If we want the Latina community to succeed in life, and more specifically, if we wish young Latina girls to know their worth and grow up capable of such success, there’s one incredibly important relationship we need to focus on: the mother-daughter bond.
Sure, having inspiring teachers, supportive friends, loving leaders, and access to the tools they need to grow and learn is undoubtedly crucial for any young woman navigating this male-dominated world. But if you ask the founders of Con Mi MADRE (With My Mother), the mother-daughter bond is the relationship that can truly set a Latina up for success by teaching her to embrace her familial bond, have courage, build resilience, gain confidence and display grit through good times and bad.
After all, there’s nothing quite like a mother’s influence and love. When that relationship is nurtured into a positive, healthy, honest, and supportive relationship, young girls can become great women who do big things.
This is a truth that Elizabeth Rodriguez and her daughter, Lizbeth Okumura, know all too well.
They founded Con Mi MADRE, a two-generation organization, with a clear goal in mind — to empower young Latinas and their mothers through education and support services that increase preparedness, participation, and success in post-secondary education.
Through coaching, mentoring, access, and support they work hard to help keep Latinas in school, reduce risky behavior through self-empowerment and healthy relationships with adults and peers, and guide young Latinas as they enter the workforce.
What makes Con Mi MADRE so unique is that it aims to tackle the complexities of growing up Latina on multiple levels: it addresses the social, mental, and academic barriers that prevent young Latinas from attaining their educational dreams.
It helps Latina mothers create a supportive family culture that values education to set future generations up for success. And all of the services and topics are not only offered in bilingual programs but are also addressed in a culturally competent manner, honoring the girls’ Hispanic heritage, according to their website.
This kind of organization is more necessary than ever, as young Latinas face unique mental health challenges.
Mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, are unfortunately not uncommon among young girls and teens in any community. But among Latinas, the risks are more significant. According to the CDC 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, 10.5% of Latina adolescents aged 10–24 years in the U.S. attempted suicide one or more times during the 12 months before the survey, compared to 7.3% of white females, 5.8% of Latino, and 4.6% white male teens.
A 2019 report from the National Women’s Law Center found that in Philadelphia one in five Latina girls has seriously considered suicide, and one in seven has attempted suicide.
But despite these alarming numbers, not much has changed.
“[…] nothing’s been done,” explains Carolina Hausmann-Stabile, an assistant professor at Bryn Mawr College who researches suicidal behaviors in minority youth. “This is the reality. We tend to neglect health outcomes among people we think have less value,” she told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
It seems that among Latinas, these mental health issues often go unaddressed or ignored. In part, this is because it’s somewhat frowned upon to discuss your emotions or admit mental and emotional health struggles in Latino and Hispanic culture. Therefore Latinas rarely seek professional help or treatment to help them cope.
In addition to the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the Latinx community, there are also barriers such as lack of access to medical treatment, low healthcare coverage, and language barriers.
Which is why it’s so important to help build up Latinas and set them up for success, starting with their familial support systems such as strong mother-daughter bonds, and then continuing to support them throughout their journey.
Johanna Moya Fábregas, executive director of Con Mi MADRE, explains that the work they are doing is so important because it “goes at the root of an issue…It helps prevent a lot of the problems that many teenagers face — like not feeling worthy or feeling isolated, suicide – all those things that if you have a very strong foundation, you are less likely to deal with.”