Latin@ and Mental Health

sadgirlMental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, which affects our daily life in a variety of different ways. A healthy mental state affects how people interact with other individuals, form relationships, handle stressful situations, and be able to perform daily tasks without much difficulty. However, when there is a disruption or compromise of an individual’s state of being, problems begin to arise.

Over the past couple of years there has been an increase of public awareness of what mental health is, the stigmas present, and the symptoms of a mental health illness. The National Alliance of Mental Illness found that  approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States (43.7 million) experiences a mental illness in a given year.

Programs have slowly popped up in multiple ways: from city-run campaigns to student-created clubs in school to increase awareness. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, about about 50.6% of children aged  8-15 received mental health services in a past year. The hope of this is to allow individuals that might be struggling in their daily life to reach out for help without being stigmatized by their peers.

Mental Illness and the Latino Community

Having a mental health illness is a serious issue and needs treatment so the individual can continue to perform at their normal capacity. In the Latino Community, symptoms of a mental health illness are usually dismissed or are written off as an attempt for attention, and mental health illnesses are heavily stigmatized. This combination usually prevents the individual from receiving help.

Celeste Nevarez, who earned her Masters of Counseling Psychology from Arizona State, is a licensed psychiatrist who works at the Family Service of El Paso. A native of El Paso, she decided to return to her city after graduation to help her community; she now works at a non-profit organization that offers counseling regardless of ability to pay and is a professor at El Paso Community College. Passionate about her work, she is determined to improve the mental health scene of the city.

Nevarez states that having a mental health illness can be due to a combination of genetics, psychology, and the social environment of the individual. Lacking a family history of mental health illness does not mean that the person is immune, mental health knows “no gender, race, culture, [or] religion.” Mental health illnesses do not discriminate, everyone is vulnerable. According to Nevarez, the best thing for someone that is suffering from a mental illness is to seek professional help if possible- especially if his/her case becomes dangerous; however, sometimes having support from a peer might help.

However, this might sometimes be hard to come by. Nevarez believes that the Latino Community is proud and tough, and asking for help to treat a mental health illness signals that the person is weak and that something is wrong with them. She thinks that the stigma might come from a combination of culture, religion, stereotypes of “crazy” people, and shame placed on the individual and on the family. Nevarez often hears similar lines to “‘it is just a faze,’ ‘nothing is wrong with you,’ and ‘I need help.’ ‘But you’re not crazy,’” when someone attempts to reach out for help.

Treatment of a Mental Illness

By prolonging treatment the individual might feel isolated if no support is given and that is one of the worst things to happen. Nevarez argues that the lack of treatment could possibly make the mental health illness might take a turn for the worst. Although there has been improvement of slowly breaking down the stigma and more people reaching out for help, Nevarez believes that there is still a long way to go.

With the continuation of breaking down stigmas and making mental health services easier to access, those in the Latino community will be able to reach the help that they need. Those that are asking for help should not be ignored or laughed at, but understood and supported through their struggles.

Latinas in Sports

We’re highlighting the top Latinas in sports history. These chicas poderosas know the importance of fitness, endurance, and passion for sports.

Rebecca Lobo is an American television basketball analyst and former women’s basketball player in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) from 1997 to 2003. Lobo played college basketball at the University of Connecticut, where she was a member of the team that won the 1995 national championship. Her father is of Cuban, Spanish, Polish and Ashkenazi Jewish descent, while her mother was of German and Irish heritage.
Marlen Esparza is an American boxer who in 2012 competed at the Olympics, became the first American woman to qualify for the Olympics in the first year that women’s boxing was an Olympic event. She won the bronze medal in the women’s flyweight division at the 2012 Olympics in London. Esparza has an endorsement deal with Cover Girl cosmetics. She also appeared in a Spanish language commercial for Coca-Cola, and on a commercial for McDonald’s. Esparza was the subject of Soledad O’Brien’s 2011 CNN documentary, Latino in America 2: In Her Corner

Amy Rodríguez is an American soccer player who currently plays for FC Kansas City in the National Women’s Soccer League and is also a member of the United States women’s national soccer team. She is called “A Rod” by her teammates and sometimes by soccer commentators. Her paternal grandparents were from Cuba and immigrated to the United States in the 1950s. In 2005, was considered the nation’s top recruits and was named National Player of the Year by Parade Magazine, EA Sports and NSCAA. She was a four-time all-league selection and All-CIF honoree. 

