn’t speak Spanish. The Americans didn’t speak Spanish, and the Panamanians didn’t speak English. So they brought English-speaking people from Jamaica, and they were black. The idea was that they were [to be] taken back [home] when they finished the canal, but they didn’t take them back. As a matter of fact, these [people] are from a place called Colón in the Atlantic side of Panama, and that became one of the most, well, [a] very, very criminal place. They kill each other for nothing. It still is a very dangerous place. So that discrimination had to do with the fact that the Jamaicans and the blacks were not accepted for a long time. I think that has changed some, but there was a lot of discrimination. It’s the same thing in Mexico. Mexico discriminates [toward] a lot of the people from what we call the Gulf. That’s the only part where there were slaves, and they have a lot of cotton plantations and stuff like that, so they brought blacks from the Caribbean to work the plantations. So discrimination was realreal hard, real heavy. I was lucky: I didn’t experience it, but I did see it. I happened to go to public school, which was a conglomerate of everything, every nationality, every color, everything.
LESLIE: Really? Like what?
JAVIER: You’re from the East, aren’t you? Panama is like a little New York, people from all over the world. For example, the garment [industry] is in the hands of the Jewish people. The sale of cars, the majority [of cars], is in hands of the Arabs and also the big bazaars. The Chinese, there are so much Chinese in Panama, they have two senators now. And they’re pushing to teach the Mandarin language. Of course, there are blacks and Mestizos; there are Europeans, you name it. So the school, especially a public school, reflects that mix. So to me, coming here, it was very different. This place is very white. I remember I had a black girl in my program one time, she said, she would go around like this, trying to find a black face. She was from D.C. And that’s the way it is [there]. The school I went to was not discriminating, because there was a lot of [diverse] people. We all got along, like kids do.
LUIS: What were you like as a child?
JAVIER: Well, I was probably just as compulsive as I am now. I liked to work and that’s the sort of thing that I, since I was very young I started working in part-time jobs in this and that and the other, but I also was very active in the student movement. I went to what is called the National Institute. It was a wonderful school that was patterned after the French bachelor degree. In six years they have the first cycle when they teach you 11 subjects, and every year it gets harder. When you finish the first cycle, you go to the second cycle, if you are considered capable. If not, they advise you [to go] out to an art school or to a vocational school or something like that. And whoever goes to the fourth year, it’s the same thing, 11 subjects. And every teacher thinks they are the only subject that you’re learning, so they pile up. It’s really hard. Sports are not given that much importance. They’re like extracurricular activities. You do it on your own time, but the school doesn’t support that. I think the activity that we were more involved was fighting injustices. For example, there were those who signed a treaty, that was about 1949, that the Canal Zone was gonna extend itself. Well, the kids just threw themselves in the streets to protest that. They would not want that to be signed. We got to Santana Park. There was the cavalry, you know, the police; they just chased us with their sabers. One guy by the name of Sebastian Tapia was hit in the back and he lost his legs and couldn’t walk for the rest of his life. We were all kids, but they took a stand, and the treaty was not signed. There were a lot of things like that. We were fighting for better salaries for the workers, so that school was the cutting edge of protesting injustices.
LESLIE: Could you explain a little bit about the Canal itself?
