BY JORGE ISRAEL ACOSTA ESCORCIA
I remember perfectly well that it was a year ago, in September 2021, I was waiting to board my plane at the "Benito Juarez"; International Airport in Mexico City. After almost 6 months of Zoom meetings, videoconferences with recruiters and paperwork that was difficult due to the fight against COVID-19; I had finally been accepted to work at a mental health clinic in the United States for the position of psychotherapist helping migrant populations, and my flight to Massachusetts was about to leave. I didn't quite know what was coming or how things would work out, but it was a leap I was more than willing to take.
I am a member of the Mexican diaspora and currently reside in Springfield, MA. When I arrived here, what was most shocking for me was to begin to adjust to the ways and formats of doing therapy in this country, which to this day still clash a lot with what is done in Mexico. I remember that when I first arrived, I was asked to have a dress code and image code in consultation, which for me, immediately represented a shock for what I had been doing in my country. In Mexico was a "neighborhood" psychologist, who throughout my career worked in prisons, rehabilitation centers, social reintegration centers, orphanages, shelters, addiction recovery homes, and with victims of sexual abuse and violence.
I had never been required to wear "appropriate" clothing or appropriate image for therapy. However, what shocked me the most when I arrived in this culture, was to see that in North America it is forbidden to express emotions, whatever they may be. And what is worse, it is astonishing to see how many therapists incentivize the patient to stop feeling their emotions as well.
To be clearer, I remember a few weeks ago when a patient of mine passed away. He had been coming to consult with me for about 8 months. When I found out, I burst into tears, as I was very fond of him and appreciated him. A few days later, I shared my sadness with someone at work and his response was: "you have to get used to it, patients are going to die, and that's why you should not get too attached to them. Anyway, now all that's left is to close his case." That answer left me terrified and at the same time chilled by the cultural reality in the U.S, I learned that here, the other person is just a case that has to be closed; A number, a figure, a code. This incident shocked me greatly because in Mexico being a culture so united, so collective, so expressive, and so warm, this is an impressive cultural and professional shock especially when one is used to being involved in the relationship with others.
From my earliest years, I felt a deep interest in people's behavior and conduct. When I was only 3 months old, my mother died in a tragic way, an event that has marked the course of my life to this day. I could say that, without intending it, my mother was my great initiator in the world of psychology and philosophy. Her death and absence awakened my interest in human motivations. Likewise, my father in his intention to alleviate the wounds of my mother's absence became an excellent guide who always sought to give us the necessary education to develop myself in this discipline. My father has been a very important figure in my life to this day. I will always be grateful for having been more than a father, a teacher; a great teacher who showed me that life hurts, but it is still worth it to dare to live it. The name of this article is inspired in his honor because I remember that in my childhood, my father used to make a project related to a magazine called "Vision Latina"; and he told me that when I grew up, I was going to write in it. Things never turn out as we hope, but it fills me with pride to know that my father's teaching and trust sparked my love for writing and especially my love for Latin America.
I have titled my story Latidos Latinos because I feel and have always felt that, wherever I go, even though my mother was not physically with me, she dwells in the beats of my heart. Through a word of support, a message of peace, or a warm phrase in this cold and increasingly distant world. I could say that my mother made me a psychologist with her death and my father gave me the impetus to set me on that path. No matter what country I am in, I will always carry both of them in my heart, as well as my sister, Ambar, who has always been and continues to be a cornerstone in my life in the most
pleasant and critical moments of my existence.
When I was a child, I came to regret all the discomfort that I came to experience during my very beginnings - growing up without my mother-; however, today in my professional practice, pain is my working tool. As a therapist, I have managed to redefine many of my experiences of loss, absence, and trauma and these have become my best approaches to understanding and addressing the experience of someone else pain.
Having mentioned one of the many things that brought me to this path, I believe that one of the strongest motivations I have to work every day is to try to listen to and understand the pain of others. The pain that no one dares or wants to listen to. Precisely because of this motivation, since I arrived to Massachusetts, I have worked in various academic and mental health spaces that have allowed me to reach more people who only want to be heard and make a positive impact in their lives.
Since the first months of my arrival in the United States, I started volunteering at the Mexican Consulate in Boston giving monthly virtual conferences for the Hispanic population living in the United States, sharing topics of violence prevention, abuse, loneliness and depression, and other themes related to mental health. Similarly, my interest in expanding and sharing mental health projects has allowed me to immerse myself in collaborating in education and social work with migrants and refugees through institutes in Boston such as the Northeastern University and Harvard University where I have been able to participate in presentations and workshops for the development of projects with homeless people, drugs addicted populations, marginalized communities, and victims of discrimination and social stigmatization.
During this time, I have been doing therapy with people who have left their homeland and their roots, diasporas, and migrants alike, I have realized that, for the most part, migrants go through an experience similar to that of orphanhood, since migrants, in one way or another, are orphans of their homeland. And I was orphaned in my early years as I mentioned, therefore, this far from being a disadvantage, becomes an opportunity in psychotherapy.
Turning challenges into opportunities is when the pain becomes a source of wisdom and what once was darkness becomes light. In my opinion, working with the migrant population is working with hunger, and I am not referring to a mere physiological hunger, but to a hunger for a better life, hunger for personal growth, hunger for justice, hunger to get away from violence, sexual abuse, and mistreatment. Hunger of wanting better job opportunities, hunger to live with dignity... and dignity is something this society urgently requires.
Psychologists and therapists who collaborate with migrant populations have to keep these issues in mind, because in my opinion, sometimes what can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful therapeutic consultation lies in the humane and dignified treatment we provide to our patients.
If you wish to contact me to share ideas and/or learn about my work, I would be honored to talk with you. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org