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Proyecto Solace: Safe Spaces for Latinx Gente

The Year That Changed Us

Today is December 2nd —the second day of the last month of a most complicated year. A year that, for better or worse, forced us to look at ourselves, our lives and our priorities. This was the year no one expected. A year no one prepared for.

For many of us, 2020 started with personal resolutions, plans and goals. As a nation, some of us looked forward to the election year — preparing for mobilization and anticipation for change.

2020 other plans for us though. A quarantine, masks outside the home, social distancing. It made sense to me. I adhered to protocols and recommendations — for others, for me, for my partner, my family. I had not been personally touched by COVID-19 but know people that have. I did it for them. For their pain and loss.

And as I, like millions of others around the world, adapted to this new reality, our emotional and mental wellness were also being challenged.

2020 has been a traumatic year. People who had never been affected by mental health issues began to experience anxiety and/or depression. While others, who were already tackling and addressing their mental health challenges, began to dig deeper into the exacerbation of their emotional and mental states.

I am not afraid to say I battled with both scenarios. I also read the news too much and that affected me greatly. I grew up and live in the Bay Area. In San Francisco, a month after the quarantine started, the Latinx population accounted for 84 percent of all hospitalizations in the city, as bilingual newspaper El Tecolote reported. I read and saw local Latinx-owned restaurants close down, hotel workers out of jobs, read Facebook posts of friends whose entire family, Mexican immigrants, were affected by the virus. I started to feel overwhelmed and powerless about what COVID-19 was doing to the Latinx, my own, community. “There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” Besides the physical and financial effects of COVID-19 and the pandemic in these communities, Latinx populations struggled with more mental health issues brought on by the pandemic than their white counterparts. 1 in 4 Latinx adults say the pandemic has had a major impact on their mental health, compared to 17% of whites. Additionally, a national survey showed that 43% of Latinx Spanish-speaking families have seen a decline in their children’s mental health during the pandemic. What does this mean for us now? For future generations? For people who are not able to discuss mental health with their families, much less seek or afford help? Besides therapy, are they seeking other forms of help? I asked myself all of these questions. Emotional and Mental Wellness Among Latinx When people think of mental health help, they often think of therapy. While this is the first right step, it is not all-encompassing. Emotional and mental wellness require much more than just therapy. It requires tools, self-love, boundaries, mindfulness and most importantly, communities of support. In the past decade, I have openly talked about the importance mental health days, mindfulness and professional support for tech employees. But personally, I did not follow my own public advice. I was not dedicating my whole self to intentional healing… even with routine therapy…even before this year. So, when I started the process of winding down my startup earlier this year, I immediately decided that my mental wellness would be my top priority. I needed to recuperate from being a founder — according to a study by Michael Freeman, entrepreneurs are 50 percent more likely to report having a mental health condition, with some specific conditions being incredibly prevalent amongst founders. On top of that, I needed to address the burnout, racism, sexism and more that came with being a solo Latina founder. But that’s a story for another time. From a personal perspective, I knew I needed to focus on continuous healing from the intergenerational trauma that my family has carried, the childhood scars I am still carrying, the attacks on me as as a woman and the oppression I have experienced as a Latinx immigrant. I also had to face the the medical trauma of my brain surgery from last year. Lastly, I knew had to eliminate harmful coping mechanisms by addressing the structural wounds in me. So, in 2020, I was ready for genuine, intentional change to my emotional and mental health. A major turning point in my mental health journey was reading and hearing Latinx voices talk about mental health. From the podcast Latinx Therapy to Chef Aaron Sanchez’s memoir, where he discusses depression and anxiety, I absorbed it all. I checked out Elizabeth’s Vargas book from the local library and read about her experiences with anxiety and addiction. Most recently, reggeaton artist J Balvin candidly shared his own battles with depression. Hearing and listening to Latinx narratives of mental health and their lived experiences helped me open up to those close to me — I began a process of normalizing emotional and mental health discussions among my family (especially my mother), my partner and Latinx friends. I talked about it all. About anxiety. About joy. About despair. About gratitude. And then, after many, many years of sporadic therapy, I intentionally searched for a great therapist and I found one who is well versed in the areas I needed to focus on — and who understood intersectionality. A woman who is half Filipino and is able to understand the immigrant experience through the experiences of her father. A woman that is an expert in her field and has helped me tremendously… because I choose to get help. Because I know I can’t do it alone. I am aware that this is a privilege — having a great therapist and the ability to have health coverage cover most of it while still having the financial means to pay for the rest. I am aware that this is not accessible to many Americans, much less those in the Latinx community. And sadly, not even to members of my own family. Therapy is expensive and finding the right one can be difficult. I know that. I am among the privileged. And I want to use that privilege to do more about it. So I did my research. Even before the pandemic, Latinx communities were less likely to receive mental health care. A recent study it showed that among adults with mental health conditions, 48% of white received services. In contrast only 31% of blacks and Hispanics and 22% of Asians received them. There are many factors that affect the access to treatment including:

  • Not having insurance

  • Stigma associated with mental health conditions

  • Lack of diversity among providers

  • Language barriers

  • Distrust in the health care system

  • Low cultural competence among providers

Specifically for Latinx, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) points out that the most common mental health conditions among Latinxs are generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use but:

  • Only 20% talk to a doctor about their symptoms

  • Only 10% of Latinxs contact a mental health professional.

