195: Five Reasons Why First-Gen Latinas Struggle with Self-Care

195: Five Reasons Why First-Gen Latinas Struggle with Self-Care

In this episode, I cover the topic of key reasons why many first-gen Latinas struggle with self-care. I introduce five sociocultural concepts that may be impacting your ability to care for yourself. They include marianismo, familismo, imposter phenomenon, microaggressions, and cultural straddling. By understanding how these challenges may be directly or indirectly impacting you, you can develop personalized practices to manage them while still promoting your overall wellness.


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Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu

Welcome back, everyone, to another episode of the Grad School Femtoring podcast. This is your host Dra. Yvette. Today's episode is gonna be focused on five reasons why first gen Latinas struggle with self care.

This is something that I expand on further in my Grad School Femtoring Academy in one of the six workshops that I share in the academy. Because it came up and I thought it was something that would be especially useful to my podcast listeners, I thought to myself, why not share this information publicly? Why not make it accessible in the hopes that it can support someone out there who may be like me, a first gen Latina, and who may also be struggling with self care?

I have struggled with self care for a very, very long time. It's still an ongoing struggle, but I've gotten a lot better at putting myself first and taking care of myself so that I can then take care of others as well. Based on what I've learned, I thought I'd share with you these five reasons that I've noticed for myself and also among the many different people that I engage with- whether they're my femtees, my clients, my former students, people I know that are part of my community. These are the things that we've got going on.

One of the struggles that we experience as Latinas- and I'm going to be speaking about my own experience as a child of Mexican immigrants. In my Mexican household, there was a constant struggle of marianismo- of upholding this idealized view of what femininity was supposed to look like and be like. In my own family, there were these gender roles and gender norms that were reified, and certain expectations that the women in the family were supposed to uphold. That might mean expectations of virginity, of femininity, of doing more domestic labor, of doing more care work.

I witnessed the women in my family never taking time off, never taking breaks, never resting, and being the self sacrificing mamas, tias, nanas in the family. So of course, going to college and going into higher education, there is tension that comes up with wanting to uphold these norms that are tied back to- in many cases, Catholicism and the figure of the view from the Guadalupe that you can't ever truly meet those those expectations. You cannot compare yourself to the Virgen de Guadalupe. Although admittedly, there's this whole sector of Chicana feminist art that kind of takes back that figure and uses it to reclaim their identity in an empowering way.

I'm all for that. But when you think about this figure of the Virgen de Guadalupe, you can't 100% compare yourself to that. And sometimes, we do not want to. Some of us do not want to be feminine. Some of us do not want to do domestic work. Some of us do not want to become mothers. Some of us do not want to have partners or spouses. Some of us have a different idea and conception of what we want in our life. And it's that tension - going to college, getting a career-that sometimes becomes this tension that you experience. It's a tension that I experienced going to college as the first one to move out of my family, as the first one to go to college- and leaving my younger siblings behind when I was the one that would take care of them, babysit them. That was a conflict. That was a struggle having to do with me not upholding the values and the expectations of the family that ties back to marianismo.

The next is related to this and a lot of us feel it. A lot of us, we may still uphold this value and believe in it. And that is in this concept of familismo. The concept of familismo among a lot of Latinx, Latina families is you're taught to put the family first, to put the family first before anything before even yourself. When you put the family first - and you might still uphold it. You might believe we gotta take care of our families. We gotta take care of our communities. I get that.

But it can become this tension, or there can be some hostility with you doing something like going to college and grad school that may seem to appear that is all about you, as opposed to supporting the family or the community. You can even relate this to theories in psychology, like family systems theory and how there might be this tension between the values that your family upholds that are related to prioritizing the collective, and the values that maybe- as a child of immigrants, that your new country, your new home, upholds.

So thinking about my family, coming from Mexico, upholding values of more collectivity. Then moving to the US and me being born there, being raised there. In the US, we have this shared collective - the country's value of individualism. Individualism is in direct contrast to collectivity. And not every country is like that. I'm recording this- I'm still based in Portugal while recording this. I'm not sure when this episode is going to come out. It might come out when I'm still here or when I'm back in the US.

But in Portugal, there's definitely more of a collective type of value of like putting the society first before the individual. Again, if you're focusing on yourself, if you are maybe putting a pause on supporting others in some way, shape, or form, or maybe even setting boundaries, that can become a tension. That can become a struggle. You might feel really bad or guilty for doing things that are for you, even if you know you're doing it for you- but also at the same time for you and for the future you that's going to be able to then better support your family and community later. Yeah, familismo is a thing that comes up a lot. You're feeling that conflict of like, but I need to work on my academics or but I need to work on my work stuff. And I have all of these other family related obligations. How do I balance both or cycle between both?

Next is the imposter phenomenon. I've talked about it in a former episode on impostor syndrome. I might have a couple of episodes on impostor syndrome now that I think about it. But now, I'm referring to it as imposter phenomenon, because I know that language matters. The word syndrome itself tends to be pathologizing, and tends to put the blame on the individual as opposed to thinking about it as a systemic issue and as a phenomenon that's going on across a lot of different people. Imposter phenomenon is something that happens to all kinds of people, not just for first gen Latinas. But because our identities are often marginalized or underrepresented identities in higher ed, we may feel that feeling even more so - the feeling of I'm not good enough. They're gonna figure out that I'm a fraud. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't even want to ask for help, because then they're gonna figure out that I don't know anything. Just constantly doubting yourself.

