“I’m gonna give you a little pill…”
Ignacio Pulido, Jr. came to tell his story in Austin, TX, with his daughter, Adrienne, as part of StoryCorps Historias. We worked with Las Comadres para las Americas and the Austin History Center to record 12 conversations in Austin. Ignacio grew up in Laredo, TX. In his early 20s, he realized that there were no mental health services for Latinos in South Texas. He saw many children with emotional problems ending up in jail or foster care, and he wanted to help. But Ignacio didn’t have any mental health training.
We didn’t know what bi-polar was, we didn’t know what autistic was. We just knew there was something wrong with their behavior. We said, “Okay, we can observe behaviors.” That was our method. When we started watching the behaviors of people, we understood what was happening and their behavior told us what to do.
Another problem was that all of the materials available from the state were in English and were designed for middle class people. Ignacio translated the materials into Spanish, but it wasn’t just a language issue. Ignacio also had to culturally translate the materials for the Mexican-American population he was working with. One strategy was to get the fathers involved: “If I got the father involved in the program, the mother and children would follow. That’s what the culture indicated.”
Another strategy Ignacio used was to work with curanderos, or medicine doctors. They had a lot of influence in the community and controlled what people used for medication.
We got a hold of those curanderos and told them, “I’m gonna give you a little pill, this is called Thorazine. Will you give it to Miguel? But only give it to Miguel and no one else.” The curanderos were great for the people because most of the people didn’t know doctors. They were the guys that helped the families get by and provided the services that people needed.
Eventually, Ignacio and his colleagues were able to grow their informal mental health network in the Rio Grande Valley into something larger. They were recognized by the state, and Texas even used their model to start bringing services into other under-served communities.
Looking back, Ignacio is proud of what he accomplished. “I used to work from seven in the morning to nine at night for 30 years,” he says. “Helping kids is one of the best things there is. You don’t care how long you work.”
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