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What is Cultural Brokerage and How it Engages Communities

February 9, 2022

If you’re anything like Jeiri, you might not be familiar with the term “cultural broker”. That is why Jeiri is joined by Angela West. Angela is a multicultural specialist who serves families and professionals by educating them of the cultural impact on disability and connecting them to resources.

Today, Angela is introducing you to what being a cultural broker is like. She talks about her experience being an individual with physical disabilities and the challenges she faces as she bridges the gap between cultural backgrounds and disabilities in communities. Angela also opens up about the impact she’s noticed on communities from her work such as seeing families gain access to resources which change their lives.

From her favorite parts of being a cultural broker to the real-life impact that her work has, Angela, shares the important changes she’s set into motion, why she loves working with advocates, and her best advice for those looking at becoming or creating a cultural broker program at their UCEDD.

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This episode was funded by the Administration for Community Living through technical assistance contract # HHSP233201600066C. The contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Administration on Community Living, US Department of Health and Human Services, or the US Government.


Welcome to AUCD Network Narratives, where we share real stories from our members. I'm your host, Jeiri Flores Advocacy Specialist at the Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities and the co-chair for the Council on Leadership and Advocacy. Join us as we hear from inspiring leaders within our network working to make a change.

Jeiri Flores: We are here today with Angela West, who worked at VCU within the partnership for people with disabilities in the center for family involvement. As a multicultural specialist, this position enables her to serve families and professionals by educating them of the cultural impact on disability and connecting them into resources. In addition, her role allows her to support others within the organization and professionals as they serve the community. Angela also has an interpreter who is also here with us today. His name is Interpreter (Daniel). Angela, I'm going to be honest. I am fascinated by this cultural broker thing. I don't think I understand it all the way to be quite honest with you. I think it's a cool position to be in. And if I really thought about the roles that I take, maybe sometimes I'm a cultural broker, but I don't know. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what it's been like for you?

Angela West: Angela Speaking

 (Interpreter (Daniel): Yeah, of course. You're not the only one with questions.

Jeiri Flores: Got you.

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): When I first got introduced to cultural brokerage, I didn't know anything about it either. So the goal is to have somebody within the community, linking people to resources outside of the community and facilitating those conversations back and forth.

Jeiri Flores: So, what would you say is one of the hardest parts about it?

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): When I first got hired, I was really excited. I was fresh out of grad school and I was ready to change the world. I was hired to be an Asian cultural broker because I'm half Korean, my mother's Korean and my father is American. So I never anticipated having barriers within the community. But as I started getting out there into the community, I realized that the Asian community is a tight-knit community, which is great. There are supports available for the Asian community, but it's difficult to come in from outside the community. I was hired to utilize the resources that I had, but I realized that once I talked to people who didn't know me and weren't familiar with my story, they were very resistant to talk with me. I'm coming in as a person with a physical disability, using a wheelchair and who has a speech impairment. And a lot of the times I will have an interpreter, an interpreter with me who, or a personal aid who's not from the community.

Jeiri Flores: Would you say that you are developing your identity as a, a person with a disability while also developing and growing within your cultural norms and your cultural beliefs? And so you're navigating those two roles and bringing them together to really be able to do your job?

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): Oh, yes. Yes, a lot of the time it's all about intersecting identities. And for me, I can't hide my disability because when you see me, you see the wheelchair. When you hear me, you hear my speech impairment. And with that come assumptions and judgments, that can be impact by cultural perspectives.

Jeiri Flores: For sure. It is so funny, This makes me think of, so I just started my master's program like a year and a half ago. Right. And so it's all been online. So no one has seen me in person yet. And I was like going to run a fake little study to see how different people treated me because they can't see my chair because I'm online. So unless I stayed out loud, no one knows. And this is like the first time in my life that that's actually been a thing. And then I was like, no, that's weird. Why would I even want to see if there's a difference. And I felt uncomfortable even thinking like that. So like the first day at class, I'm like, yeah, and I'm in a wheelchair and da, da, da, and I'm disabled. And so I'm like listing all these personal things, like all my intersections, because I'm like, no, because you can't see the full me and that's not something that I was used to. And I think that the pandemic has like, made me have to be a little bit louder. I mean, if you see me in person, I'm super louder and proud of who I am, but like, I think this virtual world has forced me into being a little bit louder and prouder, so I get it. Those assumptions all come, especially, it's so weird about like the type of chair that you use, like how disabled you look like, what your hands look like. Like there's all these running lists of things that you like, just know people are watching you do. And so you're just kind of uncomfortable, but also just ready to kind of jump in at any state. Like it's hard to navigate those. One of my friends says I don't leave being disabled at the door when I walk in the room. Like, you know what I mean? Like, it comes with me everywhere I go.

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): Yeah. Yeah. I agree. And because of COVID, I’ve realized that I can hide it a little bit if I don't talk and that's been insightful to me.

Jeiri Flores: And so weird because then it's like the, no, it kind of makes you want to go harder, Right?

