Community Power Building in San Ysidro

San Ysidro serves as a microcosm of the intersections and complex issues our region faces. What happens here reverberates throughout the San Diego/Imperial County/Baja California region in powerful ways.

As we prepare for the Catalyst 2022 Annual Conference, Here & Now, taking place November 3rd at the San Ysidro Civic Center, we’re delving into what it means to be an equitable binational region by spotlighting two community institutions founded in this unique border community. The stories of Casa Familiar and San Ysidro Health are deeply rooted in community power building and female BIPOC leadership, even as the organizations continue to evolve and expand their roles today.

Casa Familiar: Working with the people, for the people

Casa Familiar is a San Ysidro-based service and community development organization offering bilingual services and programs related to civic engagement, health, social services, education, art, and more. Originally organized in 1968 under the name Trabajadores de la Raza, Casa Familiar has grown from existing solely to serve the Spanish-speaking community of San Ysidro to encompass over 40 bilingual programs for all South San Diego residents. Early on, Casa leaders recognized they were serving a low-income population with shifting and multidimensional needs. To be successful over the long term, Casa would continually pivot their work to align with evolving issues in the community — while also engaging residents to guide organizational priorities and advocate for broader policy change.

Community power building is baked into everything Casa Familiar does. The Sin Límites/Unlimited forum enables residents to provide input on community visioning, policy, and decision making around issues impacting San Ysidro and the border region. Casa’s San Ysidro Civic Center regularly hosts community organizing and advocacy workshops as well as convenings focused on community and economic development issues. Lay community health advocates known as Promotoras lead programs focused on nutrition, exercise, and other wellness practices — all free to the community. Casa’s Arts & Culture Division also launched THE FRONT: A Collaborative of Arts, Cultural, Design & Urbanism to bring together arts, social programming, and urban research in the border region. Casa Familiar’s wide range of programs is grounded in the idea that a thriving community necessitates involvement on all fronts, and that engaging residents in this way will contribute to a “sustainable border region guided by equity, equality, and social justice.”

San Ysidro Health: Improving community health with access for all

The story of San Ysidro Health begins in 1969 with a group of concerned San Ysidro mothers sharing a common goal: help their children and community find affordable, culturally appropriate health care in their own neighborhood. At that time, only one physician served the 7,000 largely Mexican-American residents of San Ysidro, a primarily agricultural community. The women, known as the Founding Mothers, formed el Club de Madres to avoid the multiple bus transfers and day-long treks typically required for their families to access medical care further north in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood. That same year, the Mothers began working with Dr. Ruth Covell of UCSD’s School of Medicine on a plan to deliver medical services to San Ysidro residents, provide jobs within the community, and inspire young people to pursue health careers.

With limited formal education and resources, the Mothers collaborated with some of San Diego’s leading medical institutions to open La Casita. From this modest wood frame house at 223 Mesa Boulevard, the first iteration of San Ysidro Health launched as a voluntary program, with a few dozen patients seen per day by volunteer medical staff, for just two afternoons per week. Fast-forward 50 years, and San Ysidro Health now provides wide-ranging, culturally competent medical services through an integrated network of sites across San Diego County, including medical clinics, dental clinics, behavioral health centers, HIV centers, WIC nutrition centers, mobile medical units, school-based health centers, and a senior health center.

We celebrate San Ysidro’s legacy of community power building, advocacy, and BIPOC/female leadership — and hope this inspires you to learn more about the people and organizations of this dynamic binational community. To join your fellow social impact leaders at Here & Now: Catalyst’s 2022 Annual Conference, visit We’ll see you in San Ysidro on November 3rd!