Ever since Zócalo Wellness was founded almost a decade ago, I’ve dreamed of being able to curate a clinic as community space. Our clinic was named Zócalo to refer to the spaces in Latin-American towns and cities called “el zócalo,” which refers to the town square, the meeting place where everything from markets, festivals, protests, and art installations happen. I wanted Zócalo Wellness to be a healing zócalo, a gathering space where people could find care, community, and empowerment around their health and wellness.
I also wanted Zócalo Wellness to represent something different than the homogenized and commodified image of alternative and traditional medicine so common in Portland and beyond. I knew alternative medicine as the vibrant and living traditional practices safeguarded by indigenous communities around the world, including the peoples of this continent and their descendants. I found shadows of these practices in my own family and in the immigrant communities I worked with before learning Chinese medicine. I wanted to show that these practices aren’t just for middle-class, college educated white women, as the statistics showed. Just like Portland, Chinese and East Asian medicine is not a white space, but erasure makes it seem like it is. I wanted Zócalo to represent in a good way the truth of traditional medicine as part of the rich tapestry of ancestral technology belonging to humanity throughout time.
Zócalo Wellness has had so many iterations. After working for years at Working Class Acupuncture and Outside In, I decided to start my own business. Zócalo Wellness was born and I joined the team at Asha Integrative Wellness as a renter. It was the perfect place for my fledgling business to land, among queer family who were practicing size-inclusivity and a culture of collaboration. Then, colleague Liz Long and I started a space in SE Portland where we planned to have classes and group offerings. It was going to be the next phase in having a true community space where people could gather and access different kinds of healing practices. However, after just a month in the space the COVID-19 pandemic hit and cut our project short. Later that year we closed the space.
Once it felt safe to see patients again I was lucky enough to join the newly opened Hey Doc Clinic. It was the perfect place to land in COVID times among amazing BIPOC practitioners, and got me back on my clinic feet after almost two years away. But, it soon became clear that Zócalo needed to change again. An opportunity at Open Hand Health gave us more space to create group offerings again, bring on Dr. James Ho and begin to create an actual team. In 2021 we grew faster than expected and needed to find a new home once again. After a whole year of searching we finally found it in our new space. After so many experiments and attempts, it is extra sweet to see the dream of a healing zócalo finally manifesting.
Zócalo Wellness was always conceived with inclusivity in mind. I don’t think it is possible or desirable to serve all people. Only the government has the mandate and the resources to do that, and they fail miserably all the time. I am always asking myself who I can serve best with my limited resources, taking special care to notice who isn’t being cared for already.
In Portland, the so-called “whitest city in America,” BIPOC community is often left out. Add on LGBTQIA+ identity, disability, immigrant status, ESL, and income inequality, and access becomes harder and harder. These are my communities, and who we center at Zócalo. The best way I know to do this is to curate a space that is always evolving to be safe(r), more inclusive, more loving, patient and kind, and that includes practitioners who reflect the community we are serving. That is why one of my main goals is to create economic opportunity for diverse practitioners. We diversify care by diversifying the profession, and we diversify the profession by creating good jobs in healthy working environments. It is not enough to be well-meaning and culturally-competent. We need representation to begin to have truly culturally-specific healthcare. I want to always be challenging myself to put down the master’s tools and find ways to be ever-more non-exploitative, anti-oppressive, collaborative, and interdependent.
I am not the only one to have this dream in Portland. I have spoken with so many BIPOC health practitioners and patients who wanted a space to call home that was free of supremacy. Around 2017 some of us talked over a series of gatherings, at my house and others’, about the potential for creating a clinic together. Some of those attendees, like Sita Symonette and Montserrat Andreys, now have their own LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC-centered clinics. It has been incredible to watch Portland blossom with the realization of this collective dream. I hope for Zócalo to be another nexus in this web, further facilitating healing at a moment in time that often feels very hard. May this clinic truly be a zócalo of wellness.