| Interview with Teresa Martinez, |
Latino Program Coordinator
conducted by David Adams, Co-Director
1) Tell me about your background leading up to your work at Emerge.
After college I worked for 5 years for Honeywell-Bull, a high tech engineering company. It was the beginning of my education with the all male network. After that I worked for other high tech companies like Lotus and Lexmark; again with mainly all male co-workers. Then, I wanted to leave the corporate world, use my Spanish and be involved in directly helping the public. I worked in several hospitals using my language skills. I worked in the International Department for Children's Hospital and the New England Medical Center. I have always liked to be hands-on with the community, especially the Latino Community. So when I was offered the opportunity to work for the government of Puerto Rico in the Federal Affairs office in Boston, I was thrilled. Unfortunately, all the offices in the U.S. closed two years after I started. When the opportunity presented itself to work at Emerge, at first I was apprehensive, but definitely curious. In all of my work experiences, I heard and knew of personal stories where domestic violence had affected families.
On a personal level, I had a close friend who struggled as a result of domestic violence in her home and at age 37 tragically lost her life. Now after working in Emerge, I realize that all her struggles and challenges in life were directly due to growing up with an extremely abusive father. Reflecting back at the way I related to her and her mother, I am deeply saddened about how wrong I was. I wish I knew then what I know now about domestic violence. I wish I had showed her more empathy and given her the support that I now know survivors need. I now of course understand why children are so devastated when D.V. occurs in their homes and the vicious circle that occurs in generations. I have a much better understanding of how survivors manage their pain and their experiences and how difficult it is see the world as a safe place.
2) I'm sorry to hear about your friend! How does this experience inform your work with abusers?
I try to be respectful and keep an open mind when listening to client's problems, keeping in mind that Emerge clients have different challenges than the mainstream public. I try to keep the same attitude, patience and empathy as I did with my past non-abusive clients. I believe that if we are asking them to be respectful and empathic towards their partner, we need to be a positive role model to them, especially when dealing with difficult clients and the questions or problems that they present to us. I think that being supportive but firm is definitely more helpful than having a punitive approach. Also, it helps to be understanding and validating about cultural differences and challenges, especially given that many Latinos already deal with discrimination and have distrust for government, legal, and institutional authority.
3) Latino is such a broad category, representing people from dozens of different countries and levels of acculturation in this country. What differences do you see among Latinos who attend Emerge in terms of nationality, culture and other factors?
We have clients from all over Latin America, Central America, the Caribbean and the U.S. Some of the differences I see include the color of their skin, different dialects of Spanish, and their economic and education level. Some are illiterate, or have limited reading and writing skills in Spanish and in English. Most have likely encountered racial discrimination.
The most important difference from English speaking clients is the big issue of being undocumented. This presents daily challenges not only for the abuser but more importantly for the survivor. It affects their ability to work, to drive, to get healthcare. Some are working 2 or 3 low paying jobs. Some clients that are citizens, and might speak perfect English, prefer to be among those whom they believe are peers, perhaps because they might be under the impression that they will be treated more fairly or that their excuses for abuse will be justified or understood.
Latino clients might use the excuse of "in my country or culture we have different views of domestic violence." Some men report that even though there are laws against D.V. in their country, they are not enforced. Some of their native countries have problems with corruption, poverty and infrastructure.
Some other topics that some Latino men will bring up include religious beliefs that support the idea that the man is the head of the house, and also the general idea of "machismo." Other common differences are that Latinos tend to talk with their hands, tell long stories, and feel that any authority figure must be obeyed or else they might lose their children and be deported.
4) Despite these differences, what similarities among the men, compared to non Latino clients at Emerge, do you see?
All men use similar excuses for abuse: the legal "system" is in favor of women, they blame the partner, and use self defense as an excuse. They don't understand how their abuse affects the children and their partner. They all want to be loved and have a "loving, sexual, submissive relationship with their partners" and don't understand why they are not achieving this. They struggle with life challenges: work, unemployment, substance abuse and fatherhood.
5) As you've already mentioned, many of your group members are illegal immigrants. With the new national emphasis on arresting and deporting illegal immigrants, how has that affected the families you work with?
This is of high concern to us, because partners will not report domestic violence if they fear or perceive threats by government institutions. The Latino community is small and the word gets out quickly if one person is deported or a child is removed from a family after domestic violence has been reported. The high alert throughout the communities is real. One example is the city of Waltham, which has a very high concentration of undocumented Latinos workers, where we have heard that I.C.E. was showing up in court and arresting the clients on the spot who were undocumented. We believe that one result of this has been a drastic decline of domestic violence referrals from the court.
Two major reasons for the non-reporting of domestic violence among victims are their fear of being deported and losing their children. In addition, if the abuser is the only source of income and he is deported, she will be unable to pay the bills if she can't work. This is especially true if she has small children and does not qualify for affordable childcare. We have also seen cases when the abuser is legal and the survivor is undocumented, and he uses this power as a weapon of control by telling her, "I will call immigration and will have you deported, or I will call D.C.F. (child welfare) and take the children."
I've had two recent examples of how the criminal justice system has not served Latino victims of abuse well. In one of these, an undocumented survivor went to court to request a restraining order, and the police served the R.O. at her home while the survivor and the perpetrator were both there. In the other example, a survivor was told by a police officer that because she was undocumented, she would be arrested if she came to the police station to report that she was being abused.
