By EduardoMorales, Ph.D.
One of our unsung heroes in the SF Bay Area is J. Antonio Aguilar-Karayianni, M.A. He has worked in a variety of health and service promotion agencies in San Francisco as well as he has an extensive history in volunteering at many agencies. Antonio specializes in integrated mental health, substance abuse HIV/AIDS, and primary care in varied roles as project manager providing staff supervision, volunteer training. His over 30 years of experiences include doing outreach and recruitment, qualitative interviewing, and group facilitation as well as Spanish-English translation, editing and interpreting services. His volunteer experiences include a wide range of agencies through San Francisco to educate Latinx LGBTQ+ community by participating in creating curriculum modules to be use in these agencies. Antonio is very dedicated in his work for the community with a strong focus on immigrant issues and monolingual Spanish speakers. He is highly reliable in his professional and volunteer work with an eye on mentoring and building community leader skills among Latinx LGBTQ+ persons. He is passionate about community mental health services especially Expressive Arts therapy, support group facilitation, and psycho-educational workshops, culturally-based curriculum development, program/project management, teaching/training, staff supervision, and volunteer mentoring. Antonio has Expertise, and a high success rate in outreach/in-reach, recruitment & retention strategies, networking, community-building partnerships, and event planning. His experience includes working internationally while building bridges for new commers in the U.S.
Born in Guatemala Antonio immigrated and obtained advanced academic degrees in the U.S. He is keenly aware of the unique challenges immigrants face and has dedicated his career addressing those needs. Antonio is one of the founding members of AGUILAS and has served in a variety of roles including being a group intervention facilitator. He received his Master’s degree in counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and has participated in a wide range of research efforts focused on Latinx persons. Issues of importance for Latinx LGBTQ+ include the lack of utilizing critical thinking based on Latinx cultures. The poverty mentality and lack of constant accessible healthy role models he considers challenges for Latinx persons. The divisiveness of the LGBTQ+ spectrum is typically dismissed by using a flippant attitude toward their own lives and experiences especially after relationship break ups and issues about our bodies and selves. Complicating these challenges is the apparent absence of a centralized, accessible, respectful, and kind immigrant navigation center in San Francisco for the daily influx who just arrived.
What motivates Antonio to be involved in Latinx LGBTQ+ issues? He states that “Latinx communities are quite complex which is something that escapes most people who see us as an amorphous mass resulting in our needs being also complex and constantly evolving, as well as social, political, and environmental forces in our native countries, to mention a few. Based on my own experience as an immigrant trying my best to make a positive contribution to this society, but having no internal map to guide me, or role models to emulate I had to basically feel my way in the dark, hoping I wouldn't make too many mistakes. I realized early on that nobody else was going to provide me with what I truly needed and is the basis of myself reliance, as nobody else truly understood the journey that brought me here, or what I left behind, and why.
Choosing from that point on to become a well-informed service provider, an activist and community organizer, an advocate for disenfranchised groups among our multiple minority groups, such as being indigenous, trans women, people without a basic education or unable to read/write, people with mental health issues or other "invisible" challenges. These include being a recent immigrant, being a young queer man from Central America, professionals engaged in the political asylum process, etc. Eventually pursuing a Master's degree, has all been part of my constant effort to become a better man, to find daily satisfaction in my life choices, to continue to learn and expand my mind, and to be of service to others. Stepping into a leadership role has been a life-long process of self-scrutiny, self-challenging, and self-care.”
Antonio is a great example of numerous unsung heroes who has contributed greatly to raise issues and apply his professional training and career for the betterment of Latinx marginalized persons especially those who identify as LGBTQ+. We are extremely fortunate to have Antonio be a part of the San Francisco community where we have collectively benefited from his contributions while being an unsung hero among us.