CELEBRATING HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH: A call to serviceposted
Civil servants or public servants are people employed in the public sector by a government department or agency. The city of Madison has thousands of public servants with experience and knowledge used to facilitate running every aspect of the city.
During the last 17 months as an Alder, I have met a lot of intelligent people focused on innovation with a great sense of ingenuity. Their sense of pride in their daily job comes in great part from a shared understanding of the importance of looking at every service or project through an equity and inclusion lens. I feel immense gratitude for their dedication to the city and the support and assistance they provide to District 10.
City of Madison - Hispanic & Latinx
According to Mr. McManners, HR Interim Director, at least "four percent" of these public servants identify themselves as Hispanic or Latinx. This is at least "176 Latinx and Hispanic people working for the City of Madison investing their time to make Madison an inclusive, innovative, and thriving city."
Four percent is a small number, but it spreads across almost every agency in the city. Our Hispanic/Latinx staff influence Community Development, Planning, Engineering, Police, Fire, Building Inspection, Streets, Metro, Parks, Libraries, Public Health, Human Resouces, and more.
"Navigating community services, City provided and otherwise, can be overwhelming, especially with language and cultural barriers. Latinx staff who bring their full selves to their work with the City are an invaluable asset in bringing down those barriers, and in doing so making Madison a place where everyone can thrive. From familiar foods at public meetings to deeper understandings of unique experiences and perspectives to authentic language access, representation makes us better at serving our residents. One manifestation of this is the Latino Community Engagement Team, a group of City staff that organizes to support the Latinx community. Recognizing that impact and our amazing staff this Latinx heritage month is a small way in which we can all say thank you." Mayor Satya V. Rhodes Conway
"The Community Development Division leans heavily on the strengths of many Latinx-oriented community partners who provide a wide range of services that support households throughout the City," according to CDD Director Jim O'Keefe. " And we are most fortunate to count among our own team two veteran and skilled staff members, in Nancy Saiz and Rommel Tijerino, and a new and talented young lady, Maria Davila-Martinez. They bring valuable insight and perspective to our team and to our work, that strengthens not just our ability to support and serve Madison's Latinx community, but the community at large."
"Making community investments with the support of and meaningful connection to our Latinx residents is critical to meeting the mission of the Parks Division. We are fortunate to have the support of our Latinx staff and the Latino Community Engagement Team in making these meaningful connections. We are also grateful to have numerous talented and dedicated Latinx staff on our Parks team who consistently work hard to provide a high quality park system for everyone to enjoy. I am pleased to recognize these contributions as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month." - Eric Knepp, Parks Superintendent
A glimpse into our City Staff
It is my honor to introduce you to three amazing individuals who are dedicated to providing access to culturally competent services to our Hispanic/Latinx community.
Meet Lourdes Shanjani
As a bilingual/bicultural healthcare professional and immigrant woman of color, health and racial equity have always been guiding principles at the forefront of the many different roles I have held. I started my professional journey working as a formally trained physician in my home country of the Dominican Republic, in the Caribbean. Through this, I acquired strong abilities to work in challenging situations with low-income, underserved individuals.
During my first year as a physician, I was assigned to an under-resourced community outside the main city, where basic needs such as electricity, safe drinking water, and clothing were considered luxuries. Besides providing primary medical care, I was tasked with overseeing the staff at the clinic, budgeting, and managing inventory. Despite the structural and logistic challenges, I used my interpersonal and organizational skills to successfully fulfill my role as a healthcare provider while establishing the community center as a service hub for the town.
From this formal training providing direct healthcare services in the Caribbean through my work experience in the U.S. non-profit sector designing and executing health programs to my role in local governments developing, implementing, and evaluating public health education strategies, my diverse professional background has equipped me with the skill set to look at health outcomes from different perspectives. I have long been engaged in the management of programming and logistics, as well as in leading diverse groups of people in challenging environments.
I understand the role of systems in creating and perpetuating health inequities, the environmental conditions affecting health, and the complexity of human behavior. These experiences have also afforded me many learning opportunities and the chance to build my leadership style into the stable, service-oriented, and forward-thinking person I am today. Some of the leadership values and principles that guide my work are transparency, honesty, respect, excellence, and leading by example.
My professional background has also translated into community leadership. I have actively participated in conversations around health equity issues like access to care, mental health, suicide prevention, appropriate cultural services, and language access. Through my own experiences and professional work, I am close to the immigrant experience. Every initiative I have led, policies I have advocated for or money I have helped raise has been with the clear purpose of centering and elevating the lives of people in traditionally marginalized communities.
