Jose Lopez Higerada

Mexico

Social Worker

My name is Jose Lopez Higareda.

I had a career in Mexico as a clinical psychologist in 1984. It was more common for the clinical psychologist to work more in the industrial area doing psychological test for new administrative personnel, rather working as a psychologist in the clinics. So, I came to the USA for six months in August 15, 1988.

I was living in Turlock and I was able to connect with a person in the University of Stanislaus. Her name was Mercedes Sanchez Flores. She was in charge of a clinic in Las Palmas in Patterson. She found out that I was trained as clinical psychologist in Mexico and took me on as her intern.  I later got the acceptance letter from the Stanislaus County to be an intern.

During that time, her friend Orlando called her from Stockton. He needed a Spanish-speaking clinician to work with sex offenders, domestic violence, and substance abuse. She recommended me for the job, so interviewed and got the job. I worked for them for ten years. I came to the country with a tourist visa, which is usually for six months, but I stayed. I’m now a citizen. I came with my regular visa, but the people helping me sponsored me because I was doing good work.

People are feeling the fear during this administration. As a clinician, I see that the level of trust that we used to have that is not the same. People are feeling afraid to seek services. They are afraid to go out, meet in a restaurant, or go shopping because there are people doing all these round-ups.

The police see Latino family driving a van with five kids differently than they would for any other race. For us, we go as a family everywhere and all the kids always fill up the car. We go shopping all together. If they come to the services at mass or to attend church, we all go together. So when the police see a car full of Latinos, they stop them. They start asking for driver’s license and people are feeling afraid to go outside. They just want to be at home to feel safe. No matter how much you tell them there are services and there is protection, that this police department is not connected with ICE, still there is no trust.

Our community loves to work. They are workaholics because they work very hard to obtain all the resources to be a good provider and a good parent. And if you go to any grocery store, you can see the shopping cart for a Latino family because they got plenty of food. They got a lot of food because they want to provide well for the kids. They don’t limit their kids with food and clothing. Especially good health, they are very conscious about that. There are other stigmas that we have as Latinos, but as good families, we are good providers and good caretakers.

I grew up with my mom who was very strong in her faith, and that’s something that she gave me as a child. No matter if it was at 5:00 in the morning, she used to wake me up and to take me to church before school. I attended the 7:00 am mass for the last 30 years when I came to USA, and I feel my mom is with me. But at the same time, I am setting the tone to start my day. How I’m going to help my community, the people that I am going to connect with. I need to be sensitive, to have the empathy to understand others not in my shoes. My shoes can be very comfortable and my level of status could be comfortable, but I need to be sensitive to the needs of the people who are seeking help. Our people they don’t ask anyone to do all this stuff for them. They just want to find where the services are, to find who is going to help them without taking advantage. Because there are people here who do take advantage of our people because of the language barriers. That is my strength every single day; it keeps my mind focused every single day.

 

I run a radio station covering topics about prevention and early intervention services. How to identify the signs and seek for services in early stages of depression, anxiety, substance abuse problems, or other emotional challenges. My program is on Thursdays from 3:30 to 5:30, it’s called The Wellbeing of Your Community, Yourself and The Family. I want people to know there is somebody who has empathy and understanding and there is somebody there to support them. If anyone calls, I can give two or three names they can contact to seek out services. It’s a way to connect our community, to support them.

One of the main strengths of our people, they aren’t afraid to do any job or any work that they may not have the preparation to do. They just need to have the skills to survive. They don’t feel the fear in that level because they want to be strong and demonstrate that they can do anything. And they are good at learning, they can be in any field but we need to help prepare them. When people request asylum, we have to ask them what work they would like to do and how they feel. It’s not just the papers. As human beings, we have to ask what are your dreams? It would be better to invest in their education and training them for two or three years to have some skills as an electrician, for instance, to help them assimilate. Because they have pride for their roots, but at the same time they are coming to another country that they don’t understand laws, regulations, or anything. And we assume that they are going to learn everything in one day and it’s not possible. These people are walking miles and miles, and days after day, to reach the dream. When they come, what they find is exploitation and discrimination. They aren’t treated as human beings.

Here in the Central Valley, there are not enough people to harvest all the fruits and vegetables that the fields are producing. The farmers are looking for new machines to replace the human labor. But at the same time, the machines aren’t efficient enough to have a good fruit, vegetables and food. A machine damages the roots for every single plant and they have to rebuild the trees, the plants, everything. It’s also so expensive in the long term. I don’t think a machine can replace a human being because there is some work that needs to be done by humans.

But at the same time, these farmers support the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration. These immigrants are just moneymakers to them. These people don’t care about their lives. People have to provide meals for the family and keep house to live in, but they don’t have one day off. They work 24/7. These people are grateful for a place to live and that their kids they can walk to school, but a lot of families they don’t have benefits. It’s a lot of exploitation. That’s why I say if we invest a little bit in them, they can be independent, good families and great citizens without causing any problems at all.

I see now that there are more second-generation immigrations seeking an education. I can see more Latinos, as well as Hindus and Arabs, seeking college and universities. They are navigating the system to break the cycle of poverty and move up in the world. But at the same time, who is going to work the land? Who is going to provide the vegetables? It’s going to be the new people coming in.

I believe in understanding, but I also believe it is important to talk about the fact that this land was built by immigrants and everybody here comes from immigrants. This is not our land. Actually, we’re in the land for the Native Americans. There are people who never crossed the border, the border crossed them.