6) Familismo is a powerful concept in Latino culture. How does that influence cultural perceptions of domestic violence?
Familismo includes the view that the mother is the nurturer and the one in charge of nesting in the home, and the father is the breadwinner and disciplinarian. The concept of familismo can contribute to women's isolation because of the idea that women are supposed to look for guidance only among family members or clergy and do what they can to keep their home together. It can contribute to shaming by other family members who put pressure on the survivor to "work it out." Our clients will sometimes complain that "she changed as soon as we moved to the U.S., she is no longer being the mother."
7) Are there other cultural norms, maybe ones specific to men, that help them to challenge their controlling or abusive behavior?
We try to hold them to the positive image of how a "macho man" should act. For example, if they believe a man should be a provider and a protector, then what legacy does he want to leave? How does he teach respect? By use of fear tactics or by being respectful? We discuss the differences between these methods. We discuss the ability to negotiate family decisions with your partner, the challenges of having just one income in the U.S., and the need for him to respect her desire to work, contribute or educate herself.
8) Several studies have found profound health disparities between Latinos and mainstream cultures. Specifically, Latinos have higher rates of high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes and yet less access to affordable health care. How do you think this may contribute to domestic violence?
These medical conditions become more likely when you are working 2 or 3 low paying jobs, probably in hazardous conditions. Most likely you are taking public transportation which adds time to your work schedule, and you live in a neighborhood with limited access to a grocery store, surrounded by fast foods. Your living conditions, your home might be unsafe (air, lead, water). If both partners are working, no one has time to cook a healthy home meal. And if you have a limited amount of money, your only source of entertainment might be watching TV, where the viewer is bombarded with ads for unhealthy food. Smoking and alcohol are prevalent as depicted in ads you see in poor community stores and billboards. Contributing to the risk is limited access to health insurance, and if you are undocumented, maybe no access at all. This is a recipe for a stressful, unhealthy life.
Some victims of abuse don't get the medical help they need because in some cases their abuser will hide their medication, prevent them from going to the doctor, or accuse them of mental illness.
Some of the men rely on the partner to make doctor's appointments, cook for them and keep them healthy. If you are the abuser, you might blame her for your own health issues, you might be irritable, you might self-medicate through the use of alcohol and drugs.
Part of our intervention process with abusive men at Emerge is to require them to establish a self-care plan where they take more responsibility for improving and maintaining their health. This is an active process in the group and we provide suggestions for the men. In some cases we have referred them to doctors and to mental health providers for problems like depression, anxiety and substance abuse. We also give recommendations for healthy diet, exercise and stress reduction.
9) The completion rates of Latino men are higher than among our other clients. To what to you attribute that to?
I would attribute it to the following factors:
- Fear of authority and fear of deportation. If you are here undocumented you might have limited financial resources (can't hire a lawyer), have limited knowledge of the English language, and might not even know how to read or write.
- Fear of losing your children.
- Many men really come to like what they are getting from Emerge. For some men this is the first time they are in a classroom setting; some refer to us as "Mrs." or "teacher." It may be the first time they are able to speak of their emotions and relationships and be vulnerable. Some will of course act as victims and want the sympathy of others. For some, it is the first time that they have been in a group of their peers (Spanish-speaking), sharing emotions and relationship stories, discrimination stories, and life stories.
- Emerge becomes a resource exchange. We also encourage them to help each other out with work opportunities, sharing transportation, nutrition and health information.
10) How do the men relate to you as a female group leader?
I get two types of reaction. The men who are committed to the double standard and the negative view of patriarchal or machismo beliefs will be either dismissive or undermining of what I say. These men will often say, "Well you always see her point of view, or take her side." The other set of men will be extremely respectful, often cautious of using swear words, or ashamed to talk about sex or their abuse. They tend to view women in authority as "Mother Teresa" or a teacher.
11) Mother Teresa! Have you achieved sainthood at Emerge?
Unless I can wear a fashionable tunic with high heels, it's not going to happen.
12) Some of your work at Emerge has involved community outreach and education, as well as media interviews. How does this support your work with abusers?
Getting the word out is key to unlocking women voices to report abuse. Part of our work is doing partner contacts, hearing the victim's side of the story and giving her as much information as we can to help her make a choice about her relationship, hopefully empowering her to make a decision that is best for her and her family. Again, many Latino communities believe that family matters should be kept secret or only be resolved by clergy or family members. Our outreach and education to partners hopefully helps them to overcome shame and isolation, and restore some faith in the legal system.
In our community talks, we assure the community that we understand why at times survivors stay in an abusive relationship and how victim advocacy programs as well as Emerge can assist with the process of ending an abusive relationship. We provide education on what is a respectful relationship and how ending abusive behavior in relationships helps the whole community.
The community needs to be supportive of survivors and be intolerant of abuse of any kind in the family. An incredible awakening for the public is to know that one in four couples are in abusive relationships and to learn how children and communities as a whole are damaged by it. We point out the high incidence of depression, teenage violence, drug use, alcohol, and obesity, all of which might be a direct result of a community that has turned a blind eye to abuse in families. We have been encouraged by the growing numbers of self-referred clients, as well as those who are referred by churches, schools, community centers, and therapists.
13) So you are still doing customer service work in a way?
I guess yes since we are always providing a service to clients, families, and courts. Directly or indirectly, when dealing with the public, you are always doing customer service.