Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) Aging & Independence Services Group liaison engages clients with her bilingual skills, celebrates the country where her parents come from.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Elizabeth Interiano was deeply immersed in the culture of her parents’ native El Salvador. Her mom ordered books from the tiny Central American country and made Elizabeth read and write in Spanish; her dad would spend hours in the kitchen making yuca con chicharrón.
“I have memories of my dad in the kitchen making chicharrones, and it was such a long process, with a huge wooden spoon in a big pot,” Elizabeth said recalling the typical Salvadoran dish that consists of fried yuca root and fried pork belly “with a layer of crispiness and lots of meat.”
“I have vivid memories of my dad cooking like that, and my mom and tías (aunts) cooking pupusas (cornmeal pockets stuffed with a savory filling).”
Even after moving to Atlanta in her senior year of high school, Elizabeth, who works as an Aging & Independence Services Group client services liaison, still maintains close connections to her Salvadoran culture. In her home office, she proudly displays a cobalt blue-and-white flag from El Salvador.
Elizabeth has worked at ARC for two-and-a-half years. She started working with Empowerline – helping older adults, adults with disabilities, and their caregivers to navigate through resources in their communities. Elizabeth was one of a few bilingual Empowerline information counselors. In this job, she felt like she was on the front lines helping community members. Though assessments took only about 20 to 30 minutes, many times she’d be on the phone for longer because callers wanted to talk to someone.
She recently started a new position screening clients for home- and community-based services. In her previous job, she received calls, many of them from Spanish-speaking residents; in her new one, she reaches out. Either way, she’s connecting residents from across the metro area to community resources, spending hours a day on the phone.
“I’m at ease talking to people I don’t know,” says Elizabeth. “Connections are really important. I’m not afraid to start conversations with strangers at the grocery store.”
Elizabeth, who has a bachelor’s degree in speech and a master’s in gerontology, says her job requires good listening and troubleshooting skills.
“It’s a little bit of a puzzle,” she explains. “If you have a discerning ear to hear what they’re saying, you can get them on the path to what they want. Sometimes clients are new to their roles as caregivers and are unsure of what they need, but as an Empowerline counselor, we can steer the client in the right direction.”
For Elizabeth, culture and family are closely intertwined, and those are linked to… food!
“It’s who we are, that’s how you maintain your culture, enjoying the same family traditions when you celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas,” she says. “Our family gets together, keeping up those traditions.”
Her Thanksgiving, for instance, involves turkey, but with a different spin. She prepares panes con pavo – a turkey sandwich made with braised turkey, cooked with herbs and seeds, on crusty bread, topped with a creole sauce.
Elizabeth is proud of the cooking chops she’s inherited from her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. when civil unrest was brewing before the infamous Salvadoran civil war in the 1980s.
“I make pupusas,” she says. “The secret is time; you have to start three days early. You must cook the meat and refry the beans. There’s also a process for the cheese. Then, you stuff this delicious little fat corn pocket with your fillings, and top it with pickled slaw and salsa.”