Mental Health in the Latinx Community and Hispanic Heritage Month
It is very common for Hispanic Families to talk about the “American Dream”, striving to get a higher education, the importance of hard work, the insistence of having a family, and the respect, love, and loyalty that goes along with our culture. However, I don’t quite recall important talks related to mental health, do you?
Hello everyone, and Happy October!
It is that time of the year where we all start to see and feel a shift in the world, in the air, in the foods and drinks we consume, our workload, and end of the year jitters commence. This time of year also brings daily and monthly celebrations- with that said, September 15 to October 15 each year the U.S. celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM)- which is quite obvious on my IG page @bewholewithnicole, if you have yet to follow and check out my recent posts, definitely take a look-see after reading this month’s blog. This last month, I had the honor to join Dr. Claudia Caprio via the @lulyapp and @CMCtherapy platform to talk on the topic of Multigenerational Patterns of Abuse in Hispanic Families and delved deeper for a second Instagram live. If you missed it, feel free to check out the videos on @lulyapp’s IG page.
What is Hispanic Heritage Month?
Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15 each year, and that timing is significant: September 15 is the anniversary of independence for the Latin American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and 18, respectively, and Columbus Day (Dia de la Raza, or Day of the Race, a holiday in many Latin American countries) falls on Oct. 12.
It’s set aside as a time for Americans to celebrate the histories, cultures, and contributions of the people of Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Initially established as a one-week celebration in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson, President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a month in 1988, to acknowledge the growing Hispanic population in our country. A population growing by leaps and bounds each year. So, this year, why not try recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month by partaking in Hispanic traditions and honoring the many ways in which Hispanics have enriched our lives? If you’re not sure where to start, never fear.
Can you imagine, “What would the United States or the world be without the many influences Hispanic culture has had on our daily lives?” Soccer without Messi? Politics without Sotomayor or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Music without Shakira, Marc Anthony, Selena, Bad Bunny, Daddy Yankee? Writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez?
These contributions and others hailing from Spanish-speaking countries around the world have imprinted themselves on our American way of life in countless ways, and it’s time to honor them.
Tip 1: Honor Hispanic People
Read “My Beloved World,” the autobiography of Sonia Sotomayor, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent who, in 2009, became the first Hispanic American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as only the third woman to serve in the entire 220-year history of the nation’s highest court.
Visit a farmers’ market and give thanks to the United Farm Workers union (formerly the National Farm Workers Association), founded by Cesar Chavez, a revolutionary Mexican-American who dedicated his life to nonviolent protest in support of humane treatment of workers and civil rights. His union fought against pesticide use, low wages, and cruel working conditions for farmworkers.
Tip 2: Appreciate Hispanic Art
Visual art is one of the few ways in which we can experience culture. Latino landscapes, portraits, social or political issues, and cultural touchstones all can be found in the work of Hispanic artists. Look for opportunities near you to experience their works. Many museums and galleries feature the work of Hispanic artists during Hispanic Heritage Month. The National Association of Latino Arts and Culture provides information about initiatives or arts programs around the country.
Tip 3: Read Hispanic Literature
Immerse yourself into the lives and times of some of the world’s greatest writers. Read the poems of 1971 Nobel Prize-winner Pablo Neruda, a Chilean who was awarded the prize “for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent’s destiny and dreams.”
On the other hand, open the pages of “Love in the Time of Cholera” or “100 Years of Solitude,” the internationally acclaimed novels by Gabriel García Márquez, a Colombian author and winner of a 1982 Nobel Prize. Described as “magical realism,” his works combine elements of fantasy with conventional storytelling that depicts his heritage and the Hispanic experience.
Tip 4: Embrace Talented Hispanic Performers
Watch “West Side Story” or “The King and I” and dance along with Rita Moreno, the Puerto Rican star of those films whose body of work earned her all four American entertainment awards: Academy, Tony, Grammy, and Emmy. Of course, there’s also the music of such beloved Hispanic musicians and singers as Jennifer Lopez (whose family were Puerto Ricans), Shakira (a Colombian), Ricky Martin (a Puerto Rican), Christina Aguilera (whose father is Ecuadorian), Gloria Estefan (a Cuban), Carlos Santana (a Mexican-American), and Tito Puente (whose family was Puerto Rican).