Nancy López is an American professional golfer. She became a member of the LPGA Tour in 1977 and won 48 LPGA Tour events during her LPGA career, including three major championships. Lopez was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1987. Lopez is the only woman to win LPGA Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year, and the Vare Trophy in the same season. Her company, Nancy Lopez Golf, makes a full line of women’s clubs and accessories.

Dara Torres is a former American competition swimmer who is a twelve-time Olympic medalist and former world record-holder in three events. Torres is the first and only swimmer to represent the United States in five Olympic Games and, at age 41, was the oldest swimmer ever to earn a place on the U.S. Olympic team. Torres has won twelve Olympic medals, one of three women with the most Olympic women’s swimming medals. Torres was born in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Edward Torres and Marylu Kauder. Her father was a real estate developer and casino owner; her mother Marylu was a former model.  

Brenda Villa is an accomplished American water polo player. She is the most decorated athlete in the world of women’s water polo. Villa was named Female Water Polo Player of the Decade for 2000-2009 by the FINA Aquatics World Magazine. Villa started swimming with a club team, Commerce Aquatics, at the age of six, and followed her brother into water polo at eight years old. She made the girls’ Junior Olympic Team while in high school. At Bell Gardens High School, Villa played with the boys’ water polo team because her school did not have a girls’ team.

Diana López is an American Olympic Taekwondo competitor from Sugar Land, Texas. She represented the United States at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where she won a bronze medal. In 2005, Diana and her brothers made history by becoming the first three siblings, in any sport, to win World titles at the same event, when they did so at the 2005 World Taekwondo Championships in Madrid, Spain and in 2008, Diana and her brothers made history again by becoming only the second set of three or more siblings to all qualify for the Olympics. 


Jennifer Rodríguez  is a Cuban-American speed skater. She started her career as an artistic roller skater, winning multiple national championships and placing second and third at world championships. Later she switched to inline speed skating and became world champion in 1993. In 1996 she made another career move by giving it a try on ice, in order to have a chance to make the Olympic team. Rodríguez participated in the 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics, winning two bronze medals in Salt Lake City in 2002. She is also known by the nicknames Miami Ice and J-Rod “dame cucita.”

Creating S.M.A.R.T Goals

Latina Girl Writing - LatinitasFrom school to family and friends, you have goals in every aspect of your life. If you want to reach your goals, it isn’t enough to just say you want to get better grades. You have to come up with S.M.A.R.T. goals to create a plan to reach your goals.

First,  what is a S.M.A.R.T. goal?

S.M.A.R.T Goals

First, you need to make sure that you have specific goals. Then, you will start creating a S.M.A.R.T.  goal setting. S.M.A.R.T.  goal setting brings structure and track ability into your goals and objectives. Every goal or objective, from intermediary step to overarching objective, can be made S.M.A.R.T. and as such, brought closer to reality.

Measurable goals means that you identify exactly what it is you will see, hear and feel when you reach your goal. It means breaking your goal down into measurable elements by having concrete evidence. Being happier is not evidence because it cannot be measured; however,  not eating junk food anymore because you adhere to a healthy lifestyle,where you eat vegetables twice a day and exercise more frequently, is. 

Next, you’ll need to create deadlines. Everybody knows that deadlines are what makes most people switch to action. Keep the timeline realistic and flexible, that way you can keep morale high. Raising against time to complete a goal will not only make the process more stressful, but it can also weaken the learning path of achieving your goals.


