Community Chronicles

The people of South Central face a myriad of challenges, each as unique as their personal experiences. In this blog, the beautiful and diverse South Central community unite their voices to share stories of resilience amidst adversity. 

To gain a deeper understanding of the challenges community members face, I conducted a survey exploring stress. I had the privilege of engaging with women of color who anonymously shared their stories and provided unique perspectives. The stories featured in this blog play a key role in shedding light on women’s needs across the community. By utilizing their responses, I aim to raise awareness surrounding the stress Black and Brown individuals experience and its impact on health outcomes. 

My first participant, Maria, is a 57-year-old Latina. She fled El Salvador’s Civil War and arrived in the United States at the age of 28 in 1994. Without formal schooling, she rebuilt her life in South Central by selling clothes in the neighborhood. Due to her fluctuating income, she repeatedly faces economic hardships and worries about making ends meet to cover her rent and groceries. This leaves her in a vulnerable position where she often requests rent extensions from her landlord. When inquiring about her emotional well-being, she began fidgeting and shifting her weight from leg to leg. The conversation quickly took a turn as she avoided discussing her life and instead focused on the community’s overall stress. 

Despite this, Maria’s inspiring resilience and optimistic perspective embody “luchando y saliendo adelante.” This phrase keeps her going as she navigates the emotions of her mother passing away, and her son falling victim to violence. Amid these difficult moments, Maria reaches out to her friends, who often provide emotional support. Maria’s story reflects the strength of community bonds in South Central, and she appreciates those who have helped her.  

In my next encounter, I met Cassandra and Fabio, a 43-year-old hard-working Latina and her son. Cassandra works tirelessly packaging warehouse food to provide for her family. Like Maria, she arrived in the United States at an early age with limited schooling. As an immigrant mother, her stress revolves around her son’s health. Since Fabio started school again, she worries her son is not eating nutritious food. When asked to rate her stress level on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the least stressed and 10 being the most stressed, Cassandra’s stress levels recently rose to 7. The lack of access to healthy food options exacerbates her stress. She worries that cholesterol, diabetes, and chronic diseases related to unhealthy foods lead to worse health outcomes.  

Cassandra’s commitment to advocating for healthier food choices highlights her pressing concerns regarding the alarming prevalence of diabetes and a lack of access to healthy food in the South Central community. In this neighborhood, limited access to affordable healthy food results in Latinos having a 50% higher chance of developing diabetes according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Food access is one of the many social drivers of health which are factors in our environment that influence health outcomes. Stories like Cassandra’s emphasize the urgent need for accessible and affordable healthy food options and educational initiatives to address the diabetes epidemic. As this issue continues to grow Cassandra combats her feelings of stress by building community amongst her neighbors and family. 

Similar to Maria, Cassandra avoided discussing her emotions and instead focused on the factual aspects of her stress. Observing this pattern among the Latina participants sheds light on a larger challenge. In the Latine community, there is often a reluctance to share emotions in fear of being looked down upon, a cultural norm that discourages expressing emotions as it can be perceived as weakness. While there may be many reasons for those who have difficulty sharing emotions, I would like to acknowledge that it plays an important role in how deeply stress affects our well-being. I appreciate every woman that participated in this survey, as their engagement is invaluable.  

The last community member highlighted is Bertha, a remarkable 64-year-old Black woman. Bertha offers a unique perspective as a retired woman who lives alone and volunteers at her local library and church. Bertha courageously shared that loneliness is the central source of her stress as she copes with family deaths. During these difficult times, her church has provided her with a community and sense of belonging. As Bertha’s eyes filled with tears, she acknowledged she needs other mental health resources beyond relying on her faith. Bertha’s vulnerability shows that mental health is an integral component of overall well-being as community members no longer have to silently battle their stress. By recognizing the need for more accessible and comprehensive mental health resources we can work toward a community where individuals like Bertha navigate loss and isolation. 

The Stress South Central Carries serves as a platform for communities to connect through shared experiences. I cherish the connections and intimate moments I shared with community members throughout this survey. Each community member illustrated their resilience in diverse ways and while I may not have had the answers to alleviate their concerns, these interactions reinforced the genuine care people have for their community. By shedding light on these deeply personal stories of resilience and adversity, we can foster a sense of unity and empathy within our community. It is through shared experiences and a collective commitment to addressing these challenges that we can begin to build a supportive South Central community for all its members. 