I have served as a bridge between service providers, partners, funders, and the broader community, especially the immigrant and Hispanic communities. To me, maintaining an equity lens means that we acknowledge the way systems have been built to place certain groups such as communities of color in disadvantage and do our part in changing the systems.
The impact of these inequities is pervasive and deeply rooted in our society, causing a profound and negative impact on the health outcomes of these populations. Health and racial equity work start with each one of us at the individual level. I have been infusing health equity in my work throughout my career and now I mentor and support others into incorporating and advancing health and racial equity through their work.
Additional Resources and recommendations offered by Lourdes:
Meet Arlyn Gonzalez, MSW, LCSW, CEAP
According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), "nearly eight million (18.4%) Hispanic/Latino adults reported having a mental illness." This is a complex and multidimensional problem that we must address in our community to break generational trauma/cycles, build a better future and culture for our children, and be able to function within the best version of ourselves. I hope that I can "poner mi granito de arena" and be able to create spaces where we can have genuine conversations, and normalize talking about mental health, its impact, our emotions, and our struggles. Not from a negative perspective but as a source of strength, resiliency, and acceptance.
I was born in the Dominican Republic, immigrated to NYC, and moved to Madison in 2012. I am a mother (of almost 3 kiddos!), a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a Licensed Clinical Social Work. I have specialized in trauma and responding to crises in different settings in the community and am currently an EAP Specialist for the City of Madison. I strive to reduce the stigma of mental health, especially among the Latinx community which is at a higher risk for more severe and persistent mental health conditions due to the disparities in access and quality of mental health treatment. This is due to many factors including lack of health insurance or inability to afford co-payments, lack of knowledge or inability to recognize mental health symptoms, language barriers, stigma, privacy concerns, legal status, and an overwhelmed system.
It is time we break down the stigma "de eso es para locos", we need to recognize the value and impact of talking about Mental Health and seeking treatment. We need counselors that look like us, understand our culture, and speak our language. Part of the inability to access quality service is the limited number of Latinx and/or Spanish-speaking mental health providers in the community (especially for specialized services). As well as the lack of understanding of the Latinx culture and how it impacts mental health, leading to misdiagnosing and a lack of true understanding.
For instance, Latinx may describe depressive symptoms as "laziness", "ataque de nervios", or even physical symptoms such as stomach aches. This is why I am passionate about providing services in Spanish, providing education and training, and mentoring future professionals. Join me in continuing these conversations and making a difference in our community!
If you are a City of Madison employee, you have free access to our EAP program. Check out our website to learn more about our services, and please don't hesitate to reach out! For those who are not a City of Madison employee, there may still be useful information such as in our Newsletters.
You can access a lot of free information on different media platforms. I would suggest starting with these nationally recognized websites that have information specifically for the Latinx community:
Get involved: https://www.countyofdane.com/volunteer
Meet Leslie Walker
As one of the Bilingual Health Education Coordinators working in the Communication Department at Public Health Madison and Dane County we believe that it is fundamental to not only provide accurate health information around a variety of topics but also to provide language access to all community members. Being able to receive information in your native language tells the reader, you are seen, and you are important.
I see it with my own parents, being immigrants from the Dominican Republic and not having English as their first language, being able to speak to someone in Spanish such as at a clinic, or at a store makes such a difference. Their eyes just light up every time it happens.
Moreover, this is why I do this work. Because I know the importance behind it. There is so much misinformation out there, and of course, being such a communal and family oriented culture "nos llevamos aveces de lo que diga la vecina, o la Tia". So it is very important for me to be part of an awesome team that creates accurate content and puts it out through different avenues, to make sure everyone can access it, and read it in their preferred language.
Learn more! Engage! Here are some ways to connect with the Hispanic & Latinx experience:
I really enjoy the Dominican Authors Julia Alvarez and Junot Diaz
I would also recommend "Clap When you Land" by Elizabeth Acevedo.
Thank you to all City Staff!!! Join me in Celebrating the achievements and contributions of our colleagues. To learn about others in the area, celebrate them, and gain access to suggestions and opportunities to expand your knowledge, see the other Hispanic Heritage Month blogs.
To the readers, thank you for taking this journey with me, stay tuned for the last one in this series.
~~Yannette Figueroa Cole