Be realistic with yourself, but don’t beat yourself up if it takes you longer to accomplish a goal. Remember that what you focus on, like viewing something in a negative or positive light, will affect your goals.

Don’t be scared to re-organize or change your goals. Sometimes the ideal opportunity to accomplish a goal will come at a later date/time — it’s not a bad thing! Keeping track of your goals as you accomplish them is a great self-esteem booster. Girl, you better be writing those goals in a place where is easy to remember. Make a check mark to every goal in your list that you have already accomplished. It will make you feel better to know that you are almost done. Don’t forget to smile! It is rewarding to know that you finish something from your list.

Journalist Zita Arocha

Zita Arocha

Zita Arocha

 Zita Arocha is a Cuban-American bilingual journalist and senior lecturer in the University of Texas At El Paso. She is director of, a multimedia web magazine that prepares Hispanic college journalists for jobs in 21st century newsrooms. For over 20 years, she worked as a reporter for The Washington PostThe Miami Herald, The Miami News and The Tampa Times. She was executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists from 1993-1997, and was training coordinator for the Freedom Forum’s Chips Quinn Scholars Program from 2000-2002. She has also been a freelance contributor to various national publications.

What are your job responsibilities?
Right now, I am the director of an online magazine called and also, I teach some of the Journalism courses.

What is your educational training?
I always wanted to be a teacher, but life had other things prepared.  My first job was at the Tampa Time and later I went to work at El Nuevo Harold in Miami. In the first newspaper I applied as a secretary, because there weren’t any current positions open. I waited a season. Finally one reporter quit his job, and I applied for it. My boss at that time taught me what I know now. He was my mentor and a big support of my career. I have also worked at the Washington Post and The Miami News.

How did you find your current job?
I was invited to teach at UTEP in 2002. I had come to El Paso years before and I thought that it was a nice place to live. Dr. Weatherspoon had made me the invitation to come to the university and teach communication. I felt so glad, because I studied to be a teacher and that opportunity came to me at the right moment. Also, I am the current director of Borderzine Magazine at UTEP and is for Hispanic journalist pursuing an opportunity in the journalism.

How did you prepare for this career?
Honestly, your daily work prepares you for your career. I earned a master’s degree in English and comparative literature from the University of South Florida, and recently I earned a MFA in bilingual creative writing at UTEP. My most recent job has been a memoir, Leaving Cuba.

What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part is seeing bright new students each semester. Also, there is always something new to do, to learn and even to write. I like that my students get engaged in communications. We see them now everywhere and I believe that in the communication area you never will get bored.

What is the most challenging part of the job?
I remember when I used to write stories from the court rooms, I would get chills of the cases I used to hear. It is one of the parts about my job, which I most enjoyed. Being there, in the middle of all those sometime terrible, great and inspiring jury verdicts. Reporting those cases was something that I will always remember. I even enjoy telling them to my students or even to someone that is interviewing me, like you.

What do you do for fun when you aren’t working?
Most of my time I spend it at school. But, like on the weekend I spend the time with my husband at our house. We are common people that do common things.

Actress Mia Xitlali

Mia Xitlali is an actress, known for her roles in Max (2015), Selling Rosario (2014) and Flight (2015). Mia recently played the character Carmen in the movie Max that focuses on a dog that helped US Marines in Afghanistan. The movie follows Max on his adventures as he returns to the U.S. and is adopted by a family after suffering a traumatic experience. Mia talked to Latinitas about her experience on the movie set.


Latinitas: Where are you from?

Mia Xitlali: I am from Los Angele,s but I have Mexican roots on my mom side, she is from Guadalajara, Jalisco; and my dad is from El Paso, TX

L: What does Xitlali, means?

M: It means star in Nahuatl, which is a native language in Mexico.

L: Do you speak both English and Spanish well?

M: I speak better in English… Necesito practicar (I need to practice Spanish), but I am working on it.

