I remember being about 6 years old, & walking down Imperial Hwy in South Central LA, hanging on to my grandma’s “mandil” (apron). It was the 80’s, the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. My grandma was a Salem smoker & soon began slangin’ her cigarettes to those trying to survive between their hits. I became her translator, & would help collect the 25 cents she’d charge for each one. Looking back now, I realized my grandma was teaching me a very valuable lesson: dignity & respect for others. Seeing her interact with people that had been otherwise dehumanized by society taught me to see people for who they truly are & not what others label them as. Roots of South LA is what manifested from decades of seeing so many suffer from being marginalized & oppressed, knowing things needed to change. Personally, it is also a tribute to my abuelita, who although I can no longer reach for like I did before, her spirituality guides & encourages me.
I grew up in a single mother home amongst adversity, poverty, and trauma like most children of color. I was the oldest of four children - I grew up taking care of my younger brothers and at times also my mother. We went through a lot and in high school it all caught up with me amidst the teenage angst. The days became darker and hope was slipping through my fingers. This is when I met my first therapist. The moments and days that led to this were filled with shame and hurt as mental health in the Latino community is seen for “crazy” people. My mom wasn’t sure what journey we were about to take but she knew she was losing me and that was a greater risk. My therapist was a Latina - she looked like me, she spoke my language. She understood my complexities, my family dynamics, my culture, and my pain - she saved me. That is when I knew I wanted to be a therapist. She helped me and I knew I had to do the same for others.
As I pulled up to meet with Adriana, in true Chola form, she steps out of her house to scope out the new car on the block, informing me she knows every car that parks on her street, so she knew it was me - neighborhood watch at its finest. Once we got the formalities out of the way, we all dove right into sharing our own individual journeys of healing and self- care. We discussed what that looks like now as an adult and what we tried to find as children. More importantly, we agreed on the importance of sharing that within a community full of adversity and oppression, and the hurdles people of color face when dealing with mental help due to the lack of resources and education.
Adriana, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with a PHD in Psychology and Liliana, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with years of dealing with mental health in communities in need are two women who not only went through their own pains, and realization of the importance of mental health, but are now giving back to their community.
The ladies shared with me numerous client stories within the inner city. There is such a substantial difference in what is available to people with the resources to get help compared to those in lower income communities. With that, the lack of representation in the mental health field can make it harder for some to even get to a place of comfort to deal with issues, let alone dive into traumas or deeply rooted problems. I may not be an expert in the field of social work especially in communities most marginalized and oppressed, but what I can say with confidence is practices of self-care (therapy, meditation, yoga…) are not the norm in most colored family house holds. In my personal experience, there was always a stigma attached to therapy, mental health, or anything related to it. It was always thought to be for people who were crazy, or depressed - shit just gets heavy sometimes and for some who lack the tools to start with themselves or a strong support system, therapy is a huge help.
Seeing the trend continue on till this day, Adriana and Liliana felt compelled to start Roots of South LA. A grassroots organization dedicated to giving the tools to combat mental issues and fatigue from a holistic, meditative, and self-empowered approach with focus in a community dealing with adversity and oppression. A place where they felt needed a space where the education and tools for mental health and self-care were available, instead of another damn Starbucks. They hold monthly Healing Circles in South LA, a gathering intended to support the process of healing emotional wounds through sisterhood and holistic approaches to overall wellness, conducted in both English and Spanish. They speak at events within the community to educate people on the importance of mental health, and different holistic and sometimes indigenous ways one can deal with problems like anxiety, depression, and triggers. They remind and empower the community to try starting with themselves and that we have the ability to heal from within. They stress the importance in building the tools to deal with hardships to minimize the chances of short term escapes that can lead to addictions or dependency on a medical system that can feel disconnected and not to mention unaffordable.
Adriana and Liliana have this aura and light that felt like a hug from an abuelita that you know lived a life and is here to school you on acting right. Because of their own experiences of adversity and the lack of mental health resources growing up, these ladies are on a mission to build a support system in South LA and remind those in the community that amongst the hardships, there are options for help. That nothing is final, and the pain doesn’t have to be. They exude compassion for others and are here to remind us that we should have compassion for ourselves as well.
The ladies left me with these words on what they see, what they do, and what will come.
Our communities are hurting, our families are hurting, and we too deserve healing. This is why Roots of South LA is important to us. Roots is a way for us to continue to give back to the most marginalized and oppressed. Those that are not likely to step into a private practice office on the west side nor have as many resources. Roots is a way to empower people of color to take ownership of their mental health. Our vision is for Roots to be a place of healing for those with limited access to mental healthcare. A place where people can seek help and comfort in those that look like them and can understand the hardships. A place that feels like home, that speaks in their language. The language of the inner city.
“Roots is how I am able to continue to create balance in the universe and give back what so many people have given me through my journey. ” - Liliana
The ladies are in the beginning stages of growth and any donations would be greatly appreciated. Visit their gofundme, Facebook page and Instagram below.