We are excited to announce the release of new videos in our Voices of Recovery series! Bear Dancersset in San Antonio, and Una Mente Sana (A Healthy Mind)set just across the border in Veracruz, Mexico, explore the nuances of cultural competence from the standpoint of mental health practitioners whose therapeutic approaches are shaped by the practitioners’ deep rootedness in the perspectives, traditions, and urgent needs of a particular local culture.

Bear Dancers is available now on the foundation’s YouTube page. Its primary subject is Isaac Alvarez Cardenas, Director of Programs at American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions (AIT-SCM). AIT-SCM provides an array culturally competent services to Latino and Native American youth and families in the inner-city west side of San Antonio, Texas. It operates within the milieu of an underserved community that has a myriad of challenges that are both unique to it–gang violence, child abuse, high poverty–but that also reflect the larger systemic deficiency in the availability of culturally competent services and service providers. AIT-SCM, as part of its larger mission to serve, advocate for, and defend the traditions of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation and other indigenous people of south Texas, is making a valiant effort to fill the gap.

Through this video, we learn that despite the challenges underserved groups face and the persistence of health disparities, these communities possess great inner strength and resiliency, rooted in the particular ways of seeing that their culture has given them.

In the documentary, we are invited to witness the Bear Dance, a traditional indigenous healing ceremony. One of the central elements is a sweat lodge, into which a group of dancers disappear and then re-emerge as bears, endowed with the ability to serve as healers. Toward the end of the documentary, Cardenas poignantly notes the consonance between these ancient healing rites and the contemporary stresses of the youths and families he cares about:

There was a lot of teachings we lost. When the Strangers came over, they burned our books, they cut the tree down; but what they didn’t do, is that they didn’t cut it to the root. So the tree is growing back. We’re re-rooting, we’re reconnecting all these young people.

Una Mente Sana  (A Healthy Mind) is a three-part interview with Ruth Hernandez, a therapist in Veracruz, Mexico. Each of the three parts will be released over the coming weeks. A recurring theme, and one of the most striking, is Hernandez’s sophisticated understanding of herself as both insider and outsider:

I’ve gotten a lot of nicknames–“crazy-ologist,” “Pepsi-cologist.”  You hear these nicknames, but they don’t define you. At first I was worried because people would say, “I’m not crazy. The psychologist is for crazies.” It’s been a struggle socially to define the work of a psychologist.

There will be more blog posts in the days to come about the videos and the issues they bring to the surface. In the meantime, we’d love to get your feedback on Bear Dancers.  Leave a comment on our YouTube page, or on Facebook!