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.