Chautauqua keynote speaker addresses hardships faced by Latino community
Updated: Feb 7
Author: Britany Bowens
Published: October 23, 2019 Updated January 20, 2023
Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga answers questions from students and faculty during an open discussion after her lecture. Hernandez-Arriaga was the Latinx Heritage Month Chautauqua speaker on Sept. 26 in the O’Donnell Auditorium.
With almost 20 years working in the community and specializing in child trauma and Latino mental health, Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, an assistant professor of marriage and family therapy at the University of San Francisco, shared her experience with students at Eastern Kentucky University.
On Sept. 26, Hernandez-Arriaga was the Latino Heritage Month keynote speaker for the second Chautauqua series lecture of the semester.
She challenged those in attendance to think about trauma, what it means and how to respond to it.
Highlighting mental health with her topic, “Cultura, Testimonios, Art and Resistance: Responding to Crisis, Recovering from Trauma,” Hernandez-Arriaga emphasized the importance of naming your trauma, celebrating your culture and overcoming your fear.
“For me it’s not about politics, it’s about humanity,” Hernandez-Arriaga said.
EKU faculty were looking forward to Hernandez-Arriaga’s arrival on campus.
“Dr. Hernandez-Arriaga will bring good information related to healing and trauma, especially with the significance of what’s going on at the border,” said Jose Juan Gomez-Becerra, associate professor of Spanish at EKU. “This engagement will have an impact on Latino/Latina students and will give an opportunity for the EKU community to gain a perspective on the complex and social identity of Latino/Latina culture.”
Socorro Zaragoza, associate professor of Spanish at EKU, said the key to taking the conversation a step further is having an open and receptive audience. Because immigration is a constant topic in the news, she believes it’s important to bring attention to what is happening nationwide.
“It’s important for Dr. Arriaga to talk about the political environment surrounding immigration, and how it increases the ongoing trauma for the Latino/Latina community,” Zaragoza said. “She’ll give us good advice on how to direct and have an ongoing conversation. With an increasing Latino/Latina population here on campus and in Kentucky, we have to think about how we contribute to this trauma with our language, mindful of how hurtful our words can be and how we can decrease anxiety among students here, across Kentucky, and nationwide.”
In her lecture, Hernandez-Arriaga talked about the psychological experiences of those crossing the border, emphasizing that every family makes a journey. These journeys often include danger and long days and nights.
Stemming from her research, Hernandez-Arriaga coined the term “undocutrauma,” which represents the question, “What’s going to happen?”
As children are separated from their parents at the border and others face obstacles even getting there, seeking asylum or trying to become a citizen; there is an element of fear that becomes invisible to those on the outside.
Hernandez-Arriaga discussed methods of responding and listening to those at the border.
“As a community, we have to understand that we all have a story, and we all have been on a journey,” Hernandez-Arriaga said.
Hernandez-Arriaga said she is dedicated to working with rural youth and families using cultural arts, education and social justice. She founded and directs an organization called Ayudando Latinos A Soñar, in California dedicated to social services and the arts.
“It takes a new way of thinking,” Hernandez-Arriaga said. “Music, spoken word, murals and dance are creative forms of therapy that are embedded in different ways of helping to heal. Art is like a common language we can all take.”
Gustavo Alcantara-Ocampo, a graduate student and clinical mental health counseling major, said the lecture provided important takeaways for students to think about.
“It was a huge source of comfort because mental health in our culture is looked down upon, and bringing up this conversation makes it more of a norm,” Alcantara-Ocampo said. “As a Latino wanting to work within my community, this definitely brought up a lot of new things such as the term ‘undocutrauma,’ which isn’t listed, but we see that it’s happening with kids and parents who may be undocumented. As a professional and future clinician, I believe the takeaway for students here at EKU is that whatever career choice they have, it is important for them to know how they can become a source of support and comfort for people that deal with trauma.”
Hernandez-Arriaga encouraged students to show local support, have a response team, create a safe space and to utilize resources to help identify the signs of trauma and mental health as a way to get involved and relieve pain caused by trauma at the border.
“It’s important to connect to your roots, accept who you are, and be proud of your culture,” Hernandez-Arriaga said. “When you own your family story...practice gratitude... and dream big... you not only talk, you take action! Be involved with groups that help support cultural connection. It’s really important to build community, family, and circles of support. If it doesn’t exist, create it.”
With a wide range of topics, the Chautauqua Lecture Series, now in its twentieth year, has become a platform for understanding, growth and overcoming cultural barriers.
Erik Liddell, the Chautauqua Lecture coordinator and associate director of the Honors Program, said the lecture really brought students together around this issue.
“Dr. Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, like most of our speakers, are not just experts in their field who can provide great insight about a particular topic,” Liddell said. “These are great public speakers who know how to connect to an audience and bring issues home. I love to see so many students taking notes, writing reports and really thinking about the material. There’s a special kind of vibe in the room when somebody is bringing their research, experience and sensitivity. Dr. Hernandez-Arriaga talked about culture as something that we all share in. These are messages that come out of these Chautauqua lectures that you don’t really get anywhere else.”
“I hope that my time here brought the theme of celebrating each individual for who they are,” Hernandez-Arriaga said. “Together we can be one community, even with all our differences, and we learn to value each person for their struggle.”
For more information on the Chautauqua Lecture Series, visit https://chautauqua.eku.edu.