At My Undocumented Life, we had an opportunity to interview Dr. Norma Ramírez, a licensed clinical psychologist in California, to learn more about her work within the mental health field. This year, Dr. Ramirez founded “All Good Things” (Toda Cosa Buena), which offers a wide range of mental health services to individuals and families, mental health providers, and organizations such as individual and group psychotherapy, consulting, trainings/workshops, and immigration mental health evaluations. We thank her for responding to our questions via e-mail.
(1) What motivated you to go into the field of psychology and to work in the realm of mental health?
I always knew that I wanted to help people and I had considered different careers. Then in 2008 I participated in the Latino/a Youth Leadership Conference and heard the stories of other kids like me, and I realized that we were all going through stuff. Then, I was a U-Visa/VAWA case worker and I heard the life stories of the parents, including what their lives were like before migrating to the U.S., their migration journey, and then their life in the United States. Through that experience, I learned that there weren’t many mental health resources where I lived. Witnessing “our stories” and that we weren’t getting the care we deserved, I decided to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology to bring these mental health services to our communities.
(2) What are some strengths observed within members who are undocumented and mixed-status families?
The first thing that comes to mind is that we’re incredibly creative. I think that sometimes “grit” and “perseverance” are used, but I want to emphasize the fact that our communities create. We are also great problem-solvers. Even though it may feel like we freeze or like we don’t know what we’re doing, we still address it and get it done. Lastly, I would say that there’s a lot of care and love.
(3) What are some of the most pressing mental health needs that members from undocumented and mixed-status families encounter?
The national narrative around this is “fear of deportation” which is absolutely true, but it also misses so much. We have lived in a context where we constantly hear negative messages about who we are, where we come from, and that we aren’t wanted. So, different ways of adapting develop: as a community we learn to hide who we really are for fear of being rejected, we struggle to communicate our needs, we isolate, and tend to be incredibly independent so as to not rely too much on anyone. Family dynamics add more complexity and nuance. Sometimes there’s guilt from the family member that has the more privileged status (e.g., citizen/DACA recipient, DACA recipient/no status) and the family member with the less privileged status tends to feel like the others don’t understand. Other times there’s blatant disregard for each other. Sometimes it’s our own families that don’t support us. It can be quite complex.
(4) What types of support are necessary to better address some of those needs?
Mental health professionals, institutions, and organizations that claim to support immigrant communities need to take tangible steps. Some of these could be consulting, trainings/workshops, and/or partnering with mental health professionals who are competent in working with immigrant communities to provide therapy. For example, UC counseling centers can train their therapists on how to better serve their students with DACA status or no status. We also need more therapists and psychologists that are like us. So, there needs to be more intentional financial support for individuals seeking to become therapists and psychologists who are undocumented.
(5) What advice would you give to others who may be similarly contemplating pursuing this field and/or going to graduate school while undocumented more broadly?
First, I have to say that I absolutely love being a psychologist, but while I was in graduate school, it was really tough. There are so many barriers, starting with the financial one. Then there’s all the different little, big, and different ways in which these institutions tell us that we don’t belong. While we have experienced that already, there is a new level when you’re probably the only or one of the few undocumented student(s) in your graduate program. So, be intentional about taking care of yourself. Develop and maintain your connections to your community and build relationships where you can be yourself and rest. If possible, go to therapy.
DR. RAMIREZ received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Dr. Ramírez is distinguished in her national efforts to fight for the lives and dignity of those with DACA status. In 2017 she participated in filing the lawsuit against the Trump Administration for illegally rescinding DACA. Additionally, Dr. Ramírez uses her clinical expertise in her social justice efforts to advocate for the Latino/a/e/x and undocumented communities. She has aimed to increase accessibility by collaborating on the creation of specialized mental health resources for individuals with precarious legal status, providing targeted outreach events in her community, and facilitating trainings for mental health professionals who seek to better serve individuals of Latino/a/x/e heritage and with varying legal statuses (e.g., no status, DACA, TPS, first-generation).
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