JAVIER: Sure, the canal, as most of you know, is 50 miles long and [was formed through] a treaty between the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, his government, and the government of Panama. The French started the canal, but because of malaria and lack of funds they couldn’t finish it. So the United States bought the rights to build the canal. But the Colombian peoplesee, we were part of Colombia, a state of Colombia [at one time]. Most of the history of Panama is with South America rather than Central America. So what Teddy Roosevelt did is they wouldn’t let him build the canal, because we’re a foreign power. Well, he got a bunch of corrupted Colombians, bought them out, a bunch of corrupted Panamanians, bought them off, and that’s how they proceeded. Panama was not motivated to be a country. Well, over the years they moved along. Fifty years later, they started demanding things. It’s funny, most people don’t know much about Panama. It’s like the biggest-kept secret in Latin America, and when you go there you’re amazed. It’s just unbelievableyou don’t believe it is such a country, because it’s that progressive, and there’s that many things going on. Anyway, what happened is that [President Jimmy] Carter signed a treaty, a new treaty, what was more a real treaty, [with Panama], because before it was a real Mickey Mouse stuff. And what happened is that now the canal belongs to Panama, and all the lands that were the [American] military bases have become schools, churches, and residential areas. There was a base called Fort Clayton in the Canal Zone. That is now called La Universidad de la Amistad. In all the Latin American countries, including the United States, they have a Smithsonian Institute doing research there and all through the country. And the students don’t have to pay anything to go to school there. So it’s going real well; that’s a change that’s taken place. And the canal is bringing revenue like you can’t believe it. The United States was paying Panama a million dollars a year. Now every boat that goes through, including the smallest one, pays about $100,000. And they have the canal open day and night, 24 hours a day, every day of the year, so you can imagine the amount of money that comes in. They set up a little organization to manage the canal. Well, one of our sweet presidents disbanded the committeethere was some real good brains from other countries [on the committee]and gave them 30 days or put them in jail. So he disbanded the thing, and all the money is being now handled through his office. So the corruption is unbelievable. I read that for a country of that size, they have the highest revenue of any other country, because of that amount of money. But poverty has increased, crime has increased, corruption has increased. So the average person doesn’t get anything from what happened. Now, they signed a new agreement with Spain they applied to the enlargement of the canal. That’s going to take five years and it’s `gonna be billions of dollars. So that’s what the canal is all about. It’s a source of revenue. It’s a place that has evolved into something that wasn’t even ten years ago. It’s being handled by the people from thereunfortunately, it’s not handled right.
BRENNAN: Who were your role models and what influence did they have for you growing up?
JAVIER: Well, I started saying the National Institute was instrumental in me develop[ing] a sense of community and community awareness and not liking so much unfairness. It’s very difficult to grow [up] in a city where if you go by a market invariably you see people who are dead in their own cars that they push all day, and a lot of things like that. Of course, some of the teachers I had were really good role modelsCesar de Leon comes to mind. There were a lot of teachers who were really leaders, in terms of they taught by experience. For example, say that you did a very good paper, and you got an “A,” but you’re screwing around in this classroom, he’ll say, “Well, now that just got you a zero.” You know, they were upfront with you but also very strict. They really wanted you to develop something like what you’re trying to do hereto lead and to be aware that there is not a pill and there’s not a button you’re gonna push to change the world, but everybody can do a little to make that easier for those who don’t have a voice. That’s what it’s all about. So I had a lot of role models that way. My father was also influential. He was very much into politics, and that was good for me.
JOSUE: What were the challenges that you had to face growing up?
JAVIER: Well, as I think back, I don’t think I had any great difficulty in my family or with living there until I was 18. I wasn’t a victim of discrimination, I wasn’t a victim of poverty, I wasn’t a victim of people not liking our family or nothing like that. So I think, in that sense, I was lucky. It was a normal childhood. I think that prepared me for coming here, being seen as a minority. I remember going on a train from New York to Florida, and when you passed Kansas everybody who was not super-white had to sit on a certain wagon[that was] the first time I was discriminated [against] overtly like that, you know. I wasn’t particularly pleased about that, but I become aware. For example, in those days, there were not as many Mexicans as now. In the state that I went to school, South Dakota, there were no Mexicans at all. So that was a challenge, the languageI didn’t know a word, so going to school and mastering the language enough to pass my classes was a challenge and a half. Of course, the changing culture, South Dakota isn’t exactly tropical, so things like that that were to be expected, moving from one culture to another. And then I began to be aware that here, if you are not of a certain looks, then you [are] go[ing] to be discriminated [against] to some degree.
Now, when you are starting [out], like you guys are starting now, the discrimination is less [obvious]. You feel it more when you are a threat to the system, when you are competing for a better position. As long as you’re keeping your place, mopping the halls or something, you don’t get any hassle. Unfortunately, there’s nothing I detest more than a happy slave. I think the majority [of people I knew] felt [that way] when they’re put in those positions, and I think that’s what people have been coming to change, since the ’60s. It [the ability to cause change] comes up and down, so those are the challenges I feel. Perhaps they were not directly only to meexcept I was an Assistant Director of Valley Mental Health. I was a director of a unit where I developed a system to train minorities, so in that sense I was happy doing what I was doing. I wasn’t bucking for becoming the director; I was always happy where I was, and I was producing. But if I would have wanted to be the director, I would have been very disappointed, because I don’t know one single Hispanic in Salt Lake that is the director of anything, in public office. They may have a good job, but they’re not making policy and running the show. We haven’t gotten there yet. It’s up to you guys.
MARGARITA: How did you decide to come to the United States?
