Cultura Cura; Bringing culture back into the community

By Daniel Montaño , Senior Reporter

Andrew Lucero, Social Work major, said he is motivated by his past to help people where he works at the La Plazita Institute, a local commu­nity center that is an alter­native to detention center for juveniles convicted of crimes, and where Lucero tries to be a posi­tive role model for kids who have lost their way.

Lucero grew up in a single parent family, and when he was 15-years-old his father passed away from a heroin overdose, which he has also had his fair share of includ­ing trouble with alcohol, drugs and police, he said.

But instead of allow­ing himself to continue down a destructive path, Lucero decided to change his life and dedicated him­self to helping people who have to deal with similar struggles, he said.

“Everything I’ve done has led up to where I’m at right now. I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t regret. I’m not embar­rassed. I embrace it; I use it to continue making a difference,” he said.

La Plazita along with Lucero teaches these juvenile offenders about their culture and heritage and reintroduces them to their community so that these young men can begin working to clean up their communities rather than damage them, Lucero said.

“I think we all need it in our life; we all need our culture because if you know where you come from, you’re more likely to succeed in where you’re going,” he said.

At La Plazita they call it cultura cura, or culture cures, he said.

It is something Lucero himself had to do in order to get back into social work after spend­ing years in marketing, a career which allowed him to live a lavish lifestyle filled with alcohol and the problems that often come with it, he said.

After spending a year in jail for being convicted of his third DUI, Lucero took the time to rediscover his culture, reorganize his life and priorities and rededicate himself to helping others, he said.

“I kind of cleaned my own backyard. Plato (Greek Philosopher) said ‘Know thyself,’ and I take that seriously because I can’t help somebody if I don’t know myself and I don’t have a clean back­yard,” he said.

From working with troubled kids in schools, to lobbying in Santa Fe to start a clean needle exchange program and now working to eliminate racial disparities in New Mexico laws, he has had plenty of different oppor­tunities and avenues of helping others, he said.

He eventually wants to expand on that experi­ence by building a com­munity center in the international district once he is finished with his master’s degrees in social work and business, he said.

He wants to work with La Plazita and use the concept of cultura cura in his community center to build a neighborhood people will be proud to be a part of, he said.

“I think that’s the only way that a community organization can thrive and survive, is commu­nication with each other,” he said.

Lucero’s first experi­ence of being a positive role model for kids was as an educational assistant in the behavior intervention program in Albuquerque Public schools, he said.

He worked with kids who were often violent, that had come from hard upbringings and needed a positive role model in their lives to show them life didn’t have to always be a fight, he said.

The kids he worked with often didn’t have that role model at home, and were ignored in schools, he said.

“Nobody wanted to work with the kids I was working with,” he said.

Lucero then began working with Healthcare for the Homeless, a non­profit organization that provides free doctors, counseling and dentistry to people who live on the streets, as a harm reduc­tion technician, he said.

His job was to work with people who had substance abuse disor­ders, and work to mini­mize the damage they were doing to themselves through various health­care techniques, he said.

“It was such a new healthcare approach, that’s what I think it is more than anything, and it was real controversial and still is,” he said

A huge part of his job was lobbying in Santa Fe with the state legisla­ture and Governor Gary Johnson to enact a clean needle exchange, he said.

“Harm reduction was something (Johnson) didn’t understand and almost didn’t want to accept,” he said.

He had worked hard and was motivated by his own father’s death to get the law enacted, he said.

“I think that if he had something like that maybe he could have changed his life,” he said.

After lobbying for almost two years, he got the law passed and intra­venous drug users could bring in dirty needles, possibly infected with multiple diseases, and get a sterile needle in return, he said.

Through La Plazita, Lucero is now on the New Mexico RRED committee, a commit­tee to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in New Mexico Laws, and is composed of people within the justice system in Albuquerque and com­munity members who work with people con­victed of crimes, he said.

The committee combs through the lan­guage of laws and advises the legislature on how the laws can be changed to make them fairer to minorities, who often have higher rates of con­viction or failed probation, he said.

Working with the committee has interfered with his class time, but his teachers have been great in allowing him the time he needs to work for a better tomorrow, he said.

“Most of my teachers have been really under­standing because of the work I’m involved with,” he said.

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