  • And 19% had no form of health insurance, according to a 2018 report

I have known about this for a long time, but this year forced me to reflect and hold the mirror up to access to mental healthcare. I took UC Berkeley Extension classes, read books and talked to those in the field. Afterwards, I asked myself — how can we focus on emotional and mental health awareness among the Latinx community when resources are limited and our culture limits us further? What can I do? With a virtual world now required to exist at work, school, college and with friends, how can we use the internet and its tools for the greater good our community’s emotional and mental wellness? And that is how Proyecto Solace was born. But first I had to do more research. Understand the intentions and limitations of the project … make the purpose clear. So I read. A lot. And I asked questions to mental health professionals. And read some more. Safe Spaces, Mindfulness and Clean Pain When I was canvassing in Arizona for the Biden campaign, I faced extreme anxiety brought on by people not wearing masks, the intimidation of Trump supporters when knocking on their doors and my own fear of guns in an open carry state. The night before my departure, I had dinner with a founder, entrepreneur and Latina friend of mine from the East Coast. We candidly caught up in open setting - no filters, no judgment, no advice. It was therapeutic- sometimes joyful in solidarity- even when we discussed hard topics. As we said goodbye to each other, she acknowledged the importance of the safe spaces we held for each other during our conversation. I felt grateful for her and noticed my anxiety was almost gone. I walked back to my hotel room thinking about the importance of holding safe spaces. And what that meant to me as a Latina and… what it meant to my Latinx community in general. What do safe spaces look like? A “safe space” doesn’t have to be a physical location — especially nowadays — it can be as simple as a group of people who hold similar values and commit to consistently provide each other with a supportive, respectful environment. Safe spaces can provide a break from judgment, unsolicited opinions, and having to explain yourself. It also allows people to feel supported and respected. It starts with us and then extends to others. It can lead to personal and social change. 1. Collective Transformation According to adrianne maree brown in Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, “We need to learn how to practice love such that care — for ourselves and others — is understood as political resistance and cultivating resilience. She further elaborates that “what we need is a culture where the common experience of trauma leads to a normalization healing” and in such, “celebrate love in our community as a measure of it”. Additionally, having and holding safe spaces mean letting go of judgments — it can also shift “individual transactions of self-care lead to collective transformation.” When I read this and re-read this, I knew that is what I wanted for the Latinx community. 2. Mindfulness as Racial Justice In her book, The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness, Rhonda M. Magee emphasizes that race-focused mindful practices allow us to: Take back our power, our agency. We can change how we perceive and relate to our experiences. And while mindfulness has been appropriated by white voices and narratives (any meditation app will show you that), it can certainly help marginalized groups achieve collective justice. But contrary to popular belief, “living mindfully is not living without discomfort.” In the past, I adhered to the “white” notion of tranquil mindfulness and yet, Magee told me it was okay to ask questions of race and healing in mindfulness. I was blown away. 3. Clean Pain Finally, as Reesma Mekanem points out in My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, Black, Brown and Indigenous bodies carry “trauma in our bodies around the myths of race” and through is passed on through generations becoming “historical trauma”. Historical trauma, along with our own lived mind and bodily trauma, can only be healed through “clean pain” — one which mends and can build your capacity for growth. But, what is clean pain? It’s the pain you experience when you have no idea what to do; when you don’t really, really don’t want to say or do it; and when you do it anyway. It’s also the pain you experience when you have no idea what to do; when you’re scared or worried about what might happen; when you step forward unto the unknown anyway, with honesty and vulnerability.” This year, I have explored healing through acknowledging my own discomfort in mindfulness and by tackling clean pain instead of the “dirty pain” of avoidance, blame and denial. It has not been easy, but I do hope that those close to me have seen the fruits of my efforts and intentions. Proyecto Solace Holding safe spaces means existing, listening and supporting people when they are seeking comfort, including in and in spite of, whatever state they are in. Learning to hold safe spaces and listen as part of collective healing has changed my life and throughout this year, I was able to be part of safe spaces with groups, individuals and more. I believe it has helped me and ultimately… my community. “Holding space means to be with someone without judgment. To donate your ears and heart without wanting anything back. To practice empathy and compassion. To accept someone’s truth, no matter what they are. To allow and accept. .” — John Kim, LMFT Choosing a name for this project did not come easy — after months of toying with ideas, midnight thesaurus searches and domain availabilities, I finally landed on solace, from Old French solas, from Latin sōlācium “consolation”, meaning comfort or consolation in a time of distress. To me, solace means to be present. To be there for people. To let them exist as they should. This project is born out of my own passion, love and commitment to creating safe spaces for those that identify as Latinx. We are not a monolithic group — but I hope holding safe spaces like Proyecto Solace allows us to heal collectively. In its first phase, Proyecto Solace aims to provide safe spaces for Latinx peoples focused on journeys of emotional and mental wellness. Of joy and gratitude. Of clean pain. Of support. Of mindfulness as social justice for our communities. Of our own reflections and growth after participating in safe spaces. This will be done through Slack in the first phase. There are other phases that will come and I have a vision for this platform, but for now, this is a good first step. If you are interested in being part of Proyecto Solace, please fill out this form or email us at I am grateful to my therapist Stephanie, my partner Sandy Parakilas and my good friend Ana Diaz-Hernandez for their support while I explored the purpose and intentions of Proyecto Solace.


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