Emotional Trauma and Latinas: Realizing What You Are Worth

Inside the classroom, students and teacher are in a circle in deep conversation. There is soft, relaxing music playing in the background that gives the air in the room a sense of peace. This is an ESPERE session.

ESPERE stands for ‘Escuela de Perdón y Reconciliación’, which translates to ‘The School of Forgiveness and Reconciliation’. The classes train women to manage conflict with compassion and understanding, and helps them heal from past emotional trauma.

The women in the class, all Latina immigrants from Central and South America, are on a journey of healing and empowerment. They came to the U.S. to seek refuge from violence, poverty, or both. But once here, they faced another set of challenges.

Many Latina women have suffered some sort of emotional trauma in their life, with sexual abuse being the highest cause. Racism, sexism, domestic violence, and economic disparities are also common sources of trauma for the women who walk in our doors.

Add on a language barrier and fear of ICE and that can be enough to isolate her in her home, leaving her with no support system for working through the trauma.

The trauma most women experience starts accumulating during their childhood. These negative experiences are called ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), and they can have a lasting effect on someone’s life. Some of the most common ACEs are…

  • Living with a household member who was depressed or mentally ill
  • Living with parents who were separated or divorced
  • Economic disparity
  • Abuse or neglect
  • Having an incarcerated parent

The Hispanic population has the highest percentage of children with one ACE in the Pacific NW. In fact, 28% of Latino children suffer from four or more ACEs (Salud America), and nearly 4 in 5 Latino youth suffer at least one ACE (UT Health). In Oregon, and among the Latino population nationwide, the most prevalent ACE is economic disparity.

“Discriminatory housing and employment policies, bias in law enforcement and sentencing decisions, and immigration policies have concentrated disadvantage among black and Hispanic children, in particular, and leave them disproportionately vulnerable to traumatic experiences like ACEs.”(Child Trends)

If ACEs are left unaddressed, they can lead to chronic stress and fear, disruptive neurodevelopment, disease, and more.

What’s worse is that the negative effects of this trauma can be transmitted from one generation to the next.

“Toxic stress experienced by women during pregnancy can negatively affect genetic “programming” during fetal development, which can contribute to a host of bad outcomes, sometimes much later in life.” (Child Trends)

So, a woman experiences a trauma, then that trauma is passed down from generation to generation. It’s a vicious, dark cycle. A cycle that must be broken.

How do you heal from this? It starts with a desire for change.

Our secret weapon to tackle this problem is Lupe. She’s our ESPERE Coordinator, and because of strong supporters like you who sustain programs like ESPERE, Lupe is now bringing ESPERE to all of the women and girls that we serve. “When you choose to forgive you heal. When you let go, you grow,” says Lupe.

Lupe leads an ESPERE session for the Adult Education women.

Lupe’s soft, nurturing voice walks the women through intense conversations about past trauma and strategies to overcome the pain. Each woman learns from the others’ stories. As the group prepares to finish their final session before graduating, they share a tearful and moving last reflection with one another.

Yanely and her daughter.
“[In ESPERE] I learned about humanity and compassion. I learned about a lot of things, specifically about me that I didn’t know I had in me. It gave me more reassurance as a person.”
“A lot of women do not have education. They come from situations where there is a lot of abuse, and because of the abuse, they don’t have self-worth. They don’t love themselves. So through the education they get and ESPERE, they start realizing what they are worth.” — Yanely, Adult Education participant.

Seeing the power of emotional healing, and the need for this in all age groups, we began implementing ESPERE in our Chicas Youth Development sessions where we serve over 600 girls.

An ESPERE class in our Chicas Youth Development Program.
“I’m in 12th grade. I’ve been in Chicas since middle school. Honestly, I feel like for me, [ESPERE] would have been really helpful in middle school when I was going through rough times.”
“It’s given me a safe space, so I feel like people can come here and truly be themselves.”
“[Chicas] sometimes makes me not feel alone, and other girls are going through the same things.” — Jessica, Chicas Youth Development participant.

The sooner we could start working with the Chicas, the better. So in 2016, we started facilitating ESPERE sessions beginning the first year girls get involved in Chicas: the 3rd grade.

Lupe facilitates an ESPERE session with Chicas in middle school.

Xochitl is in the 4th grade. It’s her first year in Chicas.

“[ESPERE sessions] gave me control and they are inspiring for me.”
“You get to have a lot of friends and you can inspire and share with your friends. And you can also learn new stuff in Chicas.”

She says her favorite activity was making body scrubs in the self-care session.

Because of the support for programs like ESPERE, girls like Xochitl and Jessica, and women like Yaneloy are realizing they are worth it.

We want to make sure every girl, and every woman, knows that she is worth it. She is resilient. She is strong. She can heal. She can lead. She can rise up. She is supported.

Adelante Mujeres is a nonprofit organization in Oregon working to build a more just society by empowering Latinas to lead. Learn more about their work at www.adelantemujeres.org. To support the ESPERE program, give a life-changing gift here.

Want more? Subscribe to our email list to get all of our latest stories and updates.