By Nidya Ramirez
(Interviewed by Carolina Valdivia)
Nidya was born in Nayarit, Mexico. She arrived to San Diego in 1988 at the age of 2. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from UC Santa Cruz in Feminist Studies with a minor in History, and a Master’s degree in Counseling with a concentration in Marriage and Family Therapy. Her career goals include becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, professor, and author.
Why did you decide to go to graduate school? A career as a Marriage and Family Therapist was not always in my plans. However, the knowledge I gained in my life, work, and educational experiences led me to believe in therapy as a tool for social justice and positive change in the community. My undocumented immigration status, poverty, and involvement in abusive familial relationships and romantic partnerships taught me that larger systems of oppression such as patriarchy, White supremacy, and capitalism directly impact an individual’s wellbeing and mental health. To alleviate the difficulty of my experiences, for many years now, I have been involved in organizing for social change through community organizations advocating for the respect of immigrants, workers, women, and people of color. I have sought out individual therapy in times when I needed further support. In both those collective and personal spaces I learned about the healing and transformative change that can arise when social justice is linked with therapeutic skills and knowledge. I imagine myself as a licensed marriage and family therapist who perceives and appreciates the multiplicity of issues, emotional, psychological, and societal, impacting individuals, families, and couples all at once.
I entered the mental health field as a bilingual, Feminist, and social justice based marriage and family therapist, aware of intersections in emotional, societal, and psychological aspects of life and family dynamics. I had met several attorneys involved with community based social justice projects and organizations, but never a marriage and family therapist not solely in an office environment. My contributions as a marriage and family therapist will also be in community settings, through workshops, presentations, group therapy, projects, organizations, and facilitation. My education in the San Diego Marriage and Family Therapy program is a stepping stone towards establishing traditional and non-traditional therapy spaces in the community where individuals, marriages, and families can decipher issues such as patriarchy, homophobia, and racism in order to better understand dilemmas that may arise within their lives. Even though there may be life struggles not fully in their control, I would like to collaborate with clients to acquire positive approaches to live with hope, self-love, and confidence.
What was your biggest challenge in completing graduate school? My greatest challenges in completing graduate school were the finances and transportation. The first two years in my graduate program the California Dream Act was not yet established. I was doing work as a community organizer with household workers while also planning fundraising events for my tuition, books, and school fees. Thanks to the support of family, friends, and community I was able to reach my fundraising goals at each event and food sale. For example, in one night Carolina and I, along with our family members, made over 1,000 tamales over different kinds to raise money for school. Another time we held a garage sale with donated items and furniture from a friend who was moving from her home of many years. I had to think outside the box and allow myself to reach out to my community for support in order to pay for school. However, despite the incredible encouragement from my loved ones and the community, Fall semester of my last year in graduate school I lost my ability to make installment payments towards tuition and fees. In my struggle to complete each monthly payment, multiple late payments were documented. As a result I had to take the semester off from school, and accomplish 2 semesters during my last semester. It was an overwhelming last semester, but I did it. Furthermore, assistance with rides to San Diego State University from Escondido by friends, family, and peers were critical my first two years. I don’t know how I would have been able to make it through graduate school without individuals offering to pick me up and drop me off. On days when I did not have a ride I would make my way to school on a 3 hour bus ride from Escondido to San Diego! Graduate school as an undocumented student was a challenging, yet amazing experience that taught me a lot both intellectually and emotionally about my abilities to transcend barriers, obtain support from those around me, and speak my truth….Oh! and the art of drinking coffee to keep going, going, and going!