L: When did you first know you wanted to become an actress?

M: I started acting since I was 7 years old. I started with small performances in plays. Because my family members were also involved, I decided that I wanted to follow my parents’ foot steps. I knew that I wanted to become an actress when I did my first play called South Pacific. I realized that the way I felt at that moment I just wanted to keep feeling it. It is the best feeling so far.

Did you have the opportunity to study acting or did it just come naturally?

M: My entire family is made up of performers. They are musicians and dancers. So, I just follow them. I learned it from both of my parent and also my tias, tios and cousins.

L: Which actress or actor would you like to work with in the future?

M: An actress who I would like to work with is Meryl Streep. She has been working constantly. She is always changing her style of acting and she is super good on what she does. I just want to be able to get awesome roles that she has had the opportunity to play in movies.

L: Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?miaxitali

M: I am actually a dog whisper in real life. I mean I was also in the movie, but those scenes that I did with MAX where natural. I have conversations with dogs and they actually understand me. I play games with them and give them directions and they just follow them.

L: What is the best part of being an actress?

M: The best part is that I enjoy what I do. I love this amazing feeling and the rush.  I like knowing people and getting new experiences. I learn every day and it is just a great thing that I enjoy.

L: What is the scariest part of an audition?

M: It is not knowing what they are looking for.

L: Was was it like auditioning for the MAX movie?

M: On the MAX movie, I had to wait almost a month. I thought that I didn’t get the part. I thought I had to move on to the next casting call. After all that time of waiting they called me and got the part. It was pretty exciting.

L: What did you learn about playing Carmen in MAX movie?

M: She had a very though life and see was kick-off out of her dad’s house for getting a tattoo and at such as young age… I mean she was 14 years-old and to go through all of that she was brave and knew a new family that supported her.

L: Do you think that this movie is going to touch the hearts of those families who have a relative who are in the army?

M: I think yes. I recently saw that military families have the same situations as the ones that are shown on the screen. Some of them were crying or very emotional. MAX is a great movie. I think that it does have the power to touch people’s hearts and not just the ones that have a relative in this situation, but also many kinds of people.

L: Is the movie base on a true story?
M: It is based on a true story, actually it is a book. It did happen some time in the past, and it is about this dog hero.

L: Did you enjoy acting with a dog?

M: I did enjoy acting with him. He is just an awesome animal and beautiful. It was interesting because he was a very good actor, and I had so much fun being with him. His name is Carlos and he would follow me everywhere. It was so funny.

L: How do you feel that more Latinas are gaining roles in the Unites States?

M: I am very excited that I could actually be one of those Latinas that can make a change. I don’t know where I could be right now if I didn’t land this opportunity. I mean I am in the perfect time when I am 100% Latina and we need to take advantage of these kind of opportunities.

L: Did you gain more experience from you past work through now?

M: Yes, I have. I did the first film Selling Rosario, which was a short film and I did good on that one and I got the role on MAX movie right after that one. I had to learn very quickly and change the way I usually am to what the character is.

L: Can you share some advice for young aspiring actresses?

M: I just have to say to follow your dreams and if you know that you have support you can make it. If this is something that you really want to do, follow it and go through it 100% if you want to be successful and take it with courage.

Social Activist Dolores Huerta

Did you know that…

Activist and labor leader, Dolores Huerta has dedicated her life to working to improve social and economic conditions for farm workers and to fight discrimination. She was born Dolores Fernandez on April 10, 1930, in Dawson, New Mexico. She grew up in Stockton, California in the San Joaquin Valley. In 1960, she co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) with Cesar Chavez.

In the early 1950s, she completed a teaching degree at Delta Community College. She worked as an elementary school teacher where she saw that her students living in poverty without enough food or the basic necessities. To help, she became one of the founders of the Stockton chapter of the Community Services Organization (CSO) to improve social and economic conditions for farm workers and to fight discrimination.

