Digame: Yanira Hernandez is a First Gen Latina Destigmatizing Therapy for BIPOC

Yanira Hernandez is a First Generation Mexican American, daughter of undocumented immigrants, bilingual trauma-focused therapist

Yanira Hernandez digame

Photo courtesy of Yanira Hernandez

Dr. Yanira Hernandez is a First Generation Mexican American, daughter of undocumented immigrants, bilingual trauma-focused Licensed Clinical Social Worker and educator. Dr. Hernandez was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles and received her B.A. in Women’s Studies and Education Studies at UCLA and obtained her Master’s in Social Work and Doctorate in Education at USC. Dr. Hernandez has over 10 years of experience working in various settings including community mental health clinics, schools, hospitals, runaway youth and homeless shelters, and private practice. She is the Founder of Pa’lante Therapy Inc. where she centers her work with BIPOC individuals with an emphasis on Latinx communities. She specializes in working with First-Generation Women of Color professionals, college/graduate students, undocumented/immigrant individuals, and Latinx families. In addition, Dr. Hernandez provides mental health services to students in K-12 in the greater Los Angeles area. As a First-Gen Latina professional, she also supports First-Gen Latinx college and graduate students through mentorship including training and supervising master-level trainees.

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

Mi mami has had the greatest impact on my life for many reasons. She’s a warrior, courageous, cycle breaker, and amorous. The thing that I admire most about her is her ability to persevere, care for others, and willingness to take accountability. As an undocumented immigrant, mi mami has sacrificed and fought many visible and invisible battles for a better future for her children. Ella es mi heroína.

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

I would’ve loved to meet Frida Kahlo. She represents femininity, strength, and cultural pride. I first learned about Frida Kahlo’s influence in Mexican and Latin American culture in one of my women’s studies classes in college. As a First-Generation Latina, studying her paintings in college was one of the first memories I have of feeling seen.

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

The best piece of advice that I’ve received was that a ‘no’ or ‘rejection” is redirection. As someone who struggled with perfectionism, when I heard the word ‘no’ or felt rejected, I used to feel like a failure, somehow, I internalized it as I wasn’t good enough. Ultimately, it prevented me from trying new things. Breaking up with perfectionism and reframing a ‘no’ has been liberating.

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

100 percent my mami. My mom was heavily involved in her children’s education. She believed in my capacity even when I had doubts about myself. I know that I can share any goals with her and she will 100 percent have my back. One of my fondest memories of my mami supporting my goals was when I was in college and I disclosed to her that I no longer wanted to pursue medical school and wanted to change my major to women’s studies in my third year of college. Her words, “okay mija, yo te apoyo en lo que tu quieras estudiar. Aquí estoy para lo que necesites” will forever be stamped in my corazoncito.

How do you stay connected to your cultural roots?

Since childhood, I always remained a close connection with my cultural roots through storytelling. I love listening to my parents’ and extended family’s stories about traditions from their pueblito in Puebla, Mexico, from cultural traditions to food to dances to language. Also, I have a lot of pride in being bilingual, especially being fluent in Spanish. I enjoy communicating with our gente in Spanish and being able to jump in to support others with language barriers. I also feel strongly connected to Mexican music like cumbia sonidera, norteñas, banda, and regional.

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

As a therapist, I wish people valued and respected our profession the way they respect other professions. Many therapists are financially undervalued in their work spaces as a result of how the profession has been historically viewed. Secondly, as a First Gen Latina who is a therapist, I want more people to know that it is 100 percent to go to therapy even if no one in your family or close circle has gone to therapy. Therapists go to therapy too. We are humans first.

What motivates you?

I’m highly motivated by my parents. Seeing my dad’s 3 a.m. work alarm, coming home exhausted from working overtime on a daily basis, and still having energy to be present with the family is what motivates me. Witnessing my mother’s daily sacrifices motivates me. Being around people who are goal oriented, motivated, and in alignment with their goals and authenticity motivates me. More importantly, I motivate me. I will give myself a loud shout out because I recognize that I, too, have the fire to echarle ganas, to persevere, to accomplish the impossible. Overcoming challenges that I never thought I would have has been one of the biggest testimonies that I can do it. Yo pude. Yo puedo. Yo podre.

