History of Intercambio
Intercambio was the brain-child of Joe Solis and other colleagues from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. This group of Latino faculty imagined a program that would allow “students to travel to Mexico and experience first-hand the factors that impact migrant families.” Mr. Solis was acutely aware of the deficit in training and preparation for social work students who would be serving Latino communities. Hence, he and his colleagues envisioned a bi-national program that would “provide (students with) a broader understanding of the dynamics and perspectives of Latino families, their informal helping networks and their communities;” He envisioned, “growing (a) corps of professionals who are specially knowledgeable, sensitive and capable . . . .” The first Intercambio trip was held in the summer of 1983.
When Mr. Solis retired from the School of Social Work in 1995, Intercambio was overseen by field faculty consultant, Rafael Herrera. With the support of Peter Manoleas and Dr. Kurt Organista. Mr. Hererra proceeded to lead 7 number of groups to Mexico between 1995 and 2010. Mr. Herrera persisted in keeping the program alive. Interest on the part of students never waned, sustainability was a challenge as this program was not always seen as a funding priority.
Thirty-two years later Mr. Solis’ vision still holds true. Currently, the Latino population constitutes the largest single racial/ethnic group in California since statehood (39%). Nearly 36% of children ages 5 to 17 in California are being raised in families where Spanish is the primary language at home. 23.6% of Latinos is California struggle with poverty; households with a foreign born head of household fare worse with poverty rates of 26.9. Locally, Latinos represent 23.5% of the San Francisco Bay Area population.
These statistics are particularly salient for social workers because Latinos are at higher-risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, and more likely to experience a major depressive episode. Long-term residence in the United States is directly correlated with dramatic increases in the rates substance abuse. Despite such needs, Latinos underutilize California’s public mental health services. Significant gaps in the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health services and a shortage of bilingual and bicultural mental health workers have been identified as critical contributing factors to lack of access to and underutilization of mental health services among Latinos.