Thoughts on Hispanic Heritage Month

By Gwen Scherr MA, 200RYT

Gwen is a 2nd generation Mexican American immigrant and a member of the Social Justice Committee. She specializes in the Mental Health Court System in Civil Commitments and practices at Hennepin County.

Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15 coordinating respectively with independence days in several Latin American countries and with Columbus Day in October. Hispanic Heritage month was the civil right movement for many Hispanic identifying citizens in the United States to be counted within the census, to be seen as citizens and to advocate for their rights.

Hispanic, Latino, Latinx, Chicano/Chicana — these terms are all used to group Americans from the Latin-American diaspora together. Latinx is part of a language revolution that aims to move beyond gender binaries and is inclusive of the intersecting identities of Latin American descendants. Some will criticize these words for promoting a Panethnic or “One race” identity that erases their countries and doesn’t necessarily result in real camaraderie among people of Latin American descent because they are highly diverse people ranging from mostly white, Native American, Black and African. Our cultures derive from these racial elements to varying degrees depending on which part of Mexico, Spain, the Caribbean or South & Central, brought together by the Spanish language with many different dialects. The Hispanic population of the United States is 54 million, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority. In Minnesota, the Hispanic population has climbed from 54,000 in 1990 to 271,000 in 2013. Today, one in twenty Minnesota residents is Hispanic & the number is expected to continue to grow. The Spanish languages is the most common language spoken in Minnesota household after English, (U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey). As the Hispanic/Latinx population continues to grow in Minnesota, the culture of our state grows in abundance with the beauty of the people, music, dance, bold & vibrant art, literature and of course Food! In the Minneapolis/St Paul area, the community thrives in South Minneapolis along East Lake and the Powderhorn Neighborhood, the Ecuador Consulate resides on Central Avenue in NE Minneapolis and in St Paul the Mexican Consulate resides in the community along Cesar Chavez Avenue and the West Side celebrates the largest Minnesota Cinco de Mayo Community Celebration. Rural Minnesota is also seeing a growth in Hispanic/Latinx population moving into rural areas to work in manufacturing positions, construction, meat processing and farm work. They’re bringing vitality to places that otherwise may not be experiencing such growth. They are also experiencing barriers to accessing resources in healthcare, education and social services.


As many other Americans, they experience common mental health disorders among Latinos like generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD, alcoholism, and a high rate of suicide attempts amongst adolescence girls, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. But they also face extra stressors and issues due to poverty, lack of resources specific to their culture, systemic racism and current issues playing out in our political system. The current political climate around Hispanic/Latinx individuals, families and immigrants has become increasingly hostile. In Florida, there were political robocalls that threatened to “Kill them All” referring to all Mexican immigrants after the death of Molly Tibbetts. Hispanic/Latinx identifying Americans are being prevented from renewing their passports with questions of “fake” citizenship and or birth certificates. The threat of deportation of someone they know or self is very real and heavily impacts their overall health and well-being. Puerto Ricans still are dealing with stress from the impact of Hurricane Maria on their families and themselves. Asylum seeking Immigrant families are being separated and caged at the border. Multiply the stress factor for Hispanic/Latinx people’s experience who identify as Lesbian/Gay, Queer, Trans and/or Non-Binary.  Often times, they turn to their families for support but in Hispanic/Latinx culture, it can be shameful and carry a lot of stigma to talk about mental health and sexuality. Some family members are still residing in the countries their families immigrated from dealing with their own trauma from threats of gang violence, poverty and living under corrupt political systems. Gender roles, religion and conformity continue to be a large part of the culture and inhibit Hispanic/Latinx individuals to open up about their sexuality or even to report sexual abuse/rape. Only 20 percent of Latinos with symptoms of a psychological disorders talk to a doctor or therapist about their concerns, and only 10 percent contact a mental health specialist, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In smaller communities, it’s even less likely due to barriers around language accessing a translator or a Hispanic/Latinx mental health provider.


How can Marriage & Family Therapist better connect with Hispanic/Latinx community? A couple things…

-Look in your office and offer documents, education materials in Spanish and a resource for a translator.

-Be aware that Hispanic or Latino is an umbrella term they might not even identify with, some may identify their country of origin, Cuban, Venezuelan, etc. address them as such and be curious of their county origin.

-Be cognizant of current and past cultural trauma

-Be informed about culturally specific resources within the community

-Be mindful that Hispanic/Latinx folks are deeply connected to family and may come into therapy with another family member. Latinos place a lot of importance on the family and emphasize each member’s interdependence on the family and it is very important for therapists to elicit client’s wishes regarding their family’s involvement in their therapy

-Be mindful that Hispanic/Latinx folks may take longer to develop relationships and build trust with Mental Health Professionals due to fear, past misdiagnosis and racism in previous attempts to connect with Social Services.

-Support for the growth and development of future Hispanic/Latinx Marriage & Family Therapists


Celebrate! Hispanic/Latinx folks love to celebrate and their celebrations are BIG, with families, friends and, at times, entire neighborhoods, coming together to eat, drink, sing and dance. Find time this month to support your local Latino businesses, go to your favorite authentic Mexican restaurant, go out Salsa dancing, watch a documentary of civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, or take the time to read a book of Pablo Neruda poetry.

Mucho Gusto!




National Alliance of Mental Illness

Chicano Latino Affairs Council State of Minnesota: A Latino Health Report

Identifying Barriers and Solutions to

Reduce Health Care Disparities

CDC’s Healthy Communities Programs: Building Our Understanding: Culture Insights

Communicating with Hispanic/Latinos