In social work practice, our ability to demonstrate culturally responsive service delivery has become a perennial challenge. The rapidly changing landscape in the context of cultural and linguistic diversity makes the urgency of establishing culturally inclusive professional practice more necessary. Evidence of its importance can be found in federal directives, state mandates and professional best practice guidelines that are undergirded by a recognition that responsive practice requires an awareness of cultural influences and manifest differences. This is particularly important as efforts to more fully engage with culturally responsive practice coincides with the push for a higher standard for professional caring to be culturally relevant. From a basic social science-informed perspective, culturally based experiences vary in such profound ways, both within and across groups and communities, that limiting practice to common or core sets of cultural meanings or shared practices for practice purposes merely minimizes the complexity of culture. Cultural experiences are experienced and expressed in complex and dynamic ways, and how cultural differences become framed has major implications for how they become recognized and incorporated into socially just practice. Various approaches to cultural sensitivity and institutional attachments appear in the literature although there is a particular need to uncover the many ways that a focus on cultural competence may impair our ability to embrace the ambiguity and uncertainty of cultural differences. Cultural humility offers a perspective that invites tolerance, inclusion, and diversity while promoting transformation, facilitation, and collaboration in knowledge development and in the search for cultural relevance in its social work application. It is a perspective that ultimately invites the sharing of both social opportunities and social fate, and is at the core of socially just empowerment
Robert M. Ortega and Roxanna Duntley-Matos
The profession of social work continues to struggle with the provision of services that must be culturally sensitive to the values and traditions of the people who live in rural neighborhoods and colonias along the U.S.–Mexico border. The diverse populations that live in the border environment are self-reliant and distrust outsiders. This most salient fact creates opportunities for social work programs to adopt the person-in-the-environment approach to assessment. In so doing, the gente (people) in need of services are more apt to feel respected and will facilitate access to their families and communities. The rurality paradigm was developed to provide an understanding of the underlying ideologies of the community first and foremost. Rurality views people’s self-image as constructed by their interactions with each other and the environment. Social work practice in rural areas continues to be at the forefront of both educational and professional concerns. A paradigm shift is advocated to capture the “rurality”- defined lifestyle found along the U.S.–Mexico border of South Texas. This approach provides a more in-depth view of the social interactions necessary for competent, culturally sensitive social work practice.