Updated: May 1
For many Latinxs, there is an added layer of pain when it comes to the distancing that needs to happen due to COVID19.
For those that do not know, Latinxs share many cultural values, such as collectivism and familism. Connection to family and communities occupy a central role in our life, promoting selflessness as we place value in the needs of the group or community over the needs of individuals.
As a Latina, this also means family (not just nuclear, but extended family and kinships) is at the essence of my identity. My most precious memories revolve around togetherness… spending time with my community, eating, making decisions, celebrating, struggling, traveling, and standing by our loved ones as they reach the end of life.
Of course, like many things in life, not everything is black and white. People tend to fall somewhere in between the spectrum of collectivism and familism. Some with more rigid beliefs (or attachment to these cultural values) and some with more flexible ones (or less attachment). Regardless of where one falls, what matters is recognizing where we are on the spectrum and how the current circumstances may be impacting our mental health.
During this pandemic, many people are experiencing feelings of grief as they lose their jobs, miss important life events, and are not able to say goodbye to loved ones that have passed due to the virus. For Latinxs, the added grief comes up as the togetherness we value so much is also taken away. Connection and communication through touch, such as hugs, kisses, and physical closeness that nurture us has been stripped away six feet at a time.
In the past months, I have turned away hugs and kisses from my partner as he returns from work; I have told my siblings they cannot come to our home until it is safer to do so; we have encouraged my mother-in-law to stay at her house despite how lonely it feels for her right now; I have missed my mom’s birthday, feared for my dad’s unmanaged health, and I gave birth and recovered at home without the support that my family so much wanted to provide and that I truly emotionally needed.
These decisions were made in part response to my own history of anxiety, in part response to CDC recommendations, but most of all, are rooted in my desire to protect those that I love the most. None of these decisions have been easy to make. In times like these, they are the most necessary. I will continue to make decisions to keep my loved ones and community safe and will continue to try to follow recommendations for coping with the physical distance:
“Connect through technology,” “Maintain a routine,” “Know this will not last forever."
I know these recommendations too well, because I have given and attempted to follow them myself.
But what happens when this is not enough?
What happens when social distancing impacts part of your identity?
What happens when distancing becomes isolation and selflessness feels like selfishness?
What happens when historical trauma is being triggered in some shape or form?
What about privilege and access?
What happens when you or your loved one do not have the resources to connect online?
What happens when you are now at higher risk of being detained when driving due to a stay at home order?
What happens when the government is offering all sorts of resources, but you are not eligible for any of them?
What happens when you become ill, but do not reach out for help in fear of the consequences?
What happens when fear of illness and death morphs into xenophobia? When politicians use coded language to imply immigrants are the biggest threat to one's health and safety?
Latinx folks tend to fall somewhere in between fearful and fearless in the midst of the pandemic. For many, the pandemic is triggering trauma from their home countries around food insecurity as shelves continue to empty day by day and financial insecurities as workplaces continue to close. For others, falling ill seems less scary than the possibility of returning to the dangers and lack of medical care of their own country.
Disparities and injustices are being amplified by COVID19. Many Latinxs fall into the category of ‘essential’ workers too and yet we continue to be seen as a statistic and distinguished from others by a paper that labels you documented or not, citizen or not. My community sees me as essential, pandemic or no pandemic.
For some Latinxs like myself, collectivism and familism can look differently when loved ones live across countries and states. Physical distance is nothing new for us, and yet the pain and fear of not knowing when will be the next time (or last time) we see our loved ones takes on a whole other meaning during a pandemic. There are not many things in our control when you are hundreds of miles away from a loved one, but knowing that you can financially support them or buy their groceries sometimes eases the anxiety a bit. With businesses closing, outings being limited, and simply not having the funds to do so, our personal alarm systems go off. Anxiety is letting us know that parts of our identity continue to chip away with every choice taken away from us.
Social distancing takes on a whole other meaning when one of the few things that brought you comfort and security before a pandemic were your people and your ability to help them. It now means isolation, loneliness, fear, hopelessness, and helplessness.
Now, this is the part in the blog where I am supposed to flip things around and give you hope. This is the part where I am supposed to encourage you to reframe those ‘negative’ thoughts.
But if you know me as family, friend, or counselor, you’d know I would not want to rush you or myself through emotions that could give us so much more than temporary release.
So we sit.
We sit with our anxiety and talk about all the things that scare us.
No need to ignore the voice that wants to be heard.
We feel our sadness and loneliness and even give ourselves permission to notice anger.
No need to numb it right now.
We pout about how tired we are and think about the many things we ‘should’ be doing instead.
No need to feel bad about complaining.
We take a break and come back as many times as we may need.
There is no rush.
To all my Latinx folks, know that I hear you and I see you. Being us has always felt complex as we continue to try to figure out what our needs look like and find our voices in an attempt to feel heard.
To all my non-Latinx folks, continue to check in with us. We are struggling- even when trauma has taught us to not show it or when it may appear that we might be thriving under these circumstances. Remind us we are doing everything we can, even when we do not believe it.
‘Doing’ is in our nature; it’s been our survival. Help us think about ways we can continue to do the things that bring us peace and connection, and encourage us to sit still with the pain and fear.
We are resilient, even when it does not feel like it. And when this is all over, our people will be there waiting for us. Hasta la próxima.
Melissa Carmona (She/Her) is a bilingual Clinical Mental Health Counselor at Three Birds Counseling in Greensboro, NC. Melissa works from a trauma-informed, social justice, Health at Every Size, and Intuitive Eating perspective to help clients understand the different aspects of their identities and how those influence the relationship they have with food and their body. As a Colombian-American, her Latinx roots have also helped shape her career trajectory, and she brings this perspective into her work with immigrants as well. Melissa is the co-founder of The Latinx Health Collective; a website designed to create resources for providers and Latinx folks as they heal their relationship with food and their bodies.