I’m sitting in front of my Latina client and  she’s  clearly distraught. As tears are streaming down her face as she expresses to me a familiar emotional wound that I’ve heard from other Latina clients: “I’ve sacrificed my happiness and my career so I could have a happy home for my husband and children, but I’M not happy.  I’m miserable.

I know I shouldn’t feel this way. And I feel guilty for feeling this way.  Help me be happy”.  Sitting in front of me was a clear example of  the impact of generational and cultural trauma that affects Latino women. I didn’t fully appreciate my identity as a Latina until I reached adulthood.  I also wasn’t aware of the messages that Latina women were given about the impossible standards they have to reach to represent what a “real Latino woman” was, because in my home, independence was taught and education was admired.

I came to Miami with my parents from Medellin, Colombia when I was 4 years old, shortly after they adopted me.  I grew up in a predominantly Latino community, surrounded by the smells, foods, and traditions of several Latino cultures rolled into one.  It was essentially a bubble; a tiny Latino microcosm within the confines of an American city.  If I would have moved to a typical American city,  the culture shock would have definitely been horrifying, ,despite growing up in the United States.  It wasn’t until I opened my private practice and started seeing Latina clients, that I realized the impact of the generational and cultural expectations  that are heaped upon the shoulders of Latino women.  Along with recipes and traditions that are taught to us, we also get these messages; “if your man cheats, look the other way because they’re all like that”; “if your man cheats don’t worry about it.  At least he provides and doesn’t hit you”; “don’t work/study.  Stay home and take care of your children.  You MUST sacrifice your happiness for your home. Otherwise, you’re a bad mother”.  My Latina clients were echoing these messages, and I saw firsthand the trauma it caused.    Being a woman in a male-dominated society is difficult. But being a Latina woman in a society where many men and women have bought into the baseless belief that we were put on earth to raise children and keep men happy, is even more difficult.   These erroneous messages were hammered into our minds in subtle ways since birth, through television, books, culture, and society.  On any Spanish television station, the “novelas” that were shown sent messages to women about love and relationships that weren’t healthy and kept them waiting and hoping that Prince Charming exists, provided you maintained the typical image what is expected of a Latina woman.     Latina women carry an insurmountable amount anxiety and depression as a result of the guilt they feel for trying to find their own way.  I always tell my clients “Latino culture is beautiful, but at the same time it has given us messages that we will never be enough”.  Trying to unravel the feelings of women who grew up with these messages is long, arduous, and requires patience.  I tread gently as I try to give my clients another perspective and have them see their reality through a lens of empowerment, and not submission.

The beacon of hope for change is found on social media, where many highly visible Latino influencers and celebrities are starting to denounce these misogynistic and unhealthy messages.  In their fight to educate and empower women, they face resistance, sometimes from the women themselves.  As a psychotherapist, I pride myself in the fact that I contribute my part in helping the women in my culture and my community liberate themselves from irrational guilt and impossible standards.  Justice Sonia Sotomayor once said “the Latina in me is an ember that blazes forever” and hopefully, in empowering Latino women and changing long-held beliefs, we will keep that ember ablaze.

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I was born in Medellin, Colombia and came to the United States when I was four years old. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 12 years of experience and my practice focuses on trauma, cultural issues and feminist therapy.

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