Digame: Oaxacan Therapist Mirna Martinez Talks Intersectionality in Mental Health

Digame is a monthly series featuring prominent Latinx leaders, activists, entrepreneurs, and public figures uplifting the community and making a difference

Mirna Martinez mental health

Photo courtesy of Mirna Martinez

Digame is a monthly series featuring prominent Latinx leaders, activists, entrepreneurs, and public figures uplifting the community and making a difference.

Queer first-gen therapist Mirna Martinez (she/ her/ they/them) is a bilingual Associate Clinical Social Worker in the Los Angeles Area of Oaxacan descent. She was born and raised in Los Angeles where she is currently based working with QTBIPOC (adults 18+), first generation, college students in the state. She received a Bachelors in Sociology at Mount Saint Mary’s University and a Masters in Social Work at Case Western Reserve University. Currently an EMDR Trained Trauma therapist for a Trauma Recovery Center, she  is also working with the guidance of Adriana Alejandre of Latinx Therapy. Her approach to therapy centers on a somatic-based approach while holding an intersectionality and social justice lens. Mirna is also a co-founder for @jefasconlibros a community led book club where they read books by QTBIPOC authors.

Which Latina(s) have had the greatest impact on your life and why?

All the women in my life have had a great impact. I think about my aunts who have taught me so much from cooking to healing. I have felt their presence even when they are not around. The life lessons and stories that each of them have told me have been instilled in my brain and I carry them with me.

If you could meet a Latina icon who is no longer alive, who would it be and why?

This person is still alive, I would like to meet Maria Lorena Ramirez. Maria is an indigenous woman who runs Ultra Marathons in her traditional attire. Running was a huge part of my life in high school. To see someone that looks like me compete in Ultra marathons gave me the motivation I needed.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

The best piece of advice I have received is “don’t be afraid to ask for help”. For the longest, I was scared to ask for help even for the tiniest things. I felt that if I asked for help I would be seen as incompetent. I felt l that I have missed out on certain opportunities due to this mindset. I think that the hustle culture has affected me in the sense that we have to keep going and grinding no matter what. My parents, for good reasons, always told me to “echarle ganas” and I interpreted as I need to “make” it without anyone’s help. I felt this sense of independence and urgency. It was during grad school where I was away from my family and felt alone. I received support from new friends and peers in grad school. I soon learned that it was okay to ask for help.

Who was the first person to believe in your dreams/goals?

My uncle, he never questioned why or how I was going to get there. He always motivated and supported me when I needed help. I didn’t always know that I could make it to college, but when I realized that I could attend, my uncle was the first one to ask me how he could support me. When I decided that I wanted to attend grad school out of state, he never questioned why I wanted to leave California. I thank him everyday because he believed in me before I did.

How do you stay connected to your cultural roots?

I live in a household with Oaxacans. I am connected to my roots everyday. Every time I visit the motherland I feel grounded to be with my ancestors and the place where my parents grew up. I am honored to have many family members who I can call and ask about my ancestors. There are times where I see something online (related to Oaxaca) that I may have questions about, so I call up my uncle and ask him what he knows about that topic. I always thank my parents for sending me to Oaxaca as a young child, I was able to grow up in the summers with my grandparents. I became very fortunate to travel back and forth and get to know my parent’s land at such a young age.

What do you wish more people understood about what you do?

The stigma that therapists just talk to people. We do much more than talk, we hold space, we provide support, and empower individuals. I have learned how to “introduce” myself in certain spaces. There are times when I share that I am a social worker versus a therapist. Either identity carries many questions, it just means that I have to be ready to answer them. For example, when I introduce myself as a social worker I get asked “is it true that you take children away”. Or if I introduce myself as a therapist many are ready to tell me their childhood traumas. I wish more people were aware of the stigmas they carry toward the profession.

What motivates you?

My community. Both my internal family and the community that I have gained from social media (@oaxacalitherapist). I always considered myself a reserve person and when I decided to make a professional IG account I decided to be a little less reserved and because of that I started to meet amazing individuals. I started to receive messages from people that were glad to see a therapist that was Queer, Oaxacan, and identified as first generation. There are many that send kind words of motivation and it keeps me grounded and motivated to continue to provide the services I offer.

How did you end up on the professional path you’re on now?

By not being afraid. Imposter syndrome hit me during grad school and when I was job hunting. There was a message that kept replaying in my head that kept telling me that I was too young to be in the field. At one point I had to stop being afraid. I believe that without discomfort there is no growth. I had to get uncomfortable before I got comfortable. Or even if I was afraid I could not let that stop me.

What is your greatest professional achievement so far? Personal achievement?

I would say my greatest professional achievement is being able to be a speaker/presenter in the mental health community. I have been honored to be invited into spaces where I feel heard and feel welcomed. It has felt amazing to be in spaces where people are wanting to destigmatize mental health.

A personal achievement that comes to mind is being financially stable and being able to provide for my family. Like many individuals, the dream is to help my parents retire. Every time I am able to help my parents in a financial way I get reminded of the journey that has helped me get here.

What is a goal you have that you haven’t accomplished yet and what are you doing to get closer to accomplishing it?

One of the biggest goals in the social work field is to get independently license. I am currently studying to take my exam next month. When I become licensed I hope to offer more accessibility to mental health services and I know that it will open up more doors.

What pop culture moment made you feel seen?

When I saw Yalitza Aparacio on the big screen. As cheesy as it sounds, I was happy to see an Indigenous actor from Oaxaca play a big role.

How do you practice self care?

Right now my biggest self care is playing with my puppy. She has brought so much light and joy into my world that when I have a rough day I distress by playing with her.

Quick Fire:

Shoutout an Instagram account that could use more love and tell us why you’re a fan:
@soy.oye is a community organization that supports Oaxacan/Indigenous youth that gather annually. They create a space to discuss their experiences as Oaxaquenx.

Shoutout your favorite Latina owned business and why:
@barriodrive, they have amazing merchandise from clothing to the cutest coin pouches.

In this Article

digame indigenous latina therapist Mexican Americans Mirna Martinez Oaxacan WOC and mental health
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