ROSA MORENO, 53, Southern California, Psychologist/Counselor, She/her/Latina
Growing up in Boyle Heights, Rosa Moreno’s mother would spark conversations with people she had just met at the bus stop. Moreno’s mother would often talk with these strangers about their lives, who would confide in her parts of their life. Witnessing these interactions made Moreno realize there was a need for culturally relevant and responsive mental health services in a Spanish-speaking immigrant community. “Our Latinx community has so many cultural strengths, and harnessing the cultural wealth to help navigate our life and relationships can be helpful,” Moreno said, “People have the internal and ancestral knowledge to make positive changes in their lives.”
Moreno said that she was inspired by her community, her interest in interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships, and how people travel this journey as individuals and as a community. Moreno attended Loyola Marymount University and received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 1991. She then earned her Master’s degree and Ph.D., completed simultaneously in 1997 at the California School of Professional Psychology in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis on Multicultural Community Psychology.
Moreno is now a psychologist and faculty counselor at California State University, Long Beach. She has been a counselor at CSULB for the past 24 years. She has been in charge of a drop-in space at CSULB called Latinas at the Beach for the past 24 years. It’s where Latina students can openly share their struggles and thoughts with their peers. The drop-in happens on the same day at the same time every week. The students can come whenever they please, so they don’t feel pressured and stressed to make it on time.
She has also founded a conference at the university called Latina Connection Conference, which she has run for the past 21 years. The conference, strictly for Latina students, allows Latina students to speak with each other, to be seen and heard by their peers on an equal level rather than by someone who is in a higher power than them, such as a professor or a counselor.
While mental health has been considered a taboo topic in many Latinx households, not to be discussed, younger generations such as millennials and Gen Z are fighting to make mental health become more of a dinner table topic, meaning it can be talked about openly with no judgment.
Mental health has become a growing topic in the newer generations, especially in the Latinx community. The recognition of generational trauma has been an underlying message in mainstream media, such as the 2021 Pixar animated movie “Encanto,” directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush, along with the 2017 Pixar “Coco,” directed by Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich.
CALÓ NEWS recently interviewed Dr. Moreno to learn more about her profession, views, and efforts with mental health within the Latinx community.
Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT LATINOS/ LATINX AND THERAPY? DO WE GO? IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OLDER AND YOUNGER GENERATIONS OF LATINOS THAT VIEW MENTAL THERAPY?
To be completely transparent, most clients I see are students, so they are around 18 to 24. I sometimes get a couple of 40-year-olds and 50-year-olds. I have been doing college mental health for about 25 years. I worked at another school for a year and then at California State University, Long Beach, for 24 years. I would say that a large part of the population of students that I see are Latinos and Latinas. As far as if students come, yes, they come; they have always come. If they came five years ago, they continue to come now. They see that they need support, to clarify something, to understand something better, and they feel stuck; I feel like students always come. I feel like the students that came 20-something years ago are now 40 and up. So, Yes, students have always come to therapy.
There is a difference because I do tabling outside on campus and have people who come by. If they know we are from the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), I feel like, in the past, they would just walk by, but now they see that we are from CAPS, they come up, saying, “Oh, tell me more.” So there doesn’t seem to be a sense of shame or embarrassment or the thought of, “I would only approach that table there is going to be a lot of judgment from people and within themselves.” They now think, “This is something that is okay to do.” So, it seems to be more accepting at this point, but the students coming in about 20 years ago were also accepting of it.
I get students who are Latinx that says, “My family doesn’t know.” or “I didn’t tell them because I didn’t think they would understand.” I feel like they are trying to say that if their family knows they are getting support, there is something chronically or severely wrong, not just think that there is an adjustment or I need help from another perspective. I think culturally, we go to different healers, too. Maybe family or those close to the individual would steer them toward a religious person saying, “go to the priest.” or “go to the pastor.” to get counseling at the church or the youth group.
We, as a culture, have different ways of healing that we are exposed to. So I think those are the first forms of healing that we turn to and psychotherapy or a psychologist is more for people with severe functioning than people with problems with their daily functioning.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO FOCUS YOUR CAREER AND PROFESSION ON THE LATINX COMMUNITY AND PEOPLE OF COLOR?
I feel like I’ve come to understand mental health in a very holistic way. Living
in a psychologically or emotionally healthy matter. For example, living in the present instead of living everything in one’s mind. Knowing yourself, reflecting, checking in on yourself, and letting others know when you feel in need. I feel like I value those, and I need to help students of color and Latinas; feel empowered at a place of wholeness and I feel like this is one way to get to wholeness or explore a place of wholeness. I think it is a real opportunity for somebody to sit with you in a non-judgment and inviting space where one can hear what you’re thinking out loud and make sense of it and understand you’re doing what you’re doing and maybe what you would instead do and what you may want to change so that you can become unstuck.
