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People of Color Deal With Mental Illness, Too

I wrote my first article for the Huffington Post where I discuss my photo project. 

Here is an excerpt:

The media representation of mental illness constantly excludes, ignores and silences people of color. White women are stereotypically the face of mental illness. There are media representations like Blanche of A Streetcar Named Desire, Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight and even more recently, Carrie in Homeland, and Pat and Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook. Even when it comes to the news reports of these tragic shootings recently, when it is a white male there is the immediate speculation that he is mentally ill. Yet, when Black or Latino men commit crimes, they are just that: criminals. 

There is a stigma that is rampant in our society towards mental illness. Yet it is worse for communities of color. Mental illness doesn't discriminate but people do. People of color in the United States battle with microaggressions, cultural/religious/ language barriers, and negative stereotypes. That compounded with a mental illness is debilitating. White individuals do not deal with the issues we face. 

As people of color, we are proud individuals who have accomplished a lot despite the obstacles that we have faced. We don't need another reason for people to ostracize us and treat us differently. We are not supposed to air our dirty laundry. But we have a larger problem in our hands that is more important than saving face. We are losing countless individuals due to the silence and shame that contributes to the high suicide attempt and success rate. I do want to be clear: I am in no way blaming these communities. The invisibility of people of color in this discussion is to blame. How can we destigmatize this in our community if we are never shown in its representation? Being witness to the killings of Travon Martin, Eric Garner, and Tanisha Anderson, takes it's toll. How can the mental health of people of color be made a priority in our communities when we are constantly shown that our lives don't matter, that we can be killed senselessly, that justice won't be served?

The health disparities and the lack of resources being made available to our community is a huge part of it as well. Cultural competency is lacking immensely. Simply translating resources and information is not enough. It is not cognizant of people's different cultural identities. In my experience, working with groups and organizations that focus on mental illness, I am told that they want to be inclusive when I bring up a support group for solely people of color or that amplifying the voices of people of color are their priority right now. The advocacy that is needed to heal our community is different.

Read the full article here.

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Portrait of A Feminista: Dior Vargas

Here is a snippet from my contribution to Brown-Eyed Amazon's project: #SecretLivesofFeministas

"I am leading in my own community as a Latina feminist mental health activist. I am working on a photo project to juxtapose the media representation of mental illness. People of color are rarely ever if at all included in this discussion. How can we destigmatize this in our community if we are never shown in its representation? For years I thought I was alone. I didn’t know that there were countless other Latinas and other young women of color who were battling with mental illness and suicidal ideation. In addition to the photo project, I am sharing my personal story as a suicide attempt survivor and a Latina living with depression. If I can show other Latinas that I have experienced these struggles and that I have been able to overcome they will feel impassioned t0 keep on going, to fight for their lives, and live another day. I won’t tell them that it will get better because it won’t. You will have your ups and downs and you’ll have moments where you’re just done with the same pain day after day. But keep on fighting. Find what you are passionate about. Speak out. Write what you feel. Writing has given me the opportunity to communicate my feelings, a blank sheet to take on all of what was and is still is tormenting me so."

Read more here: http://browneyedamazon.com/2014/11/12/portrait-of-a-feminista-dior-vargas/

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Sigue y Sigue

Here is a piece that I wrote for the 1st Anniversary of La Respuesta Magazine. It is about my experience as a Latina feminist dealing with depression:

Morning. I wake up and hope that this will be a good day. Sometimes it depends on if I’ve been regularly taking my damn medication. Like a vieja with her pastillas. Most mornings it takes me at least 3 alarms to wake up. I feel this tremendous weight on my body as I drag myself out of bed. Sometimes it physically hurts. As I stumble into the bathroom I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Ugh. Eres tan gorda. But I keep it moving. I gotta hurry up and get to work. I choose what I’ll wear that day, another reminder of how much weight I’ve gained, and how much prettier I would be if I had stayed slim. Again, I see that the longer I take to get myself together, the later I will arrive to work. I remind myself that at least I have a job. Others are not so lucky. This is just one version of what I tell myself everyday so I won’t be viewed as malcriada ormalagradecida.

On my way to work, I see the gentrification and the White bodies that fill this once Brown part of the city. It angers me, which then depresses me. But I keep it moving. So many things go through my head on the way to work. I wish I didn’t think so much. I don’t want to think of the racism I’ve experienced and still do. I don’t want to think of the ignorant or extremely stupid views of others who take their privilege for granted. I can go on and on. Relajate, Por Dios!