To further her cause, Huerta created the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA) in 1960.  In 1962, she co-founded a workers’ union with Cesar Chavez, which was later called the United Farm Workers (UFW). Huerta was instrumental in the union’s successes, including the strikes against California grape growers in the 1960s and 1970s.

She has received many honors for her activism, including the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom Award (1993), the National Women’s Hall of Fame (1993) and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award (1998). In May 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Dolores Huerta with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive.

Huerta is president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which she founded in 2002.The Dolores Huerta Foundation is a ”community benefit organization that organizes at the grassroots level, engaging and developing natural leaders. DHF creates leadership opportunities for community organizing, leadership development, civic engagement, and policy advocacy in the following priority areas: health & environment, education & youth development, and economic development. Huerta continues to work tirelessly developing leaders and advocating for the working poor, women and children.

Immigrant Heritage

Our nation has a long history of immigrants who have come to this country to seek new opportunities and to contribute their talents. These talented Latina immigrants have excelled in their field and demonstrated the potential of immigrants reaching their dreams.

Carolina Herrera (Venezuela)

Carolina Herrera was born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1939. Her full name is Maria Carolina Josefina Pacanins. Since 1980, she has run a thriving fashion business centered around her designer clothing line that has won awards and recognition for its elegant, feminine lines. The longtime resident of New York, she has regularly been recognized in the media as one of the city’s most elegant women.

Carmen Castillo (Chile)
She came to the U.S. from her native Spain with a student visa. She became the founder and owner of SDI International Corp., a global technology services corporation which serves many Fortune 500 companies. Since she was six years old, Castillo wanted to own her own business. She credits her success to being proactive. “We really have to figure out what’s going to be next,” she says in her bio. “The difference between us and most of our competitors is that we are truly global suppliers. You have to be a true global player to be able to hold and sustain a contract with a Fortune 100 company.”

Cristina Saralegui (Cuba)

Cristina was born on Jan. 29, 1948, in Havana, Cuba and immigrated to the U.S. in 1960. She studied publishing in college. In 1979, she became the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan en Español. She moved to TV in 1989 as the host of The Cristina Show. Her talk show stayed on the air until 2009. Saralegui now hosts a weekly radio program.

Sofia Vergara (Colombia)

Sofia Vergara was born in Barranquilla, Colombia on July 10, 1972. She worked as a model before relocating to the U.S. to pursue an acting career. She was a TV host of programs on Univision. She started acting in films and became most popular in recent years for her role as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on the hit sitcom Modern Family. She has earned Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. She has also had acting roles in Happy Feet Two, The Smurfs and Chef.

Salma Hayek (Mexico)

Born on September 2, 1966, in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico, Salma Hayek was raised in a well-to-do Catholic home by her a Spanish mother and Lebanese father before she found fame in Hollywood. She got her big break in the entertainment industry after appearing in Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado. The actress has played in a wide range of roles on film, including her portrayal of Frida Kahlo in the biopic Frida (2002) and her work as the love interest of Antonio Banderas’ character in the animated film Puss in Boots (2011).

Penelope Cruz (Spain)

Penelope Cruz was born in Spain in 1974. She studied classical ballet at a young age. Penelope moved to Hollywood to pursue acting. She soon landed roles starring with Matt Damon and Tom Cruise. She became the first Spanish actress to win an Academy Award for her performance in the film Vicky Christina Barcelona. Cruz married her Vicky Cristina Barcelona co-star, Spanish actor Javier Bardem, in 2010.


Eating Disorder – Silent Killer

It’s hard to imagine how a small comment can affect us enormously. A negative comment from her cousin about her weight pushed Alma to diet. Alma’s diet soon became an addiction and turned into an eating disorder. Her life as a 15-year-old girl, navigating her high school years, changed dramatically when she discovered that she wasn’t happy with her body. Alma wasn’t happy with the life she had in that moment and felt like she didn’t fit in with the people around her. It was difficult for her to see beyond what she saw in her mirror every morning. Today, Alma is 19-years-old and overcoming anorexia. She shared her experience battling anorexia with us.

