identities

Learning How To Cope With The Conflict Of My Mother’s Strong Belief In La Calladita And My Autism Spectrum Disorder

It’s Christmas 1989. I’m in the back seat of the car wearing a puffy sleeved velvet dress, patent leather shoes, and scratchy lace trimmed socks. And she starts in as usual.

“Remember to stand straight. Don’t fidget. Make eye contact. Kiss everyone hello. Respect your tías and tíos. Have good conversation. Be amenable. Never leave without saying ‘goodbye’ to everyone. Twice. And never forget that ‘good girl’ do not disgrace their families.”

My mother’s mantra.

Being a nine-year-old American Mexican on the border of Mexico when your family’s social circle are upper-class Mexicans made childhood a Byzantine labyrinth to navigate.

Photo provided by: Veneranda Aguirre

But there was no option for failure. Good Mexican girls are social. Shyness, awkwardness, and inability to maintain certain standards are not just a sign of weakness, they are absolutely unacceptable and will be addressed when you get home, desgraciada.

I knew I was different from a very young age. There was a litany of ways but all of them related to crippling anxiety. I tried to bring these issues up using my limited vocabulary, but saying, “I don’t feel good,” to my mom over and over ad nauseum only got me the look. So like a baby left to cry in a crib, I learned not to complain anymore.

I sucked it up and internalized my constant discomfort.

It was not that my mother did not care. It was that no one in 1989 knew what autism looked like in young girls. “Rain Man” had just come out the year before. And while Dustin Hoffman’s representation of a grown autistic man raised in an institution was respectful, it also set back the autistic community by creating a trope of what autism looked like. This meant some of us slipped through the cracks of diagnosis.

I am not the only Latinx child to go undiagnosed.

Photo provided by: Veneranda Aguirre

According to a 2015 study, Latinx children are diagnosed on average 2.5 years later than white non-Latinx children. Why does this matter? Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) can be reliably diagnosed, and early diagnosis is associated with improved long-term developmental and family outcomes. However, many children who meet the ASD diagnostic criteria are never diagnosed or are diagnosed years after the onset of symptoms. But not only are Latinx children deprived of a timely diagnosis, when they are, but they are also more likely to have severe symptoms than white non-Latinx children. Researchers concluded that underserved Latinx children suffered as a result of parents’ reported low levels of ASD information and high levels of mental health and disability stigma in the Latinx community. Parents had poor access to care due to poverty, limited English proficiency, and lack of empowerment to take advantage of services. Providers sometimes dismissed parents’ concerns. The ASD diagnostic process itself was slow, inconvenient, confusing, and uncomfortable for the child. These factors led many parents to normalize their child’s early behaviors, deny that a problem existed, and lose trust in the medical system.

But back when I was a child, there was no well-known information of ASD among girls, just the extremes that mostly white male children presented with. I did not stutter. I did not have massive breakdowns in public. In general, I presented as normal. But that was not an indicator of having “light” autism. It was that: a) I was a girl and girls on the spectrum are able to adapt better; b) I was highly intelligent so people made allowances for some of my atypical behavior, and c) I was raised to be a good Latina girl and deviation from the ideal was seen as disobedient. There was a lot of spanking. There was a lot of humiliation. And there was a lot of shame.  Now I am an adult. Or so it would seem.

I’m 39, look 25, and sometimes feel 12. But I’m a diagnosed autistic, confirmed at 31 by a diagnostician, who had been quoted in a book I’d read on girls with ASDs, and just happened to live 20 minutes away from my house in Tucson. I am comfortable in my weird skin. I now know that wearing scratchy fabrics, while seemingly inconvenient to most, can lead to a massive breakdown four hours down the road when I have to pick out a bottle of tomato sauce at the grocery stores. The things that set me off are individually insignificant and unrelated but are legion and add up. And I have to live in this neurotypical society where people will not come to my aid if I do break down in the grocery aisle over “nothing.”

You know when you’re watching ducks on a pond and you see the duck gliding along the water, apparently magically floating on the surface? It looks placid. But what you don’t see is that the duck is frantically paddling underwater to keep afloat. I am the duck. The pato.

As an adult with autonomy and agency, I feel enabled to share with friends when an autistic related problem might arise

Photo provided by: Veneranda Aguirre

. So now I don’t just say, “I feel bad