Before entering the office, I get coffee and breakfast. I never wake up early enough to take care of that at home. I know that the coffee will keep me up and maintain my productivity so I don’t feel like a complete failure at being a competent adult. There is a saying, that if we spoke to others like we speak to ourselves we would have no friends. Ha! There are times when I can’t stand being me. If I weren’t me I wouldn’t be my friend. There are times when my job can get my mind off of things. Things get so busy that I don’t have time to dwell on what’s going on in my life. However, it doesn’t remove the innate feeling of discontentment inside. There are times when my depression has affected my job performance. It takes away the excitement of everything. For years, I saw this hovering cloud like Eeyore or a bell jar trapping me. Yes, Sylvia Plath was a White woman. But who could I look to who actually looks like me to find commonality in this suffering? It took years for me to find out that I wasn’t the only Latina suffering from this. But when you don’t talk about this stuff, or are only told about the family member who committed suicide, it is painted as something rare, or that there was something wrong, weak about him.

I’m not sure if being a feminist contributes to my depression only in that I have this as a lens through which I view everything. Therefore, I dissect every little thing and how it connects to my being a woman, Latina, and growing up in a lower class family. Nothing can ever be taken at face value, at least not for me. However, I would rather be aware of all the injustices and inequalities in this world than be naïve. This makes me who I am. I’m reminded of when I came out as a feminist to my mom. The first thing she asked was, are you a lesbian? Even with feminism, there is some sort of stigma. However, mental health stigma in my community is far more hurtful. Like my feminism, queer identity, and depression, she thought it was a phase. I cannot pick and choose my identity.

After work, when I see my mom and vent I’m told to pray to God. This way I can find peace in the pain. It wasn’t always like this, though. I remember my mother telling me to snap out of it and stop being a cry baby. Crying was a sign of weakness in her eyes. Maybe it’s because she’s older that she has become more religious. Either way, I try not to pay her much attention. Easier said than done. When you’re constantly reminded of how your biological father didn’t care to stay around or deal with your mierda (crying, complaining, any symptom of depression at all, to be honest), you can’t help but feel bad about yourself. But mainly, you feel indebted and a complete burden to the parent that stayed and put up with you. Unfortunately, my mom’s thoughts are extremely influential to me. In terms of toughening up, anyhow. Apparently, depression is weakness and the way to combat it is to toughen up. You’re obviously too immature and not strong enough to get better.

I remember my mom telling me that before my father left, I was a spunky, sassy little thing. I was always so happy and laughing all the time. Whatever happened to that Dior? She is still in there. I just am in constant work to pull her out and show her off. I have my good days when she decides to sneak out, but I also have my bad days. Those days will always come back. I just have to learn to take care of myself and to tell myself that this will pass. I preach about self-care in my activism but I’m the last one to practice it. I need to honor my emotions, no matter how annoying they can be. I remember my therapist telling me all of this and all I could think of is, que pendejada. It’s not stupid. If I am to be a support for others like me I need to acknowledge the importance of this.

Monday, July 11, 1995
“My life is over
My mother says no,
my life is not over
Well I think so”

Written in pencil
Pressing so hard
The paper began to bubble and welt like a burn that I had inflicted upon myself
The dark charcoal of the lead
Reminiscent of the charcoal they used to detox my body
Just another one of my attempts
Yet that was the one that almost took

Now everyday you’re looking for reasons
Anything to say it was worth NOT dying for

I hear my mother’s words
Ya está bueno!
It is really enough?
As if this is a phase that I will slowly
get over

Never truly having a place to call home
I don’t want to dwell in a sorrow that is my own
I want to reside in someone else’s
In order to feel something,
anything
other than myself

But I need to feel
I need this experience
in order to do this work that
terrifies me so
Yet finally gives sense to what’s been all along

July 14, 2014:
“My life is NOT over
and I smile
my life continues
in order to help others,
mis hermanas, feel the same”



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I Am From

I am from women

Their voices, their struggles

Their resilience

I am also from men

Those who are there

Then depart

Still leaving part of themselves for me to keep

Cursing

Yelling

These were constantly heard

I am from people whose intentions

Are not always clear

I am from words

Said in both English and Spanish

Novelas on the television

With my grandmother’s translation

Throughout

Then understanding

And finding another language

In which to express myself

To understand words

Conversations not meant for my ears

I am from faith

Believing in a being

That will be there when times get rough

Trying to remember that God will not

Make me endure what I can’t survive

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Latinas in Publishing (From August 2011)

This post is a repost from Viva La Feminista’s Summer of Feminista. To learn more, visit bit.ly/jwoXaa

My name is Dior Vargas and I am an expert in publishing because I have been interning, volunteering, and freelancing in the industry for the past 4 years. I also have a master’s degree in publishing. I have noticed that there aren’t many minorities in publishing as employees in a publishing house nor as writers in the industry.