I feel like specifically for students of color, the university’s structures and the university systems were not necessarily set up for us or with us in mind. So when they try to navigate it, they experience it viscerally. Sometimes students think something is wrong with them because they feel they don’t fit in, so they think, “Okay, so how do I change?” and I think understanding that yes, we have to adapt and we have to adjust sometimes, but it’s not because there is something wrong with them; it’s because something is wrong with the system and it’s set up for a different population or a different group. We just need to put things in place so that you feel a greater sense of community or connection with others and that they aren’t alone as they go down this journey. I also think students of color must see women of color or people of color in the field and see that they can get a doctorate in the path they want to take and that it can be accessible to them.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE DIFFICULTIES OF BEING A THERAPIST FOR THOSE IN A SYSTEM THAT IS NOT DESIGNED FOR THEM?
I don’t think the challenge is with the students; I think the challenge is with the system. Because the system doesn’t always feel that there is a problem. They think, “The student needs to adjust.” Maybe someone in the system will tell me, “Well, everyone needs to learn to come out of their shell and meet new people and go to different clubs/ organizations.” Or “Why do students need an ethnic-specific resource center? Isn’t it better for them to get to know everybody?” Due to the idea of “that’s life,” you need to diversify and meet people from different backgrounds. They need to be able to bring their culture and add these other aspects to themselves. So, I think honestly; it’s not the students that are the problem; it’s the system that is the problem. I see that things are changing slowly.
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT ARE REWARDING ABOUT BEING A THERAPIST?
It’s rewarding, especially at Latinas at the Beach, because that is a drop-in space where we talk about many things. We have students reach out to get it like, “I know how you feel” or “That happened to me too,” to receive that support and to recognize that both individuals are seen and understood. They can be Latina and bring the cultural wealth that comes from that lived experience in their families and all the things they’ve learned to navigate the world. Not everyone has that, and they are bringing something special. America Ferrera talks about how her cultural identity is her superpower. Recognizing that and recognizing each other and supporting each other. A rewarding thing is helping them navigate with more compassion for themselves and others.
YOU HELP WITH AN ORGANIZATION CALLED LATINAS AT THE BEACH CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT? IS ANYONE ABLE TO JOIN, OR IS IT JUST FOR CSULB STUDENTS?
It is just a drop-in space for CSULB students. It is a space for students to talk about whatever is on their minds. They can show up whenever they want on a specific day at a specific time, which never changes. We have community agreements because we want it to be a safe space. We want them to step forward and share so that other people can hear their voices. They have really powerful things to share. They are so kind and caring when they hear what each other is going through. They provide support so that each other doesn’t feel alone.
About 20-something years ago, there weren’t a lot of people coming to that space, so I did a needs assessment to see what students needed; the people that came to that, who were faculty, staff, and students, and they all said, “why don’t we develop a conference?” and so then we developed the Latina Connection Conference (LCC). We have now been doing it for the past 21 years. It is a full-day conference here on the CSULB campus about empowerment, connection, and mentoring. It is about recognizing that students have knowledge and wisdom that they can share with their peers. They get enough of that on the academic side from their professors, but it is different with someone on the same level as you. So this is where they get a lot of reflection from the inside. They can get a sense of “Who am I?”, “Where do I want to go?” and “How do I get there by using my community here on campus to get where I want to go?” It is about being seen; the conference and the Latinas at the Beach are about seeing one another. They need to be seen, see others, and recognize who they are; they bring so much from their histories and their person to the campus.
WHEN IT COMES TO MENTAL HEALTH, HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC IMPACTED LATINOS AS A COMMUNITY? WHAT MEASURES OR ACTIONS WOULD HELP LATINOS MOST IN TERMS OF TAKING CARE OF THEIR MENTAL HEALTH?
I don’t know if I have the end-all statement, but what I can say for all of us are grief
and loss. Whether the grief and loss is an actual death like someone in our family has
died. If you look at the data in Los Angeles and Southern California, Latinos did have many more deaths and losses due to the pandemic. With the loss and grief that came from all the lost things with all the restrictions put in place. You couldn’t be in your community. You couldn’t see your grandma, and you couldn’t visit your parent’s house. I think in particular, socially, you didn’t have the opportunity to be in a classroom and see someone sitting next to you and ask them, “Did you get that or did you not?” or having everybody in the class physically look like they didn’t understand what was just said by the professor. Whereas if you are doing Zoom, you don’t see that and think you are the only one who didn’t get that. So just that lack of social connection and now that readjustment to reconnecting and feeling uncomfortable. That’s okay, and that is something that is to be expected. But in regards to the Latino community in general, there was a lot of anxiety because there is this illness that we have no information on, and people are dying from it. So I think there were also a lot of worries because it’s so far out of our control. You can live at home, but some members of your household is an essential workers, and there is fear of “what if someone gets it and they end up in the hospital?” Hence, I think there were a lot of feelings that weren’t just one thing. It felt like all the places, and it was tough to navigate because you’d figure one out, and there would be another and another, so there were so many aspects of it that were so out of our control. There were a lot of aspects of a relationship with self and a relationship with others that were impacted by the pandemic.