CHW Spotlight! Isabel Quijano - My Work as a Promotora

Conducted by Angeles Solis, Community Connector, Healthy Gen

Angeles: Welcome Isabel! Can you give us a bit about who you are, and what brought you to this work?

Isabel: My name is Isabel Quijano. I am originally from Tonacatepeque, El Salvador.

I was brought to work as a promotora back in the 1990’s when I saw a lack of leadership opportunities for my community. Little opportunities for growth on a personal level, a community level, the development of our women, and not just the community, but also oneself, as a woman, as a person. This is where my interest was born. I was capacitated as a community organizer in my home country, and led with many communities.

When I arrived to the United States, I continued to see the need for community organizing, despite our differing systems.

So I integrated myself into the work of community development in the South Park community.

I first began with ESL classes at the info center.

Then, with other companearas, we saw the need to better organize with the other women in the community. It wasn’t just about the structure, but what we call the “dough”, la masa, which is organized people.

Angeles: And who are the promotores?

Isabel: We are la masa. Why? Because an organization can have a building and its administration, but if it doesn’t have the group that is out in the community, giving life to the organization, it’s just that, an infrastructure!  We do WITH the community, not TO the community. That’s why we are the dough.

We promotores have developed, organized, formalized. We developed to the degree that we carried out projects in the community and more and more women joined our group.

But here’s the objective... Although, we woman we are no longer in our home countries, we feel identified not just by our language or our cultura, but also by our lucha, our fight to meet our common needs and struggles.

Angeles: Tell me about the work of a promotora.

Isabel: The needs of a community are not only palliative, or curative. In truth we work to find a community growth that is much more integral. We look for the profound needs that affect us. So, to that, we prioritize the needs that are no so easily seen. For example, the confidence of our youth. If we adults prepare, capacitate, and educate our ninos and jovenes to believe they are integral in our community - when they are adults, they will act as if they are integral. They will have a sense of empowerment, of social agency that will call them to work in the community, will make then think in a different way, to see with good eyes on the older adults that often criticize them. All of this has to be promoted at an early age. So I believe that community work should emphasize the youth and adolescents. Programs should focus on prevention, strengths, abilities, and the knowledge we already all have. This is why our libraries need to be centrally located to prioritize our youth’s development. 

We as promotores… it is our work to move these beliefs and values forward, these civic, moral, educational values. A person without values is like an empty glass that is up to us to fill it up, up, up .This is what we do. So when we witness the suffering our youth face: negative attention from police, multiple errors, we see more.There may be a lack of attention, of love, problems in the home.

So we promotores, by nature of our name, should have the capacity to attend to these issues, both surface and profound, and for that we need to be capacitated in the area or topic, so we can effectively promote!

And that depends on the interests of the promotora. We learn, we practice, we teach. This is what we promotores call the cascade effect. You educate us, we educate another, they educate a group, a community, and it continues! 

Angeles: If you had a magic wand for your community, what would you change?

Isabel: Housing issues and gentrification are the biggest challenges. I believe we share this on a state and national level.  But in South Park, it’s as if we feel it more deeply. We may feel it more because the majority of the community rents their home, they don’t own their home. So it’s the people that are living to pay the bills, and pay the rent. The rent is much too high. The problem that we are seeing right now is this : those who are living in older buildings, their landlords are selling the buildings, and don’t care about who lives there or how long they’ve lived there. They sell, renovate, and then the cost is too high to move back in.

And this is directly affecting we who are bajo recursos, low income.

We as promotoras seek alternatives and want to gesture to our government, our leadership to act on these issues. Build more housing. Let us contribute, let us live well. This is what we want.

Angeles: How do these problems make you feel?

Isabel: Well it motivates me because I see how these problems affects our families. Because you can see the suffering not just in the eyes of the parents and families who want a safe and dignified place to live, but you see the suffering in the children, who want this space as well, the shelter from the sun and rain, secure and protected. My sisters in this lucha, and their children live in apartment. They are finding mold, and living with pollution of the nearby factories and shops. We need to change all of that which is harming the community. We need to change this.

I don’t feel scared, I feel motivated to change things because of the same necessity that is seen in la gente, the people. When you see those who are unjustly dislocated, a parent who may have lost a job, those who have to live paycheck to paycheck but they are always trying. … I act out of the same necessity, for them, for all of us.

Angeles: On Science of Hope. Do you see a difference in hoping and wishing?

Isabel: Yes, they are two different things. Because with wishing, life can pass me by.

But with hope, with esperanza, it is possible, it can be done.

I return to and insist on the involvement of the community, that we have the hope, I have the hope to see the people say, “Now is time! I want to fight for this because I need this, the community needs this, and I don’t want to wait.” Hope is stronger, it is the dream made palpable.

Angeles: What do you want people to hear about promotores?

Isabel: I would like people to hear that promotores desire the paths to keep growing, advocate for ourselves and BE heard, and that the community is with us. We do what we do with heart for the community and with the community. Because development is not just personal, it’s communal. This is the work of the present and of the future. This is legacy, and what I hope to leave for my children.