Liz Alarcón: One afternoon a few months back, I was browsing through my phone when I came across a video on tiktok…
Gina Moreno: So you’re telling me I have to be the first one to assimilate into this country. The first one to understand the culture, financial system, educational system, corporate system, because my parents immigrated from Mexico and I’m also supposed to be the first one to get educated, get a degree so I can get a good job so I can start creating generational wealth. So I can be the first one that can truly invest in herself and start going to therapy. So I could be the first one to have a healthy relationship with myself and pursue to have a healthy relationship with a significant other. And that it is my duty to mentor others in their career and personal life journey because I’m one of the few that will understand because I have lived through it? All right y’all, well catch me on the other side cause I’m almost there.
Liz Alarcón: I instantly related to her experience of the intense pressures of a being a 1st generation American. The video was from “Soy Gina Moreno’s” Tiktok. And the more I browsed her content, the more I wanted to keep watching. She was telling it how it is, and naming the sacrifices, the self-taught learning, the translating, the loneliness that so many of us feel with the enormous responsibility of having to help our families understand how to “make it” in the United States. And I’m obviously not the only one, because Gina’s tiktok channel has tens of thousands of followers and is full of viral videos talking about all the 1st gen experience, breaking the taboo of being quiet and grateful, and really tapping in to the importance of taking care of ourselves. That’s what we’ll cover on this episode of the PulsoPod. What’s the status of Latinos mental health. What can help us get our mind right? What can hurt our progress? and why is it still so hard to talk about?
Gina Moreno: I always did everything as was expected of me, right? I was like a perfect child, like always good grades.
Liz Alarcón: This is Gina Moreno. A first generation American whose family came from Mexico. She’s pretty much your classic high achiever.
Gina Moreno: I went to college for engineering and I finished my bachelor’s and master’s in five years. I achieved my dream at age 23, which was to get a good job that paid well and something that I find fun.
Liz Alarcón: Gina was killing it. She finished college, got a job with Microsoft and moved to Dallas. During her first few days in the city and she found out about a hiking event through the society of Hispanic professional engineers. A good way to meet new people, she thought. but it turned out to be a lot more than she bargained for.
Gina Moreno: It was supposed to be this deep spiritual experience for us and I remember that the instructor or the leader he asked us, “What makes you happy?” and “What do you look forward to in every day?” and I’m like, I don’t know. I don’t know what it makes me happy. I don’t know like what I look forward to.
Liz Alarcón: This revelation sent Gina on a journey…
Gina Moreno: That’s when I like had a crisis and where I realized that I had pretty much been in survival mode up until that point, like, I really hadn’t taken a moment and just breathe and realize, okay, what do I want truly out of life and not just like my job, my title, my achievements. What else am I looking for?
Liz Alarcón: So Gina did something she’d never considered before, she found a life coach, and a therapist to try and help her figure out what she really wanted, and together they started peeling back the layers.
Gina Moreno: I started looking back and understanding my own beliefs and where they came from and realizing these things that didn’t align with me anymore. now I can say you can go to therapy to discover more about yourself. It’s like a deep dive into your own thoughts and just to become a better person.
Liz Alarcón: And as Gina starting really looking into herself and her past, she started to acknowledge, among other things, the pressures of being a first generation American and how much that had affected her.
Gina Moreno: There are so many things that I think we should have done as children. I remember like receiving letters from the government and like trying to translate it. And it’s like, I don’t like, you know, I’m at that point, like I’m not even a teenager. I don’t know what this means. And they just make us mature so much faster.
Liz Alarcón: That’s when she started sharing her experiences online, not really expecting anything.
Gina Moreno: I was just ranting, I think people don’t understand how difficult it is to be for first gen and how proud they should be of themselves, right? Recognize that being a first gen, it’s not easy. One video did really well and it reached a million and I couldn’t control it for like two or three days. I was getting so many comments messages, people being happy that I was able to articulate their own experiences in a way that they hadn’t thought of.
Liz Alarcón: Gina had stumbled on something that was really resonating with our community, something that so many of us were feeling but not enough of us were sharing. Within the Latino community there is a huge gap in the number people who need some kind of mental help and those who are able to access it. In 2019 a study done by PEW showed that only 16% percent of Latinos have access to mental healthcare
Why do you think seeking mental health help still a stigma within the Latino community and what barriers are there for us to access the help that we so desperately need?