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

I pursued a Master’s in Social Work after majoring in women’s studies and education studies in college. In the beginning of college, I was a pre-med student with a biochemistry major. At this time, I thought I wanted to be a medical doctor because that was the profession everyone around me wanted me to be. While interning at a probation office and tutoring K-12 students, I realized that medical school was no longer my calling. After college, I went directly to graduate school for my Master’s. After being in the field for several years post-master’s, I decided to return to graduate school for my doctorate. My passion for mental health and education led me to a doctorate in educational psychology. As a current mental health professional in schools, I get to educate educators, parents, and students on the importance of social emotional wellbeing and impact on learning. Through my private practice, Pa’lante Therapy, I tap into another passion of mine: supporting First Generation and immigrant communities through therapy and psychological immigration evaluations. My practice was birthed as a result of me yearning for a healing space for individuals like myself who had shared intersectional identities.

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

My greatest professional achievement has been obtaining a doctorate and founding my private practice during a pandemic! Two things that seemed so foreign for little Yani. But I did that! To think that the eldest daughter of undocumented immigrants who was raised in South Central Los Angeles accomplished these professional achievements sometimes feels unreal. But one of my biggest achievements has to be my personal growth. In the past five years, I’m so proud of my healing journey and being able to authentically be me in spaces that I wouldn’t have normally. My ability to engage in self-forgiveness and self-love now feels true to me. This gives me immense pride and joy.

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

A goal that has been on my mind more recently is expanding my solo private practice to a group practice. It’s a dream of mine to bring in BIPOC clinicians into a space that is affirming and trauma-focused and expand on the work with First Generation and immigrant communities.

What pop culture moment made you feel seen?

I recall feeling seen when watching 106 and Park on BET. As someone who grew up in South Central LA with predominantly Black and Brown culture, hip hop was monumental in my teens. I will never forget my first hip hop video I watched on 106 & Park was Outkast “The Whole World.” I thought I was so cool. Ha! Another pop culture era that made me feel seen was when the novela Rebelde was on. The rush from school to home in order to not miss the novela that aired at 3 p.m. PST was everything. Looking back at these moments truly gives me joy!

How do you practice self care?

Lately, self-care for me looks like giving myself permission to rest. As someone who has always operated on the go, rest and pausing can be challenging. With this said, resting to me looks differently all the time. Sometimes, it’s watching TV on the couch, sometimes not doing anything at all, sometimes not opening my laptop or checking emails, sometimes it means sitting in company with my loved ones and just allowing myself to pause and instead engage in joy.

Quick Fire:

Shoutout an Instagram account that could use more love and tell us why you’re a fan:

Soooo many great accounts to shoutout. But I’d like to specifically shoutout my amiga and soul-sister Mayra Ramirez, MSW who is also an amazing social worker and founder of Made in Radiance (@madeinradiance), a Latina owned business focusing on plant based facial and hair products that honor ancestral wisdom and Mayan culture. Another great individual is Sofia Mendoza, LCSW (@mendingrootstherapy) who is femtor to me ever since my days in grad school. She’s a therapist, trainer, and speaker. She also has a collection of tools for therapists.

Shoutout your favorite Latina owned business and why:

The above mentioned have amazing Latina owned businesses. I’m shouting out Latinx Therapy for doing magical work with the Latinx/Latine community in destigmatizing mental health and honoring multiple ways of healing within our community. Another favorite Latina owned business is Waxed in LA (@waxedinla) by my dear amiga Erika based in East Los Angeles. Erika has a strong commitment to the East LA community. She emphasizes on honoring and enhancing the beauty of Latinas through female empowerment and self-love through her services.

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

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bipoc community BIPOC mental health digame first gen first gen mental health first generation latina therapist Pa'Lante Therapy undocumented immigrant Yanira Hernandez
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