At the Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families, Claudia Pineda is helping prevent domestic violence. Pineda is a domestic violence treatment specialist who uses culturally-specific programs to target the roots of violence and change behaviors. She is helping keep women safe, and more importantly, hoping to alter family behavior for generations to come.
Pineda described the transformation of a man who attended her program. When he first showed up, he blamed his partner and substance abuse for his violent and controlling behavior. In the support group, Pineda and other professionals helped him learn he had control over his behavior and helped him identify his abusive tendencies. After treatment, the man was able to speak honestly about his past behavior, which was difficult for him to admit. Pineda says this breakthrough can have a lasting impact on a family and a community.
“By helping this man, we have helped his ex-wife, his future female partners, his son and those women with whom his son will come into contact,” Pineda says.
A big part of the organization’s success is its approach. “At Esperanza, we teach clients to respond to abuse in healthier ways than to use fire against fire.”
Latino professionals like Pineda take into account the fact that some Latinas have to worry about their legal status and this fear must be considered when creating programs.
“There are some parts of the country where police arrive on the scene and if the family is Spanish-speaking, they ask for social security cards even if there is legislation that strictly prohibits this,” explains Pineda. Sometimes Border Patrol shows up. At that point, the fear of being deported and separated from their families may scare women more than their fear of their abuser. Additionally, some women may also have language barriers. Navigating a system in an unfamiliar language can be very daunting and women may not know how to access services. Few materials are even translated to Spanish.
Like Esperanza, Alianza, the National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence, is an organization that believes culturally-based approaches are necessary to look at elements which have been used to defend violence, to reinforce secrecy and to allow abuse. These groups recognize that a woman’s particular community frequently dictates how she will grapple with the issue of domestic violence.
This is why places like Esperanza and Allianza are so vital. Latinas often have unique challenges, which make their situations more complicated. They must navigate issues of machismo, which is more nuanced than many people think. For instance, there are some positive aspects, which include include dignity, wisdom, hard work, responsibility, spirituality, protection of the family, honor and self-reliance. But there are negative components, such as hypermasculinity, misogyny, violence and domination of women.
“In order to overcome the system, we have to learn how it works, to avoid participating in it and to create a new, different and healthier one,” Pineda explains.
Women also internalize machismo, which may prevent them from seeking support.
“The idea of strength is not usually the courage required to seek help from others, but rather to hold in the pain (perceived as complaints) experienced when suffering constant humiliation, put downs, and sometimes even physical abuse.” The extreme notion of self-reliance becomes debilitating, Pineda says.
Organizations like Esperanza and Alianza are integral to the safety of women and the well being of the Latino community, by providing both support and preventative measures. Culturally relevant programs, particularly those that examine machismo, are essential in getting to the root of domestic violence.
“I help other people who are not empowered and feel victimized,” Pineda says. “It’s extremely rewarding. A person can be so consumed in self-hate and pity that it can lead to committing suicide, or eliminating the person “causing” that pain, or both. I seriously believe I help save lives.”
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and freelance writer living in Chicago. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship to Madrid, Spain, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico. She is currently a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and a contributor for The Huffington Post, AlterNet, and Mamiverse. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Witness, Anti-, Hunger Mountain, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Copper Nickel, and others. Her nonfiction has appeared in Jezebel, Ms. Magazine, and American Public Media. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, or erikalsanchez.com.