Gina Moreno: I think there’s this idea that you only seek mental health if you’re like in the grounds and you cannot do anything anymore. No mas los locos, right? Just crazy people, you know, need to go to therapy. Part of the problem in the Latino community is that we don’t acknowledge hard emotions. We just want to move past them, pretend they never happened, suppress them. And I think that leads to a whole other stuff. Like, and it’ll come out in ways. You never thought.
Liz Alarcón: Nuestra gente often have to go have to go through so much, that who has time or energy to acknowledge emotion on top of everything else?
Vanesa Ringle: I’ve found that even with my Latinx clients in particular, we have to spend some time being okay with acknowledging. that we are emotional people and that we feel emotions.
Liz Alarcón: This is Vanesa Ringle, a Chilean American psychologist who works with Latinx and immigrant communities in the US.
Vanesa Ringle: I think that just acknowledging that we feel certain emotions that, certain things cause us to feel anxious, oh, it’s just “tiene nervios”, it’s just nerves when no, it’s actually a lot more than that. Um, and so just using the words is where we should start. Just talking about it, just acknowledging that mental health exists and that there are psychological aspects to our personhood.
Liz Alarcón: And all the hardships that Latinos face as they navigate a new education, healthcare, political and financial system, can make it really difficult to be able to do that. Gina saw this first hand after her TikTok videos started spreading.
Gina Moreno: I got so much hate you don’t understand how much hate I got. Like I would get messages on TikToK and on Instagram, basically just saying how ungrateful I was, because you know, our parents came to this country with so much for us to do and how dare you like complain, right? When you do things like investing in yourself, you’re seen as selfish. You’re spending this money in a life coach or in therapy, it’s kind of like well, couldn’t you use that money to help your family? And it’s always selfish because we live in a collective culture where family is always first, but I would argue that you will have to be good to be able to help others.
Liz Alarcón: That’s it. I know you all listening had to stop for a second to process that major truth bomb, too. Gina is naming what so many of us have lived. She’s showing us that despite our family not understanding us at first, it’s crucial to work for our wellbeing. And, to me, it’s an important way to honor the legacy of what our parents worked for. We can do more than survive, we can actually thrive and help them do the same. That backlash that so many of us have faced when we prioritize our mental health is why what Gina is doing on TikTok is so important, and so brave. Yet even as we identify these cultural realities, there’s another issue at play. We also have to acknowledge that getting help is hard to access.
Vanesa Ringle: Even if you are the most affluent and well-informed person in the US, it’s hard to access behavioral health services in the US. So first of all, we start out from that sort of bigger context.
Liz Alarcón: and of course
Gina Moreno: therapy is usually expensive. And I think as soon as you come across the fact that it’s expensive, like, okay, I give up. Whereas, like, if you truly understood the impact that it can have in your life, then maybe you would seek to look for programs or look for different ways to pay it.
Liz Alarcón: I couldn’t agree more! And the nation-wide conversations about mental health are slowly but surely making it possible to get help without so many hurdles. If you have health insurance, check to see if it covers mental health. You may find that your insurance actually does cover therapy sessions, and with some digging, you may even find a Latino therapist to talk to who get’s where you’re coming from.
Vanesa Ringle: I think this goes back to seeing yourself at like, in a holistic way, like there are a psychological wellbeing, spiritual wellbeing and physical wellbeing. You have to address those questions.
Liz Alarcón: So… basically, we all have some work to do. It’s lifelong work, because the path to wellbeing is a never-ending one. But if we’re anything like Gina, it’s a path worth walking…
Gina Moreno: It’s also a privilege like you get to experience for the first time something that nobody in your family has experienced, you know, getting close to finding meaningful fulfillment. And self-actualization, it’s just something that, you know, it’s beautiful.
Liz Alarcón: You can subscribe to the Pulso Pod wherever you get your podcasts, and if you like what you heard, please leave us a review on apple podcast and tell a friend to give us a listen. Have questions or story ideas to send our way? Send us an email to [email protected]. I’m your host, Liz Alarcon. This episode was produced & written by Charlie Garcia, Lisann Ramos and myself, editing and mixing by Charlie Garcia with additional help from Jackie Noack. Original music by Julian Blackmore, and additional support from Ray Aguilera & Turiya Chavez. This was the last episode of this season of the Pulso Podcast. We hope you enjoyed the conversations we had this year! And, we invite you to go back and listen through and catch up on those you may have missed while we take a pause for the holidays. We’ll be back early next year with new episodes. Thanks for listening and see you soon ! Thank you for listening!