From stress and anxiety to imposter syndrome, many Latinos in the U.S. experience something called first-generation trauma. The term is used to describe the emotional struggles of children whose parents are immigrants.
Someone who identifies with this is Dr. Leslie Gonzalez. She uses TikTok to share her understanding and experience of first-generation trauma. In an interview for "L.A. Times Today," Dr. Leslie joined host Lisa McRee with more.
Some of the stress faced by first-generation Latinos can stem from birth.
"Honestly, for myself, as a first-generation Latina from an immigrant home, it comes with the territory of being a firstborn,” Gonzalez said. “All those stresses manifest in being the only one who knows English and has to translate documents and has to translate at the doctor's office. Another stress that may come with the territory is being the advocate for your family because you're the only fluent English speaker, which can last from birth to adult adulthood. It can be a lot on someone's plate.”
For some children of immigrants, there is the stress of having one identity at home and one out into the world due to assimilation.
"I dealt with that a lot,” Gonzalez said. “At home, I was seen as the advocate, the pack leader, and it was a difficult challenge to figure out my place in society outside my home. How did I fit as a first-gen Latina, and what did I have to offer? And, since I went through the STEM route, my educational journey consisted of science classes. And, unfortunately, I was usually the only Latina in those classes, and it was hard for me to identify with my colleagues and classmates because of the different struggles we were having. So that was interesting to see how it plays out later in life.”
When it came to Dr. Gonzalez's mental health, she says she reached out to a therapist to help her navigate her feelings during medical school, and it ended up helping her in many ways.
"I didn't know what anxiety felt like until I got into medical school, and I felt it because it was just so much pressure to succeed,” Gonzalez said. “It was pressure to make my parents' sacrifices worth it. And medical school is no easy feat; it's daunting for a reason. I felt all that immense pressure, and it eventually manifested in anxiety and depression. In Latino culture, it isn't easy to talk about mental health. I knew that if I wanted to be the change in the next generation that I had to be open about my mental health issues and seek help. And when I did seek help with the therapist, it honestly was life changing. It was night and day, honestly. And when I went back to my studies and applied those skills, I was more confident, and I now felt like I deserved to be there. I had done the work, and I had earned my place."
Now, Dr. Gonzalez is sharing her story and reaching out to others on TikTok.
"At first, it was very mixed because it's a very touchy subject in a lot of millennial and Gen Z communities,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes it seems like when you talk about these things like you're being ungrateful for all the sacrifices that your parents made. But on the flip side, you get a lot of individuals that identify with it and say, ‘Oh my God, nobody has ever spoken about this. I feel seen, I feel represented.’ But the naysayers are much less than the people who find my content relatable. So, I continue to put it out, and it's been such a wonderful experience to do that.”
The Los Angeles Times also reached out to therapists across Southern California to get ideas to help people cope with first-generation trauma. Those ways include open conversations with families, setting healthy boundaries and destigmatizing mental health. And, Dr. Gonzalez says, she agrees with these coping techniques.
"One of the hardest things that I've had to do recently was set boundaries,” Gonzalez said. “I love my parents; they are my everything. But to have good mental health for myself and show my siblings what good mental health and boundaries look like, I have to be the role model, so I set boundaries with them. It was difficult for them to accept them at first, and we did have some challenges. But I think what worked out best for all of us was sticking to the boundary and making sure that if I didn't waver in my boundary as I was setting it, they would understand that I meant business."
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