Tip 5: Discover Hispanic-American History
Immerse yourself in the history of Hispanic Americans by watching “Latino Americans,” a 2013 PBS special detailing the histories of Latinos from the first European settlements to today. The website for the special contains episodes, a timeline of events, and even an opportunity to share your own video story of what being Hispanic means to you, and how you celebrate your heritage.
Tip 6: Have Fun the Hispanic Way
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month should include fun. Try a few cultural traditions of the Hispanic world. Learn to play Hispanic games such as tejo (Colombian), dances such as salsa, bachata, tango, merengue, and cumbia, immerse yourself in true traditions that honor our culture.
Or, why not take yourself for a Hispanic-themed shopping spree? Visit or support local vendors who sell artesanias, handmade items that honor our culture and tell our stories.
Tip 7: Have Fun the Hispanic Way
Whether you’re a globetrotter or an armchair traveler, you can explore American sites steeped in Hispanic culture. Locales in South and West Texas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the American Southwest, the California Coast, the Georgia-Florida coastline, Florida shipwrecks, and Santa Clara, CA all are among those listed on the National Park Service website as areas where Hispanic heritage is demonstrated in national parks. The NPS is enhancing its interpretive services, its collaborations with community organizations, and its production of scholarly documents as part of its American Latino Heritage Projects efforts.
Tip 8: Dine the Hispanic Way
One of the best ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month is to visit a Hispanic restaurant. Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants abound, but why not give El Salvadoran a try with its pupusa: a thick, handmade, corn or rice flour tortilla stuffed with meat, cheese, and refried beans? What about Cuban, Peruvian, Argentinian, Chilean or Spanish cuisine? Look for opportunities to sample Colombian arepas, a food made of ground maize dough or cooked flour; Cuban picadillo, or hash; Costa Rican gallo pinto, a rice and bean dish; Spanish paella, a flavorful combination of rice, spices, meat, and seafood; or Peruvian ceviche, a dish of raw seafood cured in citrus juices and peppers.
You might even want to throw a fiesta! Stop by your neighborhood Mexican carniceria, or meat market, and pick up a few pounds of carne asada, which is thinly sliced beef marinating in juices and spices, or hit the local panaderia, or Mexican bakery, for some pastries and sweetbreads. Then whip up some margaritas and a taco bar, blast some Cuban rhythms, hang a piñata, and dance the night away. Your food will be even better if you’ve planted a Hispanic heritage garden, in which you’ve grown staple crops common in the Spanish-speaking world, including corn, beans, squash, and peppers. This is a great way to get your kids involved in recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month.
Let me know which tip stands out to you and why? And how do you plan to celebrate/honor Hispanic Heritage Month?
You may be asking yourself, what is the actual relevance of discussing this topic this month? Well, my hope is to shed some needed light on the multitude of beauty, value, and sacrifices this ethnic population has contributed to our country and world—and to also acknowledge the disparity in services and awareness into mental health this community actually has.
Did You Know?
The Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2019, is 60.6 million, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority. Hispanics constituted 18.5% of the nation’s total population.
The question on many clinicians’ minds is, “how can we improve our work with our Latina/o clients?” With the growing number of Latina/os in the U.S., it is likely we will work with these clients at some point as therapists, and it is our professional and ethical responsibility to be prepared and culturally sensitive.
Culturally sensitive therapy emphasizes the therapist's understanding of a client’s background, ethnicity, and belief system. Therapists can incorporate cultural sensitivity into their work to accommodate and respect differences in opinions, values, and attitudes of various cultures and different types of people. Cultural sensitivity also allows a therapist to gain and maintain cultural competence, which is the ability to first recognize and understand one’s own culture and how it influences one's relationship with a client, then understand and respond to the culture that is different from one’s own.
The need for this understanding may be based on characteristics such as age, beliefs, ethnicity, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.
What is Latinx/Latino/Latina/Hispanic?
When working with this demographic, it is so important to know the difference and be able to respect the client’s wishes in their preference in the use of proper terminology when referencing and/or interacting with this population.
Hispanic- Someone who is a native of, or descends from, a Spanish-speaking country.
