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.