Chasing Degrees

Throughout my undergraduate studies, my father’s voice repeating “Ponte las pilas” and “Échale ganas mija” echoed in my head. These phrases not only reminded me of the privilege I had in attending college but also motivated me to persevere.  

My journey to graduating as a Latina pre-medical student encompassed a multitude of ups and downs. In this blog, I dive into the stressors of being the first in my family to graduate from a four-year university. Alongside this discussion I incorporate coping mechanisms I used to overcome education gaps, academic demands, and culture shock. Lastly, I intertwine advice from college graduates, reassuring students that higher education is attainable.  

Attending my first college science class, I vividly remember sitting in a large lecture hall feeling anxious and confused. LS 7A was my first flipped classroom that required textbook readings outside of class and completing practice questions during class. After each lecture I returned to my closet-sized dorm room and learned foundational science lessons from high school. This course reinforced that I was not on the same level of educational attainment as my peers and lacked preparation for the rigor of college classes. As the quarter progressed, I faced heightened stress levels bridging the gap between my current education level and the level required.  

On top of navigating the unfamiliar academic landscape, LS 7A is a “weeder course.” Weeder courses are notorious for their difficulty and play a pivotal role in shaping the path a student chooses to pursue. These courses are designed to test commitment to the class and higher education. Students must show they can commit to the rigor by keeping up with the assignments and earning a good grade. In my class, several students ended the quarter with poor grades, consequently “weeding” them out of their intended major.  

As an undergraduate student I was not yet aware of the systemic education issues in Los Angeles County. For students that attended underfunded public high schools, weeder courses are more likely to have a negative impact on their education. These students, including myself, encounter difficulties transitioning as they lack the study skills and resources to excel academically. Consequently, many students feel unprepared and isolated when entering prestigious institutions. The academic demands I encountered redefined my limits and pushed me beyond my comfort zone.  

One resource that helped me through this transition was attending peer learning sessions within the Academic Advancement Program (AAP). This amazing program allowed me to network and learn from other students. Additionally, asking my professors and teaching assistants for help during office hours not only made me gain confidence but also improved my grades. Through this process, I created better study habits, navigated my performance gap, and advocated for myself. Each university has many resources available. Be sure to look for these incredible opportunities.  

Another significant part of my journey at UCLA was navigating culture shock. Graduating from a high school with 95 percent black and brown students I found myself experiencing severe culture shock at a university with 22 percent of Hispanic/Latino students. The stark difference in diversity made me feel like an outsider. One memorable experience is passing by Frat Row and seeing a student wear a pastel-colored sweater tied around their neck, modeling a “country club look.” This fashion was not something I was exposed to growing up in a low-income community. As I adjusted to my new environment, I found comfort in speaking to the Latine staff. These quick Spanish interactions reminded me of home. With the support of my friends and family I realized that I may not look like everyone else, but I did belong.  

The stress I experienced as a college student took a toll on my immune system. I often got sick as my body was coping with the stress I felt. Another manifestation of my elevated stress levels led to binge-eating. When stressed, my body released prominent levels of cortisol; a hormone known to increase appetite. As a result, I ate past being full to momentarily relieve my stress and feel better. Binge-eating is an unhealthy coping mechanism I continue to work on as I pursue my dreams of applying to medical school. Although I learned to control my eating habits it is essential for students to learn how to mitigate academic stress.  

In honor of college starting this month I along with my SCFHC peers would like to share advice to current students navigating college. Immerse yourself in student life; it is crucial to network with your professors, join clubs, and create support groups in school. Talk to new people and go beyond your comfort zone. I found my best friends by randomly sitting with them in a workshop my first year. College is stressful, find fun things to do with your friends apart from study groups.  

Another essential factor to successfully navigate college includes asking questions whether in class or in office hours. There are a handful of narrow-minded professors that will belittle you. However, do not allow these professors to discourage you from getting the help you need. They do not consider your story and only see a student “not paying enough attention.” Instead of allowing these professors to bring your spirits down there are often teaching assistants (graduate students) that are willing to help. Navigating college is not easy and it is going to take a village. Take a moment to acknowledge that you made it this far without the same support as your peers.  