JAVIER: Many [young people] go to Mexico [at that time]; many go to Canada; many go to Europe; and many come to the United States, to continue their schooling. I came here to school. When I came, I got kind of involved with people, and I began to experience some of those same problems. Their problems became my problems, so to speak. Most people we’ll not see you as, “Oh, you’re from Panama, and you didn’t have it too bad in Panama.” They’ll seethere goes that Mexican. So you begin to identify. But why I came to the States, [it] was almost like it was the traditional, the expected thing to do, especially the male and the oldest [child] of the family. I came initially to South Dakota because I knew the director of the school there, and I knew a couple of people from Panama who are going to school there. When I finished there, I applied to a lot of places and I was accepted in a couple of places, but the school here [in Utah] is more seductive, so I came here. I didn’t know Salt Lake from the man in the moon. It just sounded like the right place to go, and I wanted to get my master’s and that’s what I did.
JOSUE: When you came here, like at the moment, did you feel you wanted to stay here, or did you want to go back to Panama?
JAVIER: Well, that’s a good question. I really think that I felt like I had to produce. I had to burn my ships and do my thing. I couldn’t just go back and say, “Well, here I am, I’m sorry, I got homesick or I failed.” That was not for me. So I just buckled down and did the best I could. I never thought about going back. I enjoyed South Dakota. I don’t like the winters, but that’s something else.
LESLIE: That’s interesting that you did stay. Did your parents expect you to come back?
JAVIER: They expected me to come back in four years. But they understood you know, my father and mother both visited me in South Dakota, and they liked it. They said it’s nice and it’s peaceful. They didn’t have any objection to me staying, and I visited them whenever I could.
MARGARITA: You weren’t a minority in Panama or nothing like that, but when you came here, why did you want to help the minorities when you didn’t experience that yourself?
JAVIER: I felt we’re all in the same boat. If they’re discriminating [against] you, they are discriminating [against] metoday him, tomorrow me; that kind of stuff. You had to be aware that it wasn’t just going to be exclusive to him. So the identification takes place and you begin to see what has to be done. The first conference that we had hereUCLR, it wasn’t UCLR thenbut some of the people in [today’s] UCLR were involved. I was involved and we had different workshops. The idea was that once you identified problems you stayed with them until you resolve them. In those days, the only person who was in mental health was myself. We needed [Hispanic] mental health workers. We didn’t have them. So one of the things I did establish was a program to bring people in and train them on the job. Another problem we identified was that some people [in the community] are starving to death, so we worked things out so they get some food from the welfare department. Another thing they needed [was] dental work; we worked [on those kinds of] issues, and then solved those problems. But the reality is, you become aware of the need. Even though you’re not the person who is in that position, it might as well be you. So it comes as empathy or identification or the feeling that that wasn’t fair; it shouldn’t be that way. So you do the best you can.
LUIS: How did you feel when you started getting involved in that?
JAVIER: I felt good. I felt that I could make a contribution. Now, I don’t know if you remember well, you don’t remember the  riots in Watts, the black [area] in Los Angeles. They [the black people] had a little revolution [and] they burned places and stuff. Well, the government after that began to give monies to the different minorities to organize in a peaceful way. I was part of that initial group that got to travel in different states, got to know the Hispanics and what they were doing. So it was interesting, it was a good experience, and you could see how many people were trying and also that we in Utah were not doing as much. We started [organizing] late, and we benefited from what others had done. So becoming involved in the movement was good, was fun. At times [it was] risky, you know. We went to Santa Barbara one time. They locked us all in prison over there. They said that we’re just going over to another state to raise hell. So that was worked out. It was no big deal, but that’s the kind of thing that would happen. And it’s exciting, you know, you’re young, I was like 21 or something. It was a lot of fun. I think we should bring a new movement again for all of you to get involved.
MARGARITA: Did anything frighten you, like were you scared?
JAVIER: Oh, sometimes it was scary! We had one meeting where they invited all the Chicanos from Sing-Sing that were in the prison. They came and they were asking the question, “Why don’t you accept our requests in such and such time?” And the answer is, “That’s just the way we do it.” They said, “Well, why? Why do you do it that way?” “Well, that’s just the way we do it, and we don’t explain it.” Then two of these big guys from Sing-Sing grabbed the guy that was saying they couldn’t change things, and they very gently raised him from his chair, and dropped him, and says, “You’re the one that doesn’t understand.” After that it was a smooth meeting, and they changed the time [schedule]. So things like that you remember.