The term hispano/hispana (Hispanic) wasn’t invented in the United States; it’s a Spanish word that means “belonging or relating to Hispania, Spain,” and “belonging or relating to Hispanoamérica (countries in the Americas where Spanish is spoken).” Hispanic came into use officially in the United States in the early 1970s during the Richard Nixon presidency. The U.S. government decided to adopt Hispanic to have a universal term that could serve to include all Spanish-speaking groups in the United States. Typically, a person born in or who descends from Spain is referred to as Spanish or a Spaniard.
Latino/Latina- Someone who is native of, or descends from, a Latin American country.
The term Latino/Latina includes people from Brazil and excludes those who were born in or descended from Spain. Not all Brazilians identify themselves as Latino/Latina, but many do. Thus, Hispanic refers more to language, while Latino/Latina refers more to culture.
Latinx- A gender-neutral term to refer to a Latino/Latina person. The “x” replaces the male and female endings “o” and “a” that are part of Spanish grammar conventions.
This term comes from American-born Latinos/Latinas who want to be more inclusive and gender-neutral, which is more akin to the English language.
Through my experience and therapeutic engagement with Hispanic children and their families affected by sexual abuse, as a therapist, I have observed that important conversations surrounding sex, sexual abuse, puberty, and sexual development have been absent, or erroneously communicated. When working with children and parents who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse, I’ve noticed the presence of chronic anxiety being passed down through multiple generations in the family system, typically surrounding the topic of their own personal experiences of sexual abuse. The importance of tracing the historical patterns that familial traditions and culture impact sexual abuse has had on Hispanic families is relevant for the ongoing survival of these families and their ability to have these critical conversations moving forward—breaking generational cycles of abuse and engaging in behaviors that will propel these families to have healing and mental wellness.
For additional information on multigenerational patterns of sexual abuse and the correlation between having “the talk” please refer to my Applied Clinical Project. You can also find it on my IG and Facebook bio.
Mental Health & Stigma in the Latinx Community
I grew up in a family with a multitude of traditions blended with new possibilities. Sometimes those ideas conflicted with one another. I remember the saying “lo que pasa en casa se queda en casa”—whatever happens in the house stays in the house. Or the typical “never air your dirty laundry.” With time these traditions that allowed our families to survive in certain times, settings, and environments may not necessarily be deemed as the healthiest. I have found for myself from personal and professional experience that talking to an unbiased professional really does help to shed light on important facets in my individual self and family that have needed processing.
“lo que pasa en casa se queda en casa”
In a study conducted by McCloskey and Bailey (2000), they found characteristics of family members that are embedded within the microsystem of risk for sexual abuse include mental health or illness of either parent, parental drug or alcohol use, with cocaine use most highly correlated to children’s victimization, marital conflict, and marital violence. In addition, maternal sexual abuse can pose a greater risk for maltreatment among the women’s children, including severe violence, there are also links between maternal sexual abuse and later child sexual abuse have also been reported.
The importance of being well-informed in what is mental illness and wellness and how does it look for me? In my family? Asking yourself is it impacting my daily functioning in a positive or negative way? How will I know that my culture, values, family traditions, and/or beliefs are impacting my mental health? These are all great questions, you can find support in an unbiased individual, this can be processed and discussed alongside a culturally sensitive and inclusive therapist. It is time to normalize speaking to a therapist just like we have normalized seeing a doctor for a headache or dentist for a toothache!
Journey to Obtaining Mental Wellness
With all of this in mind, choosing a culturally sensitive therapist is key. Look for a licensed therapist or counselor who communicates an awareness of your culture, beliefs, and practices, and whose goals and expectations for treatment are in line with yours. At times, the practitioner must be able to determine whether it is appropriate to treat a particular issue any differently than if you were from the same ethnic or cultural group. Make sure you feel comfortable discussing personal issues with the practitioner and expect anyone who is not familiar with your ethnic or cultural group to refer you to a more culturally sensitive professional.
It is my pleasure to announce that I am open to seeing new clients at the moment and do have additional availability at the moment. Please feel free to click here and schedule your first appointment with me by clicking “Schedule a Session with Nicole.” You will feel so relieved when you do. I look forward to meeting you!
And last but not least, a few Hispanic-owned IG pages I recommend following:
Stay healthy and safe everyone.
Thank you so much for reading. Please let me know if there are any topics that you’d like for me to touch on and discuss.
Enjoy your celebrations and learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Get out there and do something different.
Dr. Nicole Linardi, LMHC
Be sure to follow me on Instagram @bewholewithnicole