A philosophy of self-determination, community empowerment and spiritual/cultural affirmation has been at the core of our development of services and permeates all aspects of IFR. These beliefs are rooted in a strengths-based perspective and embrace several cultural and social justice concepts.
In the 1970’s, the Chicano Movement inspired a generation of Chicanos and Latinos to critically analyze their socioeconomic status, the institutions that were inaccessible to them, and the negative value mainstream society accorded Latino cultures. Within mental health institutions, there was no role for cultural communities, inclusionary practices, or culturally-based interventions. Psychologists typically ignored powerful resiliency factors that family and culture might offer. Nor did they distinguish between individual illnesses and external forces such as racism.
It was within this context that a small group of committed Chicanos and Latinos believed it was important to build responsive self-determined community institutions. Young, idealistic, and fiercely committed to serving the Latino community, this San Francisco-based group saw that many health institutions not only denied Latinos effective treatment, but culturally illiterate practices assaulted resiliency factors that encouraged healing. Despite the importance of “familia” in Chicano/Latino culture, there were no services that assisted needy families or that promoted healthy families.
This group worked to conceptualize an entirely new framework that incorporated community-based practices. Interventions had to be culturally integrated—they had to resonate within the culture of the community served. The rich diversity of Latino cultures required something more than “one size fits all” methodologies. Indigenous traditions had to blend seamlessly with contemporary and alternative psychological approaches. Treatment plans needed to distinguish when a client’s suffering was due to external forces or from other types of mental illness. As community activists, this group envisioned more than treating illnesses; they wanted to be proactive in promoting the health and wellness of their community.
In 1978, this group became the founding members of Instituto Familiar de la Raza—the first integrated community-based mental health clinic in San Francisco. With nothing more than a fervent dedication to serving the mental health needs of the Latino community, Instituto’s founders began implementing their vision. They had no money, office space, or staff. Turning to the community for support, they implemented their own cultural intervention of sorts: they sold home-made tamales on Mission District street corners until they had enough to afford office space. Beginning with a single grant, one paid staff person, and a handful of volunteers, they created a community organization which now serves over 3,500 children, youth, adults, and families each year.