The connections between systemic oppression, health, and healing became clear to me in the summer of 1999 when I was helping to organize a Type 2 diabetes support group at Las Fuentes Health Clinic in Guadalupe, Arizona, a free health clinic that served multiple generations of Guadalupe’s mostly Yaqui and Mexican immigrant community.
I was door knocking every day to recruit participants for our support group and often the community members would invite me into their homes to learn more about our program. Our conversations usually strayed from the difficulties of living with Type 2 diabetes and led to discussions about race, class, gender, food security, and environmental health/racism.
I learned from the Guadalupe community that health and healing were influenced by factors much larger than an individual’s ability to process sugar. I learned that the community had its own strategies for living with Type 2 diabetes and that the last thing they wanted was a 19 year old college student lecturing them about how to take care of themselves.
I made sure that our support group centered on participants sharing their strategies and stories with one another, without didactic interference from the organizers and “expert” medical folks.
As I ended my time with Las Fuentes and the Guadalupe community I felt a burning desire to practice public health with an awareness of systemic oppression and the intersections of poverty, race, class, gender, environment, and culture. I left Arizona and set my sights on going to graduate school for a Masters in Public Health.
Those plans changed in 2003 when I met Doc, a Barefoot Doctor/acupuncturist and the person who trained me as a street medic in Chicago. Feeling alienated, frustrated and burned out by the Chicago activist world, I went to acupuncture school to see how I might become a public health practitioner using the tools of Traditional East Asian Medicine. I wanted to help keep my loved ones involved and well in social justice and movement work.
Like many others, I had come to the realization that social justice spaces and movement work can be deeply gratifying, invigorating, nourishing, and healing – but also sources of great conflict, violence, isolation, unexamined privilege, and internalized oppression.
By 2010 I was a brand new acupuncturist offering sliding scale services to activists, organizers, and folks who are normally priced out of getting acupuncture at the market rate.
That was also the year that I had the honor and privilege of helping to coordinate the Healing Justice Practice Space at the US Social Forum with a team of truly brilliant and visionary folks from all over the country. Through this experience I found Healing Justice that brings together all the ways healing can be done on individual, group, and systemic levels.
According to Cara Page, Healing Justice is “a framework that seeks to lift up resiliency and wellness practices as a transformative response to generational violence and trauma in our communities.”
Healing Justice gave me a way to identify my felt-but-unnamed desires for healing myself and facilitating healing in others. Healing Justice helped me to further challenge myself and examine my own internalized capitalism and oppression. Now, as a practitioner of Traditional East Asian Medicine and Healing Justice, I see my role as supporting the creation of whole, integrated, inter-generational, abolitionist, actively anti-racist, feminist, queer, and truly liberated movements.
Today I work at Sage Community Health Collective which my fellow co-founder Stacy Erenberg describes as:
… a sliding scale acupuncture and bodywork clinic that works outside the medical industrial complex by providing harm reductionist, affordable, non-judgmental and trauma-informed services at an affordable rate. We are a worker owned collective so we make all our decisions based on consensus and have a non- hierarchal structure. We are deeply rooted in meeting people where they are at, self-determination of communities and transformative justice. We are trying to create another way outside the system. It’s not perfect but we are always open to suggestions for growth and building with community.
For me, our non-hierarchical worker collective model challenges us to practice all of this every single day. We are regularly discussing ways to consciously navigate within capitalism as anti-capitalists. Our sliding scale forces us to transform conversations about money, which are often rooted in shame. As harm reductionists, we strive to have conversations about money that meet people where they are.
Our work is part of creating our next economy based on mutual aid, mutual accountability, and communities of resistance and care that do not dispose of anyone, do not leave anyone out, and do not fight one another for limited resources: communities that honor the personal as deeply political.
Our work is part of movement building that honors complexity and intentionally creates spaces to heal and bridge where we can and creatively renovate new solutions for the deep challenges we face in our world.
Our work is part of movement building that draws upon a multiplicity of healing and accountability strategies and tactics that creatively responds to our short-term needs and unravels dynamics that are generations old.
In our work we are constantly learning, growing, transforming, and widening the circle of Healing Justice through our organizing with the Chicago Healing Justice Network and beyond.
And every day I give thanks to the Guadalupe community that so wisely guided me toward this path.
Feature photo: Juliana Pino