The Complicated Relationship Latinxs Have With Grief

Loss, as difficult as it is, is a natural part of life

Latinx grief

Photo: Unsplash/ Claudia Wolf

Loss, as difficult as it is, is a natural part of life. The process of grieving, however, can sometimes be difficult to live through. Grief is layered and unpredictable and no one grieves the same. Because grief is intimate and personal, it’s safe to say the seven stages of grieving aren’t a reliable source of how someone should grieve. As a society, we’ve learned to assume that a person is going through grief only when they experience an apparent and obvious loss like the death of a loved one. But what causes grief and despair is never as simple as black and white. The root of grief is sometimes misunderstood because we are not all triggered the same. Break-ups, job loss, resurfaced traumas and worldly events can cause a person to experience the pain and distress attached to grief. And while personal ordeals affect us, so do worldly tragedies that affect our communities. Grief is everywhere, and it looks different for all of us. 

In fact, the loss we’ve witnessed these last couple of years has drastically affected the Latinx community. About half of Latinxs in the U.S. have had a family member or close friend hospitalized or died from COVID. Fifty eight percent of Latinxs live in a household where job or wage loss has been experienced during the pandemic. Additionally, due to overexposure and unsafe work environments, Latinxs are four times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID than any other community. Prior to and during this pandemic, we’ve witnessed undocumented families separated, we protested against the imprisonment of migrants at the border, and we mourned the loss of children and women who went missing in LATAM. The criminalization and oppression of people within our communities have left us feeling alone, displaced, and defeated. And yet, we still don’t have an open dialogue about how we grieve. 

Our relationship with grief is a layered one. Our understanding of grief is consumed by societal expectations, assimilation, cultural traditions, and maintaining our day-to-day lives. Clinical social worker and therapist Carolina Miranda (@unearthhealing) tells HipLatina that our grieving has been colonized. “Before we were colonized, our people had shamans, medicine women, curanderos, and we had a community that held the child and the child had the opportunity and support to be vulnerable.” Miranda explains that before we were colonized, our communities were tribal, with each person occupying a sacred role that was naturally but purposefully designed to support another in the community. Culturally and traditionally, Latinxs understood grief was a part of life. We had systems in place to help us confront our emotions and help us heal. Now, our grieving process is more complicated.

“Grief is mainstream now. When someone passes away or there is a family emergency, there are policies around how much time you have off work. What happens when you get back to work, are you supposed to adapt to this changed life without immersing yourself in your grief? Our cumulative grief seems rushed.” Miranda does agree that while we may not see how others grieve, safe places like home and social media allow us spaces to share, express, and release. And that’s important because it will enable us to simultaneously work through the trauma attached to the grief. “Confronting grief is important because it helps release the trauma seven generations back and seven generations forward,” Miranda explains.

Considering the world events we’ve seen transpire in the last few years and being part of a community that not only witnesses trauma but is, in large part, victims of political and social trauma, BIPOC communities are at risk of enduring pain without releasing it. Insidious trauma has disproportionately affected people of color, and everything our society experiences can have a lasting and traumatic effect on us.  Healing is necessary. Grief is necessary. So our grieving not only makes sense, it may be necessary for us to thrive. Licensed Clinical Social Worker and founder of @LatinxGrief Paulina Almarosa believes that we are all suffering but that the expectation of what grief looks like can be distorted by our own experiences. “What goes into the grief response is based on life experiences, family history, trauma history, cultural practices, and country of origin. Even how many generations we’ve been here, socioeconomic status and anything that makes you a unique person,” she tells HipLatina

The Latinx community’s understanding and impression of grief changes depending on the loss and who is experiencing it. Our grandparents, who more than likely lived their whole lives in their homelands, may have had a strong support system of familiar faces. They may have also had traditions and rituals to help them cope. Our parents, however, didn’t always have that luxury. Our parents immigrated to the United States and worked tirelessly to find jobs to provide food and education for their children while also learning English and assimilating to this new society. Our parents didn’t grieve. They survived. 

Almarosa explains that since grief is shaped so heavily by surroundings, particularly family and cultural history, we have the misfortune of looking at suffering through the lens of machismo or marianismo. “Men are asked not to cry, and women are asked to be the strong ones. We don’t know when crying became so taboo, but that doesn’t mean people are not crying in private” she says.

Learning to give our bodies and our emotional capacities time, space, and the right people to grieve can bring us back to getting through pain as opposed to rushing to the next phase. If we don’t develop healthy coping skills and if we don’t confront our pain, we risk our pain manifesting into health problems. Our eating, sleeping, and daily functioning can be affected. Grieving is healthy. It can be a sacred ritual for our souls and it can look like crying, journaling, exercising, eating healthy, prayer. It can be loud. Or it can be quiet and private. It can look like dedicating an altar to a loved one or it can look like going to church. It is not linear nor defined in one specific way. But when done with healthy tactics, it can help your spirit release pain. And grieving can also look like asking for help.

Sometimes it takes a skilled mental health professional to untangle the grief from the trauma. It’s hard to focus solely on grief. In our communities, rarely do we see someone suffering from loss without a trauma incident involved. Usually it’s a mixture of traumas and grief. And sometimes, grieving can look like getting professional help,” Almarosa says. 

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