I am aware that there are some standout writers such as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Sapphire, Ntozake Shange, Esmeralda Santiago, Sandra Cisneros, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Junot Diaz, and others. In the past other authors included Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, and Gloria Anzaldua. However, there aren’t enough writers currently working in the industry considering the amount of books being published every year.

Why are there not enough people of color in publishing? According to Michael Garry’s article written in 1988, there are few if any large publishing companies that are actively recruiting minorities. These conditions haven’t changed very much despite the number of years that have gone by since that article was written.

There are a lot of industries where the only way you get into it is through who you know. More so for publishing. A lot of the people who work in publishing have gone to prestigious schools and have made many connections through networking. This is usually not the case for minorities because most aren’t given the necessary and adequate preparation to gain admission to these programs.

In my experience, I’ve realized that unless you work in a publishing press that is focused on the writings of people of color, you will not find many books that are written by minorities. The only times when there were more women of color was when I interned for Meridians, an interdisciplinary journal about feminism, race and transnationalism, and for The Feminist Press. Even then, there weren’t that many. This is because these presses don’t have the resources that other larger publishing presses have. Publishing high profile people like George W. Bush, Ann Coulter, and others brings money but these are the last people that liberal independent presses would publish.

Publishing is an industry where choosing which book to publish can be very risky. There is a lot of money that a publishing house can lose if the book doesn’t sell. Therefore, the publisher will only look for books that will sell. There are a plethora of books about Latinos and African Americans but most that are about subjects that further the stereotype of these cultures. Most writers are pigeon holed into writing books that stay within that subject and therefore will sell.

Based on the direction that publishing is going - digital, this excludes and narrows the opportunities that minorities have to find a place in publishing - even as consumers. Many don’t have the education or the skills to work in this new section of publishing. In addition, many minority consumers don’t have the resources to buy eBooks or eReaders.

Thankfully with the start of self-publishing, many individuals have the opportunity to publish works that otherwise never would have been read by others. Blogging is another venue where people can discuss topics and create a discussion about any topic. Yet, self publishing deviates from the norm and many people don’t view self publishing as legitimate as they would if the book was published by a well known publisher. In addition, unless it’s a blog that is well known, blog posts aren’t as respected either.

There have been instances where the media has noticed this disparity. One example is an article by GalleyCat where they noticed that in Publisher’s Weekly’s Notables of 2010 in book publishing, there were no women and very few people of color.

Recently an article was published by the Associated Press about how students are preparing to get a job in publishing. I found it very interesting that they said the students are overwhelmingly female. Yet the students they featured were all Caucasian.

This is ironic but I believe that in the past, there were more opportunities for people of color in certain parts of publishing. During the second wave of feminism, women of color were a lot more present in publishing and they started collectives and publishing presses that were rooted in consciousness raising and were extremely grassroots.

The Feminist Press was established in 1970 by Florence Howe because she believed there was a need for feminist books in high school and college classrooms. When Howe started the press, she thought it was going to be a temporary project because she assumed that other publishers would realize the importance of their work. It is evident that publishers still have not caught on to the notion that there are works that are still not being given the credence they deserve. It is therefore the responsibility of the press to continue their work of making sure all voices are heard. A similar organization, Kitchen Table Press, was established ten years later by Barbara Smith among Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, and others. They shared the same sentiment that there was a great need for the voices of women of color to be heard and respected. Even though the Kitchen Table Press is no longer in existence there are other similar presses such as The Feminist Press, Seal Press, Red Bone Press, and others.

I don’t believe there are enough people of color concerned with publishing and the lack of people of color being represented in comparison to those in the past. I think there needs to be a return to the grassroots movements of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Perhaps there are not a lot of people of color interested in the industry. Yet their circumstances don’t make the process any easier.

As far as publishing goes, I don’t think there is a single stand out Latina public intellectual. I think there should be a group of Latina public intellectuals in publishing. More so for book publishing since there are more opportunities for them in interdisciplinary journals like WSQ and Meridians, and magazines like Latina Magazine, Urban Latino, Essence, VIBE, and Ebony. If there could be a Latina public professional in publishing, I think that this Latina should use her influence for social justice rather than just educating people about our culture. Using that power to influence change in the lives of Latinas is of the utmost importance. There are some Latinas that are making strides such as Galina Espinoza, the co-president and editorial director at Latina Media Ventures. Last year she teamed up with Planned Parenthood Federation of America to discuss Latinas and their sexual health. Sandra Guzman is another Latina who is raising awareness with her book, The New Latina’s Bible [P | I]. The book inspires Latinas and gives them greater self esteem. This is extremely important since statistically, Latinas attempt suicide at a higher rate than other races.