To every student doubting their place in college, dale con todo.

Unraveling Student Struggles

Growing up in an educationally disadvantaged community similar to South Central, I encountered numerous academic challenges that impacted my education journey. These challenges ranged from fulfilling the standard A-G requirements in high school to navigating college. Reflecting on my experience since graduating from Lawndale High School, I realize the impact of stress on my education. During my time in high school, I was not fully aware of the stress I was experiencing, but now understand how it continues to affect me. This blog raises awareness surrounding the stressors students face in high need communities, inspires resilience, and shares resources for high school students’ academic growth. To honor every student’s unique journey, I will integrate my peer Sergio Vazquez’s story. Sergio and I had the privilege of graduating from 4-year universities and overcoming the lack of institutional preparation we encountered in high school. For this reason, we will be using our story to empower others. In the first blog of the series, I will discuss the adverse issues we encountered throughout our high school experiences and progress to college in the subsequent blogs.

In 2014, my freshman year in high school it was revealed that the superintendent embezzled approximately $87,000 in school funds. Although it was a small amount compared to the overall school budget this incident exacerbated the overcrowded classrooms and teacher shortages plaguing the district. Throughout my freshman year I rose to the top of my class, seemingly unaffected by my school’s circumstances. This mindset carried on throughout high school as I juggled many responsibilities as vice president of Vietnamese club, Secretary of Biomedical Careers Academy (BCA), taking 9 AP classes in total and more. It was not until I began college that I realized I was not academically prepared to face rigorous college courses. Compared to my college peers who attended high-performing private schools, I overcame the challenges I faced in my under resourced high school by exceeding expectations.

At Lawndale High School, staff expects students to graduate and attend college without regard to the resources and knowledge needed to get there. Lawndale’s budget reveals that funds are continuously directed toward non-teaching staff such as secretaries and bus drivers. While the school would not operate without these hard workers Lawndale requires more tutors, counselors, and teachers to improve quality education. Due to the lack of resources at Lawndale High, I found myself becoming my own advocate. I took the initiative to fix my class schedules, advocated for more AP classes, snuck past security to speak to my counselor and taught myself material from YouTube videos. My high school journey is one of many examples illustrating the challenge in allocating limited resources throughout high need communities. Similarly, Sergio’s unique background reinforces the narrative that the education you receive has a lasting impact on your journey.

For most of Sergio’s life college seemed unattainable coming from a low-socioeconomic background. He got his first job as a school custodian at 14 and continued to work at McDonalds throughout high school. His responsibility to contribute to household expenses limited the time he spent on academics. To further amplify his stress the high school he attended, Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet, faced various resource disparities. One primary issue he encountered was limited interactions with his counselor. The large student to counselor ratios left limited opportunities for individualized student time. As a result, his counselor mistakenly placed him in two different PE classes which could have been used for an additional A-G requirement. Similar to my situation Sergio was his own advocate. In the situation mentioned he took the initiative to involve the assistant principal. In the end, they changed his schedule and put him on track to graduating on time. However, other instances like this created a difficult path to graduating. Sergio’s high school experience continued to impact his journey as a college student attending an elite institution.

The education public schools offer stems from long-standing systemic issues surrounding low-performing and underfunded schools like Francisco Bravo and Lawndale. These high-need schools encounter challenges to allocate education resources to their students. Lawndale continues to emphasize the importance of higher education through college pennants and posters but rarely provides quality education or time with counselors for application assistance. In contrast, Francisco Bravo does an amazing job of bringing college admission counselors to encourage applicants. Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge that every school has its shortcomings, but Lawndale and Francisco Bravo have had the privilege of performing better than other public schools in the area. However, there is always room for growth and both schools need to recognize that accessing higher education requires more than just application assistance; it requires teachers and counselors who understand the importance of academic preparation.

To address the educational disparities discussed throughout this blog Sergio and I created a list of organizations that are known to support under resourced students. Organizations such as College Match are an immense asset to low-income students. Sergio’s personal experience with the organization served as a lifeline to matriculate into a 4-year college. Beyond College Match there are multiple programs that ensure students are not alone in navigating intimidating opportunities. Achieving higher education will continue to be a challenge as underfunded public schools ignore the issue. Still, this list of resources is the first step for struggling students working toward a higher education. My education story continues as the next blog discusses my struggles as a Latina student at UCLA.

