“I was drawn to identify community resilience factors in Latinx and other minoritized communities because much of the existing work on these communities focused on deficits. There was not a lot of work on what I as a Mexican-American woman experienced in my day-to-day life – processes in these communities that promote positive outcomes in kids and families.
“My work has highlighted the protective role of Latinx familism values – loyalty, obligation, respect, and support among family members, and identification through one’s family network. Familism supports family-based coping and a sense of meaning in life. We found these values predict greater academic achievement and motivation, fewer depressive symptoms, and greater self-esteem.”
“Discrimination is a stressor that impacts depressive symptomology, self-efficacy, self-esteem, academic motivation, and college-going. We’ve found it has a long shadow. Discrimination kids experience in fifth grade – personal mistreatment and observing others endorsing negative stereotypes about your group – predict depressive and anxiety symptoms all the way to the end of 12th grade.
“I’ve also studied acculturation gap conflict, where kids and parents acculturate to American values at different speeds. That can lead to family conflict, but it’s a unique stressor in that families can also perceive conflict as caused by the gap when it may not be. Parent-child conflict is part of being a kid and a parent, but we see a difference in attributions. If a parent tells their child, ‘Hey, clean your room,’ and the child doesn’t, in the acculturation gap scenario, they might say, ‘My kid is becoming disrespectful,’ or the kid might think, ‘My parents ride me because they’re too Latinx – I wish they were like these other parents.’
“The gap exacerbates the effects of family conflict. We’ve found that it predicts depressive symptoms among kids and moms – it impacts the whole family. For kids, it also impacts self-esteem and racial ethnic group pride, reducing the protective effects familism might otherwise provide.”
The costs of achievement
“In Latinx communities, the shift to greater risk for depressive symptoms starts in adolescence – they have the highest levels compared to other racial ethnic groups. But we were surprised to find depressive symptoms in this population were not associated with decreased academic motivation or goals. This recent finding differs from what we see in white, non-Latinx groups.
“Many in our study are immigrant families, with youth trying to live out goals their parents have set. This may be part of the double-edged sword of familism, with youth struggling with depression, discrimination, and more prioritizing family goals over mental health. There’s a cost to this achievement.”
No magic bullet
“I’m really interested in what can buffer against discrimination, though of course, discrimination is so harmful nothing completely erases its effects.
“For example, I’ve explored shift and persist coping, which is protective for Latinx youth experiencing economic stress. The basic idea is when you encounter a stressor out of your control, you move away from the stressor cognitively and persist with what provides meaning in your life and optimism. But we found shift and persist coping methods are insufficient to protect youth from discrimination’s impacts.
“This work is a slow, methodical testing of different factors and putting together pieces that might be useful. I think kids need a menu of resilience strategies – shift and persist coping, familism, strong ethnic racial identity, and so on.”
Findings to impact
“Community work is where I draw inspiration for my research projects. For example, when a Latinx mental health clinic I’ve worked with for twenty years – El Futuro – had a very long waitlist, we collaborated on the Padres Efectivos program to help families support their kids’ mental health while waiting for individualized care. That and several other interventions we’ve developed together are being disseminated across the state.
“More recently, multiple community partners have asked me and other colleagues to talk to families about coping with discrimination. I was lucky enough to partner with some great researchers to develop the online “One Talk at a Time” to help parents with these conversations.
“Less than 10% of people with mental health distress in communities of color access support, and these symptoms impact functioning in every part of our lives. Our current NIH Strong Minds, Strong Communities project provides evidence-based, culturally responsive care through community health workers to address these barriers. These are not just language barriers, but also those related to trust and stigma.
“What I am most proud of is my research team, my students, and the collaborative environment we’ve built, where we work with community partners to answer questions that will push the field forward.”
About the photos
“Suns and moons like these are traditional in Mexican folk art. Since I was a teen, I’ve collected them when traveling in Mexico.”