In the future, I could embrace the role of a public intellectual. It would be my goal to start a press that is dedicated to publishing works about women of color, feminism, GLBTQ issues, and social justice. I had the privilege of getting a master’s degree in the industry which many told me was not necessary. However, I felt that it would give me an edge and as a woman of color I believe it is necessary in order to get into the industry.

Publishing is important to our society because it is the means to give visibility to those who have something important to say. Who better than Latinas?

For further articles pertaining to this topic:

http://www.juliushonnor.com/catalyst/default.aspx.locid-0hgnew0u0%26RefLocID=0hg01b001006001.Lang-EN.htm

http://kenyonreview.org/blog/?p=11785

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On Women, Friendships and Solidarity (From May 2011)

The topic of women and relationships has been on my mind a lot for awhile but it’s been difficult for me to put these feelings and ideas into words. Fortunately, I was given the push to express these sentiments through a guest post on this great website, New Latina. It was a hard piece to write in that I had to come to terms with a lot of what I’ve experienced with some of the women that I have encountered in my life. Overall, it was a way for me to let go of some of those bad memories and to appreciate the here and now. Angelica, the founder and editor of NewLatina is such an intelligent and hardworking woman. I really admire her work and determination, and this makes me feel proud to be a Latina.

Ever since I started school, my friendships with girls were challenging.  Of course, elementary school consisted of girls stating that you were copying them (i.e. certain phrases, fads), making fun of you, and talking about you behind your back.

In high school it was pretty much the same, but perhaps more aggressive for some of the girls in my class. Fortunately, I didn’t experience too many difficulties with them, but it wasn’t without its trying times. It’s interesting that many of the conflicts that arose among these girls were based on their relationships with boys. By the end of high school, I got used to dealing with these types of conflicts but I hoped that things in college would be different. I hoped that the drama and pettiness would end.

In college I met a group of friends who were funny, intelligent, and sweet. They were also women of color. In a college that was predominantly White, I felt that I had found my place in this new world that I had to call home for the next four years. As a feminist, I believe that feminism is about the rights of women, social justice, and sisterhood. I thought that I had found that in this group of women in college.

Visit this link for the rest of this post.

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FUG (Feminist Until Graduation) (From July 2010)

This post is a repost from Viva La Feminista’s Summer of Feminista. To learn more, visit http://bit.ly/cJCVdY

My mother suspected that all this crazy feminist talk was a result of my attending Smith. She thought this would be a phase like she thought other things. Unfortunately (for her) it wasn’t. It also didn’t help matters that I became a Study of Women and Gender major. My mother didn’t agree with this not only because it was not explicitly connected with a well to do, money making profession but also because of its association with feminism. Why the reluctance to embrace the term? As a single mother she always told my sister and I to be independent and to never depend on a man. Therefore getting an education has always been important to my family. Many of my family members were not given the opportunity to get a higher education so being knowledgeable and self sufficient was critical. I see feminism all over this.

At Smith, I was involved in the feminist organization, Feminists of Smith Unite! (FSU!). I was among young Caucasian women who were passionate about their cause and wanted to organize to make sure their interests were being acknowledged. I was one of the few Latinas involved in the organization and after awhile, their investment in the organization lessened dramatically and eventually, they were no longer involved. I became co-chair and there were members who suspected that I was the first Latina co-chair of FSU!. This was never confirmed but it shows that feminism was and probably is still not something that is prevalent in the lives of women of color at Smith. Even in my participation in Nosotras, the Latina organization, I felt that I needed to bring in my feminist beliefs because the subject of feminism was not discussed. As the social chair, I organized the panel, “Race and Feminism: Latina Perspectives.” I wanted to create a venue where there would be discussions about Latinas and feminism. I wanted Latinas who consider themselves feminists in one room discussing the implications of this and how they came to this conclusion about their identities. My mother may have never used the word but she indeed raised me to be a feminist. I know this sentiment is shared with other Latinas because a panelist on the “Race and Feminism” panel mentioned how her mother brought her up as a feminist yet her mother said: “pero no lo sabia.” Feminism has always been viewed as a “white woman’s issue” - something that only privileged women would involve themselves with. Feminism is much more than that. Feminism encompasses people (yes, women and men) of all races, genders, sexualities, classes and more. I wish my mother and other Latinas would understand this of feminism.

My growing up in a female headed household has heavily affected my identity as a woman and as a feminist. All my role models were women – my great grandmother who was outspoken and always said what she thought, and my grandmother who insisted that I get an education – something that no one could take away from me. Feminism wasn’t and will never be a phase for me. I graduated in 2009 and I am still proud to say that I am a feminist. Even though my entire experience as a feminist has consisted of defending myself against my mother, it has strengthened my resolve to embrace this part of me.

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