How did your anorexia begin?

My trigger was a comment I received from my cousin. One day, she told me I would never be thin. That is when I said, ”Enough.” I would not allow my weight to be a hindrance to feeling the way I wanted to. My initial excuse was that I wanted to wear a two-piece swimsuit. This was the first of my excuses to start “harmless” diets.  I always had problems with my body image. For me, it was a reflection that something was wrong with me. Then, it struck me that perfection, or what could make me happy, was to be thinner. My diet soon began turning into an obsession. It was awful. The truth is that now I regret that first thought so much because it is was what triggered [my anorexia].

What did your friends and family tell you about your appearance?

At first, they all praised me when I started losing weight and told me I looked great. Then as time passed, so did my control and I began to see myself decline. My mom took me to a specialist; I recovered for three months.  I fell into a problematic relationship with a guy who had the same problem as I did—that was a big mistake. Suddenly, my relationship with him ended in a bad way. I started thinking it was because of my weight and in less than three months I lost 15 pounds again.  My family became alarmed about my weight, but nobody said anything because it was a subject no one wanted to talk about. I blamed it on being stressed about school and told them that was the reason I had stopped eating as much. Every day, I was eating less and less, until it became more noticeable. My parents noticed a missing patch of missing hair [due to the anorexia].

What was going through your mind at that moment?

It was quite scary. The only thing I thought was that that if I gained weight, my whole effort, my whole self, would go away. All that I had been through would have been for nothing.  I was not afraid of dying or what would happen to me further on. I was afraid others wouldn’t like me if I gained weight. There came a time when I was afraid to leave my house because for me that meant having to eat and that I would lose control of myself. It was like living in hell. I swear it was awful; I did not enjoy anything because of the fear I had about myself. I remember I was suffering at night because of hunger pains. It was an awful pain and it was an internal struggle, too. I thought I would die of depression at the time. I didn’t want to eat because nobody would accept me otherwise. The thing is, I was a compulsive eater before being anorexic. I was afraid to return to the same situation.

How did you stop?

One day, my dad showed me an image on his computer of a girl who looked like a skeleton and he told me I looked like that girl. He said that little by little I was going to kill myself. He told me that he was going to kick me out of the house if I didn’t get better. I didn’t understand why he was getting mad at me and threatening to kick me out of the house. I was the ideal child; I had the best grades and didn’t go out very often. He had no right to say absolutely anything. I told him he did not have any right to tell me what was wrong with me. Then, he said something that clicked in my head and made me cry. He told me, “Children should bury their parents. I will not dare bury you and stand in there, crying by your grave.” He was afraid I was going to die because of my anorexia and that made me realize how serious my problem was.

Do you still struggle with any emotional or physical problems caused by anorexia?

It left me with many problems. Even now, I still struggle with health problems, but treatments are normalizing my system for now. It’s a daily struggle with looking in the mirror and not getting carried away with letting negative thoughts get to me. Besides, my family constantly pressures me not to fall again into the same disorder. It’s not easy, I had one and a half years of therapy.

Why do you think eating disorders are a big problem for today’s youth?

Girls need to realize that not everything in life has to be thin or fat. If they obsess about being thin, then they are slowly destroying themselves with thoughts that don’t help them. Eating disorders are a big problem because people don’t know what the consequences are and how serious a problem it can be.

Do you still struggle with anorexia?

Yes and I think I will my whole life. It’s a mistake that I will always be paying for.

What would you say to girls who face similar eating disorders?

I would tell them to be aware of the consequences of their actions. It can take an emotional toll not only on you, but on all those around you. Eating disorders affect your whole family. This can lead to death and cause pain and suffering for your whole family. If you don’t want to focus on healing for yourself, you should think about your family and how it will hurt them to see your suffering this way.

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