Like many Latinas, my mom was raised to be of service to everyone except herself: to her husband, her children, her in-laws. Growing up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Mexico, she helped her own mother raise 18 children. With no formal education beyond the sixth grade, she came to the US in her 20’s and worked in low-wage jobs to send money to her mother. She remained in low-wage jobs her entire life to help support our own family.
I was raised by a Cuban father and a Mexican mother on American soil and I had one hell of a time forming my own identity. My father, or Papi as I called him, stressed to me that I should be fiercely independent. He pulled me aside when I was ten years old and said, “Mija, don’t get married and have children until you have an education and a career and your own money. Don’t depend on anyone, ever.” His words scared the hell out of me because I was still playing with Barbie dolls and couldn’t imagine getting married, ever.
“You are so selfish, so inconsiderate!”
I’ve been working at a community health center in a predominantly Latinx neighborhood of Boston for two years and I love working with such a diverse population. I’d wanted to work in mental health for years and I dove headfirst into my role as a Behavioral Health Clinician. I was warned about provider burnout and encouraged to practice self-care. "Make sure you take care of yourself," my coworkers said to me on the first day. "Oh, yeah, definitely," I replied. But stupidly, I believed burnout wouldn’t happen to me because I was doing what I love to do most: help people. So rather than eat lunch or go outside or read a book on my free time, I spent all of my free time on work-related tasks: writing notes, phone calls to patients, etc. I read articles and watched videos on mental health issues. I submerged myself in my work, convinced that my passion for it would never get old.
I had no social life in college. My hard-working immigrant parents couldn’t afford my college tuition, so I bartended at a TGI Fridays full time, leaving me with no energy and no time to go to parties and do keg stands. When I wasn’t working, I’d come home from school, catch up on my studying and then set up the Scrabble board on the kitchen counter. My playing partner was Jacqueline, a cousin who lived only two houses away because Cubans have a tendency to stick together, regardless of the country. Jacqueline was only thirteen years old but mature for her age, so much so that I'd often forget she was still a budding teenager. I would talk to her about school, bartending, boys, everything. She would sit and listen to me and offer me feedback.