LESLIE: Gave them a new perspective.
JAVIER: Yeah, yeah.
LESLIE: I’m sure these guys don’t know much about what the Chicano movement was really like when it started. Maybe you could tell them a little bit about how you experienced that.
JAVIER: Well, the Chicano movementwell, the word Chicano is used less [today]. The origin has never been totally explained. They said that it relates to some Indian tribes in Mexico, I don’t know. But a Chicano was like when the black [people] started calling themselves black, it was a [self] defining term. It was like a person who is an activist, or a militant, if you will. And [in] some place [they] were militant. For example in Colorado, people bombed police stations and stuff. And so it was a movement to make the system at large recognize the existence and the rights minorities, especially Hispanics, had. There were meetings at schools and questioning, a lot of meetings with organizations, welfare departments, police departments. Things were being done [in these institutions] without taking into account that Hispanics were people. There was a certain unawareness, you know. And since the poor and a lot of the disadvantaged get into more trouble than anybody else, I guess, that sort of legitimized it, that’s the way things are to be. And in those years, those confrontations helped. And the ’60s becamethanks, I think, to the [Chicano] movementsort of a renaissance for the Hispanic culture in this country. A lot of people went back to school, a lot of people got degrees, a lot of people began to be proud of being Mexican, proud of being Hispanic or Latino. Before that, everybody was French or Italian or something else[Laughing] Spaniards. So, yeah, that’s what the Chicano movement was. There is still spin-offsUCLR and all those others that try to carry the torch. They are doing projects to the extent that they can do things, but they don’t have the vigor we had in those days. For example, when you had a workshop, problems were identified and then that committee or that workshop became the instrument by which to do something about that, and [at] the next conference they report. For example, my workshop became a task force, and the task force was responsible for getting monies to help the program we had to train people. So you see, those things tied together. So when you have a conference and you have workshops [today], it would be good if those workshops developed into working committees that do something and report at the next conference. See, right now we just have the conferences and nice little talks and everybody goes home. I’d like to see more than that, really. And it is possible.
MARGARITA: So how has life turned out after all?
JAVIER: Well, I knew that what I was doing in the mental health system, there was a price to pay. But, gosh, I was there 34 years. The last ten were hellthe idea was imposing something in the system that didn’t want to change. It was well received by people that benefited by the program, and from the patients that were benefiting from it. But one person who was in a certain position told me (and he was a Chicano),”You know, Javier, your boss doesn’t like the program.” He was telling me he knew [that]. [I told him], “When your aunt, who is in my program, tells me that she doesn’t like it, I’ll close it.” You know, that’s the kind of thing you have to be aware that people need to hear. You don’t just keep it to yourself. You know, like when the boss asks you, “Last night at that meeting, Javier, it sounds like you were not defending mental health. Who do you work for?” I said, “I work for the people of the county. What do you work for?” See, that’s the kind of thing they don’t expect.
Can you describe the new program that you created to train minorities?
JAVIER: Well, they had what they call services for the chronically mentally ill. These are usually not very attractive people. They are old, they don’t respond very easily, and most people don’t want to work with them. So what they’re doing is providing custodial care for them. So I designed a program to work with that populationif they agree to let me train 25 people. These 25 people will provide services, direct services, and mostly the trainees were women. A lot of them were women who married very young. They had children; they didn’t have any skills; they were mopping floors. Some of them were doing beauty work and different things like that. So we trained them on the job, and they got credit hours from the University [of Utah]. In the first year we taught them how to evaluate a patient; we provided classes; [and] we provided all the backup for them to see a patient, and [they each] had a supervisor. The unit was organized in such a way that we had a staff [meeting] every morning to see where things were, how it went with this patient or went with the other, and to support the people who are going through the program. That went on for one year. When they got a little more used to the idea they could learn, then we encouraged them to go to the U and they complete a second year at the U. We continued to work with a career for them to move up the ladder. So we graduated about, oh, 700 people over the two years. There were some that only stayed one year and then they will go to the university directly. So it was sort of a feeder [program] to the university. We were creating new students that otherwise would not go. Most of them turned out pretty good. Most of them have bachelors now. Four finished PhDs, and several had masters, and many are still working in mental health.
LESLIE: And most of these were Hispanic?
JAVIER: I would say about 90%. Well, maybe not 90, maybe more like 75, something like that, because we had some blacks, some Native American, and then we have some white poor. But two years would give them a feeling for what they could do, desensitize them to the idea of they’ve never been to school, they never had a role model. They never thought that they would golet me see if I have one of the programs.