Scan the QR code below to view a list of resources!


The Hidden Costs of an Immigrant

My father’s dream to immigrate to the United States from Guatemala stemmed from his idealized interpretation of the American Dream. While he lived in Guatemala, his older sibling’s working in the U.S. told stories of the multitude of jobs and opportunities available here. My aunts and uncles failed to mention the unexpected financial challenges that await immigrants in this country.

Upon my father’s arrival he believed he could achieve anything in the U.S. through his hard work. This quickly changed when he realized his native language and education status limited his employment opportunities. This made it difficult to pay rent, bills, and send remittances home. His exhaustive work schedule heightened his stress levels resulting in physical exhaustion that deteriorated his mental health.

In this blog, I will share my father’s story recognizing that my perspective is limited as an immigrant daughter that has had the privilege in only witnessing these challenges and never experiencing them. I would also like to acknowledge that my love and desire to protect my father resulted in resentment toward his family that is indicated throughout this blog. My father’s journey is one of the many immigrant stories that involves financial struggles, thus, I would like to highlight resources for those in financially stricken situations within our community.

In 1988, my father traveled several days across Mexico and the United States to arrive in Wilmington, California. With his older brothers already living in Wilmington, they offered him a place to sleep. Instead of attending high school he dove straight into the workforce getting paid $3 per hour washing cars. While living with his older brothers and sister he worked tirelessly to contribute to the rent, groceries, and bills. He slept on the floor surrounded by several others, wore hand-me-downs, and frequently experienced hunger. The realization that working a minimum wage job and barely making ends meet was devastating. He continued to work various jobs washing cars, dishes, and driving trucks to keep up with the bills. Throughout these endeavors, my father experienced a never-ending cycle of financial insecurity. The pressure from his older brothers and parents to financially provide weighed heavily on him. Although he was the youngest brother, he paid the same, if not more, bills.

Gradually, my father’s financial situation improved as he juggled two to three jobs simultaneously. Although working three jobs is not a sustainable long-term solution, he managed to save a substantial amount to send to my grandparents in Guatemala. This enabled his youngest sister to come live in the United States. As his savings grew, he moved out of his oldest brother’s apartment and shared a new place with an older sister. This change allowed them to support each other financially and emotionally, leading to newfound stability.

My father’s life has revolved around working since arriving at the age of 16. As an immigrant, he survived in this country by working every day. Despite my father’s financial state significantly changing since his arrival, one aspect has remained constant: working overtime every week. Working 6-7 days a week is not a healthy way to live in the United States. At 51 years old, his physically demanding job requires long standing hours in tight spaces within the ships arriving at the Los Angeles port. Although my father never explicitly mentioned the toll of growing up in a financially stricken situation the impact of avoiding his emotions is clear. His coping mechanism entails purchasing a substantial amount of clothes and shoes while having two closets full of untouched purchases. I believe that these coping mechanisms lie at the surface of deeper emotional and health issues.

Growing up in a Latinx household mental health is highly stigmatized, especially for men in our machismo-dominated culture. I want to emphasize that seeking help does not indicate weakness but is the first step in overcoming obstacles. Reflecting upon my father’s coping mechanisms, I deeply appreciate the resources provided by the behavioral health team at the South Central Family Health Center (SCFHC). I recognize the value these resources could have brought during his transition to living in the U.S. While therapy alone is not the answer to all problems, it offers reframing perspectives, developing strategies to mitigate stress, and navigate the complex emotions associated with financial stress. Understanding the potential impact of the resources on my father’s emotional well-being motivates me to advocate for them.

The behavioral health team at SCFHC is equipped to treat and diagnose anxiety, depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. The counselors, clinicians, and case managers are equipped with diverse services to improve mental health and deal with unique situations. Their services encompass individual general screening, family therapy, group therapy, and treatment for severe/persistent mental illness. While SCFHC is one of the many qualified health centers to offer mental health resources, it is important to seek help from any place that can provide the necessary resources. Considering my perspective as an immigrant daughter, I strive to continue reducing the mental health stigma within our communities and ultimately break the generational trauma caused by financial stress.


