“You are not lucky to be here. The world needs your perspective. They are lucky to have you.”– Antonio Tijerino, President & CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation
Each year from September 15th to October 15th, National Hispanic-Latino Heritage month is recognized. This month is to celebrate the rich histories, cultures, and contributions of people whose ancestors come from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Spain. This month originally started as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, and was expanded to a full 31-days in 1988. The month begins on September 15th because that is the anniversary of the independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua; Sept 16th is the anniversary of Mexico’s independence, Sept 18th
is the anniversary of Chile’s independence, and September 21st is when Belize declared its
independence; also Día de la Raza is on Oct 12th falling within the month.
Now the terms Hispanic and Latino encompass 62.1 million people (18.7% of the population in 2020) and has been steadily increasing for the past few decades. Originally the term “Hispanic” came from United States census’s need to categorize people and the term was used for “Americans who identify themselves as being of Spanish-speaking background and trace their origin or descent from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America, and other Spanish-speaking countries.” This excluded Brazil as it is a Portuguese-speaking country even though it is part of South America. There is a lot of discourse about the term “Hispanic” because of the fact that it highlights the colonial legacy of these diverse countries, especially with the emphasis being on Spanish-speaking. There is also discourse around the term “Latinx” when used to describe this community because of how gendered terms are in Spanish, and because Latinx came from academia and not the community; Latine or Latin are often preferred, but there is no consensus because this community is full of different people with different opinions.
It’s easy to see how this diverse group is often lumped into one by the dominant culture, because that’s easier than having to learn the histories and cultures of 45 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. There are many cultural strengths seen in this community, but that implies that the whole community is a monolith. Each of these countries has a culture, history, and people groups that existed before colonization, was impacted by colonization in different ways, and have developed into their modern way of being in different ways.
These things can lead to vastly different experiences in the United States that can impact mental health. For example, the stress and/or trauma of immigrating to the U.S. would be different for a person coming from Honduras seeking asylum at the southern border compared with someone coming from Puerto Rico which is a U.S. territory. For either of these people, if they were Spanish-speaking, wherever they ended up it would often be assumed that they are a Mexican immigrant, a common microaggression. There are also the impacts of other forms of discrimination such as colorism and racism. The stresses of these experiences can cause psychological and physical harm. This can include physical affects like headaches, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, stomach issues, and sleep problems; mood issues like anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, feeling overwhelmed, irritability or anger, and sadness or depression; or behavioral issues like over- or under- eating, angry outbursts, drug or alcohol misuse, and social withdrawal. There can also higher risk for issues such as diabetes, substance use, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disorders. This can also impact interpersonal relationships and the ability to have strong social support. Often in communities of color, it is seen as a weakness to be dealing with mental health struggles which can lead to further isolation and further issues.
“Acknowledge and embrace the person you are, imperfections and all. That’s the highest service we can achieve: to give back and give to ourselves in the best way we know.”-Dr. Paul Bonin Rodriguez
Living in a society that ignores your needs and piles stressors on makes it hard, but there are ways to approach healing despite that. First looking at the strength that is to be found within many cultural values such as family connections, community connection, respect, trust, and dignity.
Here are some suggestions to begin individual healing:
- Take care of your physical health
- Eat healthy and get 7-8 hours of sleep
- Stay physically active by making space for joyous movement in your life
- Explore relaxation techniques such as deep breathing
- Connect with a community that will reaffirm your humanity in a society that dismisses it
- Seek out healing practices consistent with your beliefs
- Take breaks from technology and social media
This process can be difficult but important for one’s wellbeing and functioning. You have the skills to heal, and we can help.
Adames, H.Y., & Chavez-Dueñas, N.Y. (2017). Cultural foundations and interventions in Latino/a mental health: History, theory, and within group differences. New York, NY: Routledge Press.
This month’s blog post was written by Jessie Duncan, MA, LPC NCC, our Chronic Illness and Lantinx Mental Health Specialist.