LESLIE: What makes this sound special is that this is a difficult population to work with.
JAVIER: Yes, it is.
LESLIE: And then you were taking peopleminorities, basicallywho were not trained to work with them and training them. So there are two things that were challenging.
JAVIER: That’s right, yeah.
LUIS: So did anything affect you while you were training minorities?
JAVIER: Affect me how?
LUIS: It changed or like it touched you.
JAVIER: We have to lock heads [with the administrators] every day, practically. For example, they will say, “Well, what you want is cheap labor.” [I would say], “That’s not what I’m developing here. I’m developing professionals at an entrance level.” But I was training them like they were going to a PhD program, I guess. We really started from Interviewing 101 to all this stuff about mental illnesses, mental health, and we have outreach and it’s amazing what you can [accomplish]. The system would say, “We don’t want to do outreach. We have enough problems as it is. We have enough work. It’s a waste of time to do that.” I said, “Well, it’s a waste of time also to schedule an appointment and the person doesn’t show. Then you say they are not motivated. Maybe they are afraid!”
LESLIE: I think he’s asking you, if I’m right, were you personally moved by certain things? Can you describe an instance where you were emotionally touched by something that occurred? Is that what you’re saying, Luis?
JAVIER: Luis, yeah, in a sense, there were many things, you know, both with trainees and the patients. I saw trainees work with some of the patients that affect me. It affect like no professional can. They’re going to their houses to talk to them. There’s one lady that says, “Well, I don’t want to go because my bird died, and I don’t want to leave it in the house.” The trainee said, “Well, why don’t we bury him in your back yard?” And she went to help him to bury it. And things like that, that you don’t think will make any difference, but to a person who is mentally ill, those things touch them and grab them, and as people become more professional, they stop doing them. There was nothing that I will ask a trainee [to do] that I wouldn’t do myself. I wasn’t just sitting there at a desk. I was interviewing patients, I was teaching, I was going to do outreach, I was teaching the nursing homes, and I was doing all of those types of things. And it’s something that it’s too bad that we don’t do it more often. It’s too bad that I didn’t have the backup for that program to be legitimized, because it was there as long as I brought the money from the federal government, grants, you know. So, yeah, there were many, many instances. I remember Bernadette, a little gal that we had in the program. She’s a very little gal, and she had this mean guy that was tearing the place apart and so on, an inpatient, our partial hospitalization was here and the inpatient was over here. Well, she was seeing this guy on a one-to-one basis and going to his house, helping him, and had a good rapport with the patient. So the guy goes upstairs. They try hospitalize him, and some guy wasreally trying to make him do things he didn’t want to do, so he tore the place apart. So they called downstairs, said, “Whose is this guy? This guy is out of control, we need some help.” So Bernadette goes up. Now, this guy is big and mean, supposedly, in quotes, and Bernadette says, “Joseph, you are being terrible. Let’s go downstairs.” Grabbed him by the hand, they go down. No illness at that point. He had a rapport with her; he knew her; he could trust her. And that’s what helps people, when you have the time, or they’re not encouraged or they don’t know how to do this, establish a rapport, a relationship with the patient. If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything. So, yeah, it’s many things touched me as it touches all. But that unit was developed almost like a family. We celebrate each other’s birthdays. Every Friday before we leave, we have a wrap-up of the week and talk about what happened, what didn’t happen, what should have happened, all that kind of stuff. There’s a lot of support in that.
JOSUE: All the years that you’ve been there, what do you remember more?
JAVIER:* I think the program was very important to me. What I always believe that people, in these fields, it’s good to have a good grasp of the technical and the theories and so forth, but it’s also very important to be able to relate to the patients and not to be afraid of them. Understand them better, and to have somebody that supports you in doing that. So that kind of work, like I’m describing, [also] was very important to me, and I think it was the most important thing that I did in my career. I saw a lot of people individually. I actually had three jobs. I was working in Mental Health and the [training] program. I was working with a Jewish Family Service for many years, helping to organize their board; in addition, I have a small private practice. In my private practice I saw all kinds of people on a one-to-one [basis] or in groups. So all aspects of what I have done have been important to me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have done it [chuckles]. So all of those things impacted me. I wish some of the things still exist[ed], ’cause I think a lot of people could go into something like that that they are not doing.