Para Mi Mami

Feliz Día de las Madres. I hope everyone can enjoy spending time with their loved ones!

This blog is for all resilient mothers that shoulder many responsibilities. I admire the challenging work every mother puts toward making a better life for their children. Para mi Mami: I appreciate everything you do for me and our family. You deal with demanding situations without complaining and set the example for whom I aspire to be. Happy Mother’s Day to one of the strongest women I know.

Immigrant women throughout vulnerable communities, such as South Central, internalize gender roles. This means society imposes unrealistic expectations on women to cook, clean, work, and take care of their children. My mom has struggled with these roles throughout her life. Still, she maintains many responsibilities and continues to defy expectations.

My mom was born to Mexican immigrant parents in Southeast Los Angeles. Subsequently, as the oldest daughter in a Latino household, she managed finances, appointments, cooking, and cleaning. Still, she lacked autonomy in making decisions. My grandma and grandpa immigrated to the United States 63 years ago from Zacatecas, Mexico. My grandpa’s background as a pastor and my grandma’s upbringing in el rancho resulted in the conservative upbringing my mother experienced. My grandparents had complete control over my mom’s life. She was not allowed to hang out with her friends or leave the house because her place was at home. Additionally, throughout high school, she wore long skirts to school because wearing pants was for men. At an early age, my grandparents taught her women could only wear dresses and skirts. Furthermore, my mom was not allowed to have platonic male friends. The options came down to female friends or a husband. In my grandparents’ eyes, women were born to become wives and care for their husband, children, and home. As a result, my mom internalized the gender role that women are required to be nurturing and accommodating—qualities of a good wife. My mom lacked independence while living with my grandparents. Thus, she moved out after graduating from high school at 17. Living alone, she changed her style and continued her education at a local community college.

Reflecting on my mother’s upbringing, I now understand my grandparents’ perspective. In Mexico, everything was traditional. However, in the US, ideals are progressive, which was a drastic change for both of my grandparents. They had difficulty assimilating to the new culture where women and men could make decisions. As a result, telling my mom how to dress and who to talk to was a defense mechanism to protect her. Immigrating to a new country was stressful. Still, changing the values you grew up with, I can imagine, added more stress. My mom forgave her parents for how strict they were. She understands they had her best interest at heart, and although it did not come across as such, they never meant harm.

My mom continues to defy the gender roles she internalized growing up. I watch my mom run back and forth between taking care of my grandparents, coming home to cook then rushing out of the house to pick up my sister from work. Seeing her balance her responsibilities as a wife, mother, and daughter, I witness the extreme levels of stress she experiences. Yet, she never lets it affect how my sister and I are treated. My mother is an amazing woman that goes beyond the gender roles my grandparents confined her in. Although challenging, my mom broke the chain of passing these gender roles down to my sister and me. My mom is strong and can handle many things, but this does not mean she should. I continue to support my mom with things around the house to demonstrate my appreciation for her. I take as much as I can off her shoulders by going to my grandparents’ house to help or picking up my sister from school. Together we support and understand one another as the eldest daughters in the family. We rely on each other. My mom deserves the world; although I cannot give it to her, I will always support her.

To the moms reading this, learning how to best manage your stress will allow you to take care of yourself without being overwhelmed. I am rooting for you!


A Place Called Home

Dear South Central,

The extreme amounts of stress we experience have become a normalized part of our lives. Living in communities such as South Central, Vernon, Huntington Park, and South Gate, stress is natural to us. We often deal with it in any way we can, whether it is through healthy or maladaptive means. The truth is the amount of stress we face is not normal, and we do not have to accept it as such. Numerous low-income communities in Los Angeles experience distinct types of stressors that are affected by their job, transportation, living conditions, and health. The stressors this community faces are not something that can be easily escaped when living in a low-income community. There is a nonstop pressure to deal with discrimination or living in a dangerous neighborhood. Many of you reading this are born and raised in South Central so I want to start my first blog by talking about how our living spaces affect who we are, not only in terms of personality but also our health. Part of my inspiration for this first blog comes from my mentor. He recently told me, trying to thrive in a world where you are barely surviving is not living, so why is it normalized for vulnerable populations? Additionally, as a 22-year-old bilingual Latina I would also like to recognize that I have certain advantages in my life, but still desire to remain conscious of this community’s struggles. I want to use my privilege to elevate community voices and bring awareness to the levels of stress we experience in vulnerable communities.

