Cultural Practices that Help Cultivate Resilience in the Latinx Community


Cultural practices mental health

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Dr. Lisette Sanchez is a bilingual licensed psychologist and founder of Calathea Wellness, a virtual practice providing individual therapy in California. She has a passion for working with BIPOC folxs and first-generation professionals.

Throughout my life, the term “resilient” has been used to describe myself and many members of my fellow Latinx and larger BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community. Resilience, as commonly understood, refers to the ability to withstand or recover from hardships. I used to believe that my resilience was solely a result of the challenges and difficulties I faced, often attributing them to my identity as a POC, a first-generation Latina, and a daughter of immigrants raised in a working-class household. Growing up as a BIPOC individual, you may have received similar messages, suggesting that only hardships make you stronger, more adaptable, and more resourceful. However, this narrative sometimes leads to feelings of grief or resentment for the childhood experiences we may have missed.

As a therapist, my mission is to empower the individuals I work with to reclaim their narratives. And that includes the narrative of resilience. While resilience does involve one’s ability to overcome hardships, it’s important to recognize that it is not solely cultivated as an individual. Resilience is deeply rooted in our cultural practices, traditions, and communities, which play a significant role in building and nourishing it. These practices include community building, storytelling and oral traditions, dances, and rites of passage.

Community building is a powerful strategy that enhances resilience by addressing isolation and normalizing experiences as a collective. This connection fosters a profound sense of belonging and support, leading to overall well-being. Reflecting on my own experience growing up in a predominantly Latinx neighborhood in LA, I can attest to the positive impact of a strong community. As a child, I faced various challenges, but within my cultural enclave, I always felt reflected and understood. The shared cultural background created a strong sense of identity and belonging, which played a crucial role in building my resilience. 

For example, as I transitioned to college at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), about two hours south of LA, I encountered moments of feeling like an outsider. This was my first time living away from home, meeting people from different ethnic backgrounds and social classes. I often thought I was an impostor, especially in academics. I was placed in a remedial writing class in my first quarter and struggled to complete my assignments. While many of my peers had the resources to hire a tutor or to ask their families for help, I did not have that option. However, my childhood experiences taught me the importance of leaning into my community during unfamiliarity and isolation. I witnessed my family, friends, and neighbors coming together to offer support and assistance whenever needed. This valuable lesson has stayed with me and remains an integral part of who I am today.

At UCSD, I was lucky to have been matched in a dorm where I shared space with several first-gen Latinas. I am incredibly grateful to my suitemate Maria, who helped me connect with the TRIO Student Support Services Program. A free campus resource focused on supporting low-income, first-gen college students and/or students with disabilities. That was where I could access free academic support and receive the mentorship I sought. Most importantly, I was connected to a larger community of other students I could relate to who helped me understand that I was exactly where I needed to be; I belonged.  Engaging with others who shared similar experiences and backgrounds made me feel supported and validated. Connecting with on-campus resources and being part of a community helped me navigate these challenges, providing me with the tools, strength, and motivation to persevere.

Storytelling and oral traditions hold immense power within diverse cultures. By sharing our stories, we engage in a therapeutic process that allows us to feel seen, heard, and deeply understood. This practice of self-expression contributes to the nourishment of resilience and fosters a profound sense of connection with each other and our ancestors. Stories passed down within families serve as powerful evidence of the resilience and strength of our ancestors. These oral traditions often revolve around themes of survival, perseverance, and resourcefulness. They not only provide glimpses into the past but also carry invaluable life lessons and wisdom.  Their journey, including immigration, was marked by a dream of creating a better life for the next generation. Through these stories, we gain insight into the adversities and challenges our ancestors faced and the remarkable ways they overcame them. 

I often work with individuals who feel guilty about the sacrifices made for them to access the opportunities they have. I understand this guilt as I have experienced it myself and still do at times. However, dwelling on the guilt prevents us from honoring the gifts we have received. Instead, I encourage my clients to focus on the strengths and perseverance of our ancestors, which reminds us of our capacity to navigate challenging and oppressive situations. I recently came across the term “possibility model,” which perfectly describes this experience. It refers to someone who shows us a potential way of being human. Our ancestors have taught us valuable skills that empower us to explore endless possibilities in our lives.

As a writer, I also recognize the significance of sharing my experiences with my readers. Through my writing, I aim to create connections and provide comfort by letting others know they are not alone in their struggles and accomplishments. By sharing our stories, we reinforce our sense of self and find strength in our shared experiences. Furthermore, storytelling serves as a testament to the resilience of our communities, highlighting the collective strength in overcoming adversity. It reminds us that despite challenges, we have the power to rise above and persevere. It is why the term, “Sí se puede” holds a much deeper meaning than a simple translation of “Yes we can.” It represents a call to battle and symbolizes resilience, determination, and collective strength. 

Movement and dancing hold incredible healing power and play a significant role in fostering community support and resilience. Not only do these activities bring joy and entertainment, but they are also forms of self-expression and stress relief. Dancing provides an outlet for individuals to tell a story, express their emotions, and celebrate their cultural heritage. It creates a space where people can come together, bond, and heal together. Many people turn to dance and music to reconnect with their roots and find a sense of identity and purpose. Furthermore, in certain contexts, dancing can be an act of resistance, serving to assert cultural pride and resilience amidst adversity.  

Rites of passage in various cultures play a crucial role in guiding individuals through the different stages of life. Often, these rites of passage involve significant challenges to overcome. One such example is motherhood, a universally recognized milestone celebrated and honored across cultures. Becoming a mother and the experience of raising children demand adaptability, strength, and determination. Although I am not a mother myself, I am aware that motherhood frequently involves sacrifice and change. During this challenging time, families often come together to support the mother-to-be as she prepares for this next phase of life. It serves as a reminder to lean on the collective strength of the community, enhancing the feeling of resilience.

These serve as reminders that resilience is not built only through hardships but also through the collective healing from being in the community. We’re in it together.

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BIPOC mental health community support Dr. Lisette Sanchez Featured latina therapist Latinx mental health Mental Health POC and mental health resilience
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