From the Pen of the President: October 2020
NASW-Illinois Chapter President Grisel Rodríguez-Morales, MSW, LCSW
Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated between September 15th and October 15th to commemorate the culture and history of US Latino communities. As we enter the second half of Hispanic Heritage Month, I can’t help but take stock of the influence and immense contributions that Latin individuals have made to our country. This month offers an opportunity to celebrate the many ways in which individuals of Latin American descent have enriched our nation. In social service, as well as other sectors, Latinos continue to fight for inclusive systems that allow increased access to opportunities that will ensure a just society. In Illinois alone, there are numerous leaders whose dedication and strength have left a legacy and facilitated the amplification of our voices.
A few years ago, our chapter celebrated one such leaders: Aida Luz Maisonet Giachello, PhD, a social worker and research professor with a passion for health equity and social justice issues. In 1993, Dr. Giachello established the Midwest Latino Health Research, Training and Policy Center which has received national recognition for its many community-based participatory research that has lead to implementation of policies and programs reducing the unequal access to health care suffered by racial and ethnic minorities and the poor. I met Dr. Giachello in 2006 when the founder and president of the Latino Social Workers Organization (LSWO), Adrian Delgado, gave me the opportunity to co-chair the organization’s annual conference that year. Adrian had also developed a multimedia training called, “La Familia Perspective,” which integrates the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics and Standards and Indicators for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice. That early involvement in cultural competence training, coupled with the words of wisdom that Dr. Giachello has generously offered throughout the years, has positively influenced my career.
Other Latin Illinoisans include the State of Illinois Deputy Governor Sol Flores. Before this appointment, Ms. Flores made an impact as the executive director of La Casa Norte, a social services nonprofit serving youth and families facing homelessness. There is also Hon. Luis Gutierrez, retired U.S. Representative, who continues to speak up on immigration reform, gender equality, and other relevant social issues. Civil rights that continue being protected by community activist and now congressman Jesús G. “Chuy” Garcia. Another leader is Celena Roldan who, as CEO of American Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois, helped launch the Latino Engagement Initiative, a groundbreaking effort to reach out and serve vulnerable Spanish-speaking immigrant communities in times of disaster across the US. We also have a diversity, equity, and inclusion champion in Gloria Castillo. As CEO of Chicago United, Gloria works with corporations to include people of color on all levels, including boards of directors and other leadership positions. Like them, there are many others who are working hard on improving the lives of the citizens of this nation.
I recently read the results of a survey indicating that a majority (78%) of Latinos agree that community involvement is important to their wellbeing, and that meaningful connections and giving back is important to us as a group. The strong sense of community is central to our values. I remember during my childhood in Caguas, Puerto Rico, seeing elders around me regularly asking others less fortunate if they had breakfast. When a caring “¿Desayunaste?” (“Have you had breakfast?”) was answered with a “No”, “Not yet”, or even slight hesitation, a generous act to help the person facing hardship enjoying at least the traditional cafecito in the morning would follow. Small gestures that contribute to our sense of community and community empowerment continue to be as common as saying, Buenos Dias.
Grisel Rodríguez-Morales, MSW, LCSW, is Manager of Health Promotion Programs at
Rush University Medical Center. She currently serves as president on the NASW-Illinois Chapter Board of Directors and is former Chicago District Chair.