I grew up and lived in the same apartment for most of my life, it holds a special place in my heart. However, now that I am older, I realize that the environment was not the healthiest when growing up. Hearing the screams of my next-door neighbors as they argued, persistent police sirens, seeing people get arrested, and military explosives being found in homes are not acceptable in affluent neighborhoods. So why did I encounter it as a child? One vivid memory from my childhood is having to call 911 for the first time at my grandparents’ house. A homeless person who is a known drug addict in the neighborhood was trespassing, intending to break into the house. As the only English speaker all the pressure of translating fell into my lap. Break-ins and robberies are common in my neighborhood yet facing it at an early age taught me I did not want this to be a part of my normal life, I was terrified. I will always remember having to explain to the white police officers what was happening at 9 years old. All individuals, regardless of socioeconomic background, do not deserve to encounter brain-altering and traumatic events as a child or adult.

Growing up in Hawthorne quite frankly is potentially the root of my stress. It became clear to me when making the transition between my hometown and the UCLA neighborhood of Westwood, CA how different neighborhood incomes affect communities. Culture shock played a significant role as to why I received horrible grades in my first quarter in college. Instead of studying, I was acclimating to an unfamiliar environment where I was surrounded by rich, non-people of color. The individuals in my classes lived in mansions, had never worked a day in their lives and still owned expensive sports cars. To put it in simple terms, I was not used to people having such large amounts of money to spend on luxury. My body quickly started feeling the effects of being a first-generation student. I began experiencing many health issues apart from tackling culture shock, home sickness, and academic stress. After ten weeks of nonstop testing when finals rolled around, I somehow always got sick; sniffles, cough, and sore throat. Many of my friends had similar experiences, and together we concluded that we were the ones making ourselves sick. Finals in college were extremely stressful for me, but aside from the typical stress and anxiety every college student feels, I was not prepared to experience that much pressure coming from an under resourced high school. This feeling was mutual for many of my friends who are first generation students. Consequently, as a community I want us to continue exploring the differences between the stress of coming from different socioeconomic communities and scrutinize situations by bringing them into a new light.

When I first began as a fellow approximately three weeks ago, driving closer to South Central Family Health Center, I noticed an increase in police cars and potholes covering the streets. Within a span of 5 minutes during my morning drive there were a minimum of three police cars, one being undercover. It comes as no surprise that low-income communities are being over policed. However, it is disappointing that those who are supposed to protect our community are harming it by designating more police cars. “El que busca encuentra,” meaning when you assign more police cars to a specific area, there is bound to be more tickets and people being pulled over. Moreover, coming down Slauson off the 110 freeway I religiously avoid the right lane; my tires feel like they are going to deflate every time I go over a pothole. As someone who lives paycheck to paycheck and recently replaced my $300 tire due to a nail, I cannot afford replacing another tire because of a pothole. Yet, regardless of how many cars get damaged the city has yet to fix them. The potholes that remain throughout South Central serve as a reminder of the unequal allocation of resources in low-income communities. This never-ending street filled with potholes is just one example of how systems have been put into place where vulnerable populations are continually being oppressed and left without a voice. Potholes are everywhere but due to South Central’s high-density population they are much more common and detrimental amongst this community. South Central natives are so used to them that they have become desensitized; they are unknowingly accepting these circumstances. I want us to challenge the systems because we want and deserve change. Police cars and potholes are just two very minor examples of the living conditions of South Central. The purpose of bringing up my living experiences and observations of South Central is to build context about stressors that are no longer noticeable because they are so common in our communities. We may not be able to bring change right away but simply talking about these issues and bringing awareness gives more power to the community. That is the purpose of the blog, creating agency for South Central community members and addressing the stress each person feels.

Overall, there is so much stress beyond the living conditions that affect this community and sometimes it feels like there is nowhere to turn to. I never want others to experience the same toxic levels of stress that have physically and mentally made me sick. I want each reader to know that we can change our health outcomes for the better and together we will be able to discover what the term “toxic levels of stress” entail for all of us throughout this blog.

Yours truly,


P.S. Please leave a comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts!