We asked several outstanding Hispanic social workers to tell us why they chose social work as their profession and what they see as challenges to serving the Hispanic community today.
Donald Chavez y Gilbert, MSW, LISW
School Social Worker
Belen, New Mexico
|Mr. Chavez y Gilbert|
Q. What is your area of expertise and where are you currently working?
My area of expertise over the past thirty-four years has simply depended on the particular focus of my work. Undergraduate social work focused on the women's movement and ERA. In graduate school I worked for migrant farm worker champion Cesar Chavez, followed by protective services to children and adults for Hispanic and Indian populations in northern New Mexico, interrupted by a stint on the faculty of the College of Santa Fe School of Social Work.
On my own time serving on various boards and commissions my main focus was during the era of the father's movement. I was the president of the National Congress for Men, Washington DC and founding president of Dads Against Discrimination (New Mexico) which moved the state legislature to make New Mexico the second state to establish a presumption of joint custody for children of divorce. Most recently my focal point has been school social work and behavior therapy to rural populations in central New Mexico.
Q. Why did you choose social work as your profession?
I come from a long line of rescuers and have always experienced a compelling propensity to be a helper of people less fortunate than myself. They taught me all about the origins of social work in the Elizabethan Poor Laws of jolly old England while enrolled at the University Of Michigan School Of Social Work just as they taught my fellow social workers. However, having lived and studied a considerable amount of history since then, it is clear to me that the first social workers date back even further; back to my ancestors of the Knights of the middle Ages in Spain.
In the Middle Ages knighthood was a very high station in society, and required swearing an allegiance, and vows of ethics. By his vows, the knight was required to swear to advocate justice and the protection of women, the innocent, elderly and the weak. He was in modern day lingo, a "change agent." The noble knight was a protector of the common people guided by a code of conduct and etiquette; an interesting parallel to the modern day social worker. As part of the knighthood ceremony, the knight was required to adopt an identifying coat of arms insignia, in ranching culture later evolving into the "brand." He then rode to all villages in the kingdom, and publicly recited his vows of knighthood so that all would witness his devotion to the King and his people. This part of the ceremony was to enable all in the Kingdom to recognize the knight, and if the knight faltered in his duties, he endured public shame and dishonor. A knight's honor was a virtue for which many knights defended to the death.
It should be noted also that the first cowboys/vaqueros and the whole American Western Ranching culture also evolved from the valiant Knights of the Middle Ages, a second interesting parallel to the culture we work with here in rural New Mexico. As a contemporary social worker and sheep rancher myself, it is clear now that these penchants to do social good have had at least a thousand years to work into our DNA. I must say in closing, that my DNA misses the romantic old fashioned version of making things better.
Q. What are the challenges to serving our growing Hispanic population?
Helping people learn to help themselves. Aside from the obvious battles against common foes such as poverty, unemployment, abuse of the innocent and defenseless, my biggest challenge has been to help the community of Hispanics to organize a healthy collective self concept.
Restoring the pride and nobility of our culture, language and family traditions is a monumental task. This goes beyond serving individuals and families one at a time to educating whole communities. I have approached this task via a regular Op Ed column in our local news paper to tying Hispanic history, pride, and tradition in guest appearances on National Geographic.com, the History Channel, and National Public Radio.
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