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): Yeah, yeah.

Jeiri Flores: The social norms of how we police our own bodies is people with disabilities is, it's really depending on the day kind of hard to navigate.

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): Yeah. And there are days where I don't want to talk about it. I just want to be Angela, you know.

Jeiri Flores: For sure. I mean, I think that we over poor in a lot of situations in as advocates, because I think some people expect that from us, especially if, you know, we're brought in as the personal story or as the personal experience. So that makes their job a little bit harder.

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): Yes.

Jeiri Flores: I'm going to be honest. I'm still struggling with this cultural broker thing because it's a concept to me. It just feels uncomfortable because of the expectations on both sides of the field, right? So there is expectations for you to connect with your community. And then there's expectations that, you know, you connect the realm of your, you said to your community, what have you found success in when you do this?

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): It's been awesome to learn about different cultures, because I work on a team of cultural workers and I learned so much from them for what works and doesn't work for certain cultures. Like something that you said of how we can't be this sole speaker for a specific culture. And I don't strive to be, even with disability, like I'm not representing all of the people with disabilities because it's too much and you can't, it's too much weight. That's not mine to have in the first place. So I think having those conversations and leading those conversations is where it starts.

Jeiri Flores: So when you think about all the work that you've done, how do you think you've impacted the community?

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): I’ve seen families to be able to access resources because as the cultural brokers, helping them access them and their lives completely change. And that's really impacted me personally because I love seeing individual change in people. And it makes me think about how we can reach different communities. And I love being stretched to think about, what's not always in front of people.

Jeiri Flores: What would you say is your favorite part? So I think of like, for me as an advocate, you feel it when it goes, right, like when you're in a room and you're presenting to either whomever for me is predominantly med students and residents and lend trainees, you could just feel it in the air when it goes right. And you're like, yep, that's it. This is why I do what I do. And then you also feel it when it goes wrong. So what would you say is your favorite part of this?

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): Yeah. It's funny that you say that cause yesterday I was kind of thinking about that. And my focus is on parents with kids with disabilities. And my main team of coworkers are parents of kids with disabilities. I really enjoy seeing the change in their lives and in their kids' lives and having this conversation it's something that I wish that my mother and dad could be a part of. I think that it would change the trajectory of our lives. Not because I'm not grateful for what I have, but it would've changed a lot.

Jeiri Flores: I get that. My mom is my top dog. She is the star of my show. She is my favorite holiday. And I think that choosing to be an advocate as a career was really hard because in Spanish it don't make sense in Spanish, you advocate is el abogado and so it's really related to being like a lawyer, not necessarily like a community advocate and so explaining my job or what I do is complicated. And so it doesn't make sense and it took a long time to even get here. So taking so long to get to progression is really frustrating and having to explain ableism and all of the different things in Spanish and to other folks in the community in this way, it's been difficult for me because I don't always find the right words. And so having to navigate all of that. So it's like you work at work and you work at home. Like there's never a time where you're really not working.

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): So, it's not that I don't like working with advocates. I love working with advocates, but it's a really unique opportunity to work with parents.

Jeiri Flores: I would agree. I think parents sometimes are the biggest barriers. So like some of that work, you know, they need to kind of see you and so that they can even envision their child thriving, right? Like working at a university and being established and living a life, just living, you know what I mean? Like they don't always get to see that. So I get that for sure. How do you think you've grown in this?

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): I’ve learned to adapt. I have a passion for teaching professionals. Because as a little girl, I always wanted to be a teacher and the classroom's not the best place for me right now. And so this is a way that I can be living out the true of teaching and teaching them about diverse cultures and how to work with people from different cultures and support people from different cultures.

Jeiri Flores: So my last question to you would be, what advice do you have for any UCEDDs who are looking to establish cultural broker Programs?

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): The biggest thing that I have to say is that you have to know your community and you have to have communication and trust within the community. And that doesn't happen overnight, right? It's a constant conversation. It's a constant ability to show up and showing that you're reliable, even when it gets hard. And the last thing that I have to say is that the cultural broker cannot be the sole person in communication with that culture. Like, I can't be the only person talking within the Asian community. And I have to establish that trust and reaching out to my colleagues with me and bring them into the conversation after that trust is built. And I can't be the sole representative for that community at every project. And having conversation with the UCEDD staff is really difficult, but it needs to happen.

Jeiri Flores: I agree. I mean, I still don't really get it. I'm not going to pretend like I do. I think it just sounds a little different, but thank you so much for being here with us today. Thank you so much for sharing your journey and for the work that you do and, and how you're pushing, you know, to really be inclusive of the communities that Sometimes we don't think about, and we don't, you know, we don't serve in the right ways.

Angela West: Angela Speaking

Interpreter (Daniel): Thank you.

Thank you for tuning in to AUCD Network Narratives. If this story has inspired you to make a change at your center or program, use the link in our show notes for resources and tools to help you lead on. We'd love to connect with you. So visit the AUCD website and click on the submit your story button at the top. We hope to hear from you soon.

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