Podcast Demo: Achicopalados
By Aldo Jurado & Annya Loya / NM News Port
In the movie Encanto (2021), there’s a scene where Abuela Madrigal watches a group of banditos take over her town and kill her husband in front of her and her children. The trauma would go on to transcend generations.
Such fictional depictions, also found in Coco (2017) and Turning Red (2022), are spotlighting a topic that’s of emerging importance in real life adults — especially in the Latino/Hispanic community.
Generational or transgenerational trauma is passed down when members of one generation experience trauma and pass it down to a generation that has not experienced it firsthand.
In the Latino community, transgenerational trauma is often rooted in immigration trauma as the immigration process often involves multiple traumatic stages for the family involved, according to 2014 study.
A local mental health specialist says this is common in New Mexico.
Ivette Acevedo Weatherholtz, a community mental health specialist from El Centro de la Raza at UNM, says the Latino, Hispanic and Chicano communities are characterized by resilience and connections to their roots and ancestors. And that includes ancestral trauma.
“We mask it as traditions. We mask it as family loyalty,” Acevedo Weatherholtz said.
“We masked them even in their own addiction and things that we are known for and the negative stereotypes that we get,” she said. “And then we just excuse it right is a cultural thing.”
Generational trauma can go back as much as seven generations, according to clinical social worker Brenda Quiñonez who specializes in anxiety and trauma.
“It may show up as visceral, physical manifestations,” Quiñonez said. “It’s very real for all of us.”
Quiñonez explained that some Hispanic families in America trace generational trauma to immigration — being separated from family, extreme poverty, war, drug violence, and long and dangerous journeys, none of which guarantees a safe arrival.
Immigrant traumatization can extend long beyond the physical relocation. According to analysis of research by RoseMarie Perez Foster, PhD, this type of trauma can express itself differently making it more likely to affect those around the individual experiencing it first hand.
The trauma persists when people don’t have the opportunity to treat the damage and begin the healing process.
“Until we can get rid of some of those embedded systemic issues — racism, colonialism, patriarchy — [trauma] will continue to be prevalent in our communities,” Quiñonez said.
For example, generations of immigrants have suffered from the pressure to assimilate as quickly as possible by abandoning their own languages and adopting English, said Ivette Miramontes, a licensed mental health counselor at Centro Sávila in Albuquerque’s South Valley.
“It’s like, we’re not gonna let you speak this language. And if you do you’re less than,” Miramontes said. “If you have an accent you’re less than.”
Miramontes, a second-generation immigrant, said that growing up she refused to speak English and would only speak Spanish because she felt rejected by her family in Mexico for being a “gringa.”
Miramontes and Quiñonez said people often look for a scapegoat, someone to blame for the trauma.
How are new generations calling it out?
According to Miramontes, it has been younger millennials and older Gen Z that have taken on the issue of generational trauma — to try to heal it — which means having the awkward conversations that families tried so hard to push down.
Younger people are saying, “Where is this coming from? Like, this isn’t normal like we’ve adapted this way, but this isn’t the right way. Or the healthy way,” Miramontes said.
Weatherholtz agrees that millennials, by taking on big jobs and positions once ruled by older generations, are taking control and pushing for the conversations about family issues and deep-rooted trauma.
“I think right now we’re just in that component of trying to take back ends and have conversations that we probably can’t have with our parents,” Weatherholtz said.
Quiñonez also said that while it’s good the new generations are finding more acceptance and have more willingness to heal, they should not expect the same from older people who didn’t have the same resources, mindset, or level of understanding there is now.
“That’s one of the things I learned to appreciate about your generation (Gen Z), there’s more awareness,” Quiñonez said. “It’s okay to state your position but not with the expectation they’re going to convert to where you are.”
Still, making mistakes is not really the issue for a generation that is trying to overturn generational trauma. The bigger issue is lack of healing and making amends — what is needed to help these communities fully heal.
Weatherholtz is experiencing this as a millennial parent. She says she hopes to break the cycle by communicating and apologizing to her children when it’s needed.
“Because I am making the same mistakes. And I think that’s not the problem that the ruptures are the issue. It’s the repair that’s more important,” Weatherholtz said.