That's the imposter phenomenon. If you're feeling the imposter phenomenon, how are you then going to take care of yourself? If you're constantly feeling like you have to prove yourself, constantly feeling like you have to do extra work, work even harder than everybody else, that leaves very little time and energy for you to prioritize yourself and to take care of yourself. I spent so much time trying to prove to others and to myself that I deserve to be in grad school that- I've said it so many times- I worked myself to the point of developing chronic illnesses. I burned out. It was just not sustainable. I couldn't keep going at that rate, at that pace, even if I wanted to. And the imposter phenomenon definitely played a big role in that.

The other struggle, the other reason that comes up that makes it difficult for you to take care of yourself as a first gen latina are microaggressions. And related to that also, racial battle fatigue. Microaggressions are those stings are those instances of people doing something to belittle you or to put you down or to insult you. Or those little minor stings of racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, you name it. There's so many isms out there, and the more intersectional identities or intersectionally marginalized your identities are, the more chances are that you're going to experience these microaggressions.

And if you are a BIPOC, if you are a black person, if you are a brown person, a person of color, you are also going to be experiencing racial battle fatigue. Those are specific instances of racial hostility that are targeted at you because of your race. And these instances, they do take a toll on your mental, emotional, and physical health. It can eventually lead to presenting itself as or manifesting itself as certain symptoms. Like in my case, it developed into chronic illnesses.

I just want to mention that because if you're experiencing microaggressions, if you're experiencing racial battle fatigue, you probably need to take care of yourself even more than folks who are not experiencing those things, who are not experiencing them at the same severity or frequency as you are. That's what's ironic here, that it's the thing that gets in the way but it's also the thing that means that you need it even more. It gets in the way, because how do you make time if you feel like you're constantly in fight or flight mode, if you're constantly in this battle mode, when you're feeling like you're constantly maybe triggered or constantly hyper vigilant? You're just waiting for the next shoe to drop all of the time.

Now when I meet with folks- I had one client who was asking me, how do I react when someone says something that is offensive or when someone says a microaggression to me? Or when someone expresses some sort of hostility towards me, how do I react? What do I do? I want to be able to say the right things at the right time and defend myself. And I had to tell her, you know what? We have to pick and choose our battles. We cannot always be on the defense. We cannot always be having to justify and explain ourselves and teach others and have debates and all that.

You have to figure out- is this the right time and the right person to go through this? Or do I want to just pick and choose my battle and say, you know what? Not today. I'm not doing this today. I'm not doing it. That's what I recommend. If you find yourself in just multiple instances of microaggressions, remind yourself - is this even worth your time? Is it worth it? Or is it not today- just you're not going to deal with it today. That doesn't mean you're never going to deal with it. It just means you have to be very selective because you have to protect yourself and your energy.

The last of the five reasons that first-gen Latinas struggle with self care is this concept of cultural straddling. This concept of what Gloria Anzaldua famously called the Nepantla state- feeling like you're straddling between two or more cultures. It could be the culture of academia. It could be the culture of the country that your family comes from. It could be the culture of your adoptive country, if you are an immigrant or a child of immigrants. You are straddling or you are going back and forth between different types of cultures and this can be confusing. This can be difficult to manage and navigate. This can have an impact on your identity and how you choose to identify. What I love about referring to this or associating this with the nepantla state is that it is okay to be in an in between state. It is okay to be experiencing the sense of like, this is what it means to be living at the interstices, the interstitial space. That it's okay to not feel like you're from here or from there. And it's okay to own your multiplicity. It's okay to be a full whole self, even if you have multiple cultures that you are honoring.

But cultural straddling makes it that much more difficult to take care of yourself, because it means you're faced with a lot of different tensions, a lot of different conflicts, a lot of different expectations. And it's up to you to decide- what am I going to take? And what am I going to let go? What am I going to take from the cultures that I'm straddling, and what am I going to choose not to own or not to follow? There might be things about your parents' home countries, or about your home country, or about the new spaces that you inhabit. There might be things that you really like, that you can own and embrace, and there might be things that you're going to let go of. That's okay.

But as soon as you start to learn more about the cultures that you're straddling, and figure out what are the things you're going to take, what are the things you're going to let go of. It'll be a little bit easier for you to start to take care of yourself, because the more aware you are about who you are, where you come from, and how that impacts the spaces that you enter, the more you're going to be able to then also be aware about the things that you need to take care of yourself.

Now, I'm not going to be going into any self care strategies today. I just wanted to make you aware of these five different concepts, the concepts of marianismo, familismo, imposter phenomenon, micro aggressions, and cultural straddling. Some of these I've covered before. Some of these I haven't covered quite yet. But nonetheless, I think they're important to keep mentioning, to keep reinforcing so that those of you that are newer to my podcast can go back and listen to my episode on impostor syndrome. You can go back and listen to any episodes where I've talked about microaggressions. You can then go on and look up these terms for yourself, learn more about them, and learn about how they impact you as well.

That's it for this week's episode. I wanted to keep it short and sweet. I hope that you enjoyed it. I will talk to you all next time.

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