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Maestra Debra Camarillo: Warrior Spirit

Recently featured in the National Compadres Network Newsletter , by Héctor Sánchez-Flores, Executive Director.

This newsletter will re-introduce Maestra Debra Camarillo to many. She leads the Latino Commission and Nuevo Comienzo that collectively work to support communities in the Bay Area and the Central Valley. Debra’s mantra of ¡Hasta la Victoria! (Until Victory is Achieved) is a clear statement of the unyielding determination she brings to help individuals and families through the efforts she leads. She has also supported NCN on many levels and we are both blessed and honored to call Debra our maestra!

Debra Camarillo is a warrior. She is a woman who fought to free herself from addiction and for over 25 years has fought to protect, heal and grow many Latino communities in California. She is recognized nationally as a culturally rooted healer and has trained and supervised clinical staff in culturally rooted healing practices and methodologies. She has received a number of awards for her leadership and contributions to the Chicano community, but above all, Debra considers it an honor and privilege to serve the Creator and her community. Today, Debra serves as the Executive Director of The Latino Commission. Incorporated in 1991, the Latino Commission serves three counties; San Francisco, San Mateo and Tulare County; offering continuum of services for outpatient, residential and transitional housing to the Latino community.

Recently NCN interviewed Debra. Here is what she had to say:

Could you talk about the development of the Latino Commission?

The Latino Commission got started from a group of Chicanos who were in recovery. We looked around and saw that there was no place for Spanish Speakers to go into recovery. We knew there were dollars for Latino treatment but didn’t see anything being done so we got help from the Hispanic Commission and incorporated in 1991. It all started with that passion. If you were Latino and hurting, where do you go? We wanted to offer a place for Chicanos and Latinos to be surrounded by their own, in an environment that was reflective of our values, and be able to associate in a place like home. It felt very much like, “We’re owning who we are”. It was very cultural. We were going to claim the people we should be; warriors of integrity. Personally, I was very, very new. I had just come out of the criminal justice system and had my own struggles but was able to unite with this group of Chicanos and Latinos that wanted to do something. I had a passion to do something but didn’t know how to do it in a healthy way. I was looking for a place to belong. I wanted to do some good but didn’t fully understanding yet that I needed to heal.

Did you see what you were going through at the time as a journey of healing?

Yes, I was a heroin addict for years, and I knew that I couldn’t change. I believed that “Once a dope fiend, always a dope fiend”. But there was something inside that questioned, “Is this all there is?” I wanted to change but did not know how. Once in recovery, I began to understand that all those traumatic events and abuses wounded my soul and that what I needed most was to heal myself.

How did you rise in leadership? You’re Executive Director, how did that happen?

I think that there’s some of us that no matter where we are, we feel the passion and ride the wave of leadership . I have always felt a passion for justice and a desire to plant a seed to grow a community. Even during the days when I was part of the shadows, I always had that desire and exhibited an element of leadership, even though it might have been off the wall leadership. When I finally came in, I knew I had to do something.

What has been your connection to the National Compadres Network?In the 90’s I remember hearing Maestro Jerry speaking and it just touched my soul. His message resounded with me. I understood that I was on the same path that he was talking about, except he was in L.A. and we were up here (San Mateo County). I remember being impacted by his presentation that day. I’ll never forget. And then as years went by, we were busy developing the treatment and fighting for what we considered bilingual, bicultural programming. The Latino Commission started to grow so we expanded into the Central Valley. The Fresno Regional Foundation heard about what we were doing and invited us to submit a grant, and we got funded. While at a committee meeting, I met Héctor (Sánchez-Flores, NCN Executive Director). He was instrumental in helping us get funding to expand our services. So, I look back and see the 90’s meeting with Jerry as a glimpse into the future, where we are connected today. It’s just a natural fit; we are of the same heart. More recently I was invited to be part of the Comadres Network and now the blessing of being involved with Xinachtli (training). Just a side note, when I went to the Xinachtli training I thought, “This is what I’m talking about! This is it! This is what we need.” The cultural teachings are in our DNA. They cry out as what we know. This is the truth our youth need, and truth comes from different exposures, right? They hear something, they see something, and say, “I understand that, I recognize that in my own family and it’s good.” It’s kind of like your mother is third generation and she doesn’t cook but you smell the beans and tortillas and there’s something about it! You recognize it and it warms you inside.

Would you like to add anything else?

The struggle in our communities is real because people don’t want to acknowledge what really works. They want to force us to use a Western paradigm. NCN is opening the door for others to come through and for our youth to have something that is reflective of themselves.

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