Why Latinas Face Special Challenges During Times of Stress

Hello, and welcome! I'm Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, an author, counselor and mindfulness coach. This is the introductory post for my ongoing WE CAN DO THIS series. The series is designed to bring comfort, support and culturally-sensitive guidance to my Latina friends, family and readers in the United States, many of whom face specific challenges during highly stressful times such as those we all face now.

I aim these posts at Latinas not because I care more about that group of people than I do about everyone else, but rather because many of us, myself included, have at least some specific social, cultural, economic, spiritual, emotional and psychological concerns that need a particular sort of attention during highly stressful times. This is not to say the posts can’t be helpful to males, or to people from non-Latino backgrounds; I’m sure there’s lots of overlap. Humans are humans, after all, and we have far more in common than not. All readers are welcome, of course.

Presently, the most immediate stressor humanity faces is the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19. It is called "novel" because it's new to humans; we all lack antibodies to fight it off. For months it has been burning holes across the world, and we are likely more than a year away from any vaccine or curative treatment. We are told that most people who get it will survive, but many will not. If you want to read more about it, I encourage you to use a search engine to find the most up-to-date and reliable sources of information you can. I happen to use Google, and search "coronavirus updates," but I only do so once a day - a strategy I will cover in coming posts. Coronavirus being a new disease, information is changing rapidly, and it's a good idea to stay updated, but not a good idea to obsess. Most of us are, by now, already protecting ourselves and our families from the virus by following CDC guidelines. That’s great! Keep doing that. Do it all day, every day, and all night, too. Do it when you don’t want to do it anymore. Make it second nature. Do it when it seems like you can maybe let your guard down. Just keep doing it, nena! Do it until we have a cure or a vaccine, and do not let up, because even if we get weary - and many of us already have - the virus will not get weary with us; it feeds on our cansansio. Don’t give it any.

The WE CAN DO THIS series will address the fear, anxiety, exhaustion, isolation and general sense of groundlessness most of us are feeling. Though I was inspired to create this series because of current challenges, the information is meant to be useful, helpful and applicable to stressful circumstances in general. To help us endure and emerge stronger, I will offer guidance based upon mindfulness, self-compassion, and the wisdom contained in many of the world's spiritual traditions, tailored to a Latina perspective.

When I say Latinas face specific challenges during stressful times I don’t mean to say all of us are the same, or that every single one of us is facing the same exact challenges; that would be naive and, honestly, racist. I know we are each unique, and human, and that our personal life circumstances are not so simple as to be contained in any one box. You won’t find stereotypes or minimization here, only sensitivity and respect. Les juro.

In general terms, there are some quantifiable specific challenges afflicting Latinas in the United States differently than many other people, during times of stress, and in the coming days I'll explore those here.

On the whole:

  • Latinas suffer from higher rates of poverty than the general population, with less access to adequate health care.

  • Many of us are underemployed, paid far less than we are worth, employed in the service sector in jobs that are now deemed essential, or will be among the first to be furloughed or let go.

  • Some of us come from families and relationships where we are expected to be the caretakers - and many of us take this role on ourselves, from internalized cultural messages.

  • In larger cities, Latinas often live in shared spaces, sometimes with many generations under one roof.

  • Most of us are used to an elevated level of socialization with family and friends compared to the general United States population, and when we do see one another we tend to be more touchy-feely than other groups, making isolation under whatever circumstance a bigger challenge.

  • Across the board, we will have suffered all manner of trauma at a higher rate than the general population (and I include racism, xenophobia and sexism as ongoing traumatic experiences) putting us at greater physical, emotional and mental risk during highly stressful times.

  • Many of us come from spiritual or cultural roots that discourage us from complaining or putting ourselves first, with humility and self-sacrifice seen as excellent virtues in a woman; this can lead us to either not seek help, or to seek help too late.

  • Many of us come from fatalistic cultures that basically shrug at any and all adversity, thinking there’s nothing we can do about it so why bother.

  • Some of us face language barriers.

  • Some of us have had experiences that lead us to fear authority figures, including police, emergency health workers, and even hospitals.

I don’t expect all of these stressors to apply to everyone reading these posts, but I’d wager most of us can identify with at least one item on the list.

With these culturally specific challenges come some benefits, too, and it’s important that we embrace our strengths. I'll be doing lots of that here. For instance, in spite of our relatively low access to healthcare and high rates of poverty, Latinas enjoy better health overall than many people who don’t face those issues. Some researchers have attributed this "Latino paradox" to the loving closeness of our communities, families and social circles. Also, our communities are no strangers to hardship, to crises, to patient endurance. Even those of us who haven’t gone through an immigrant experience probably have at least one family member who has, or one who remembers one who has, and it is now that we have something of an advantage in that we know we have it in us to face despair, figure out how to survive and even to turn our collective pain into great compassion, ingenuity and comedy.

The posts will be free here on my blog and on my Patreon. If you are still employed and able to afford joining my Patreon (for as little as $5 a month) you will also have access to podcasts around each post, including interviews, and a host of other benefits. I appreciate your support, and welcome any suggestions or comments you might have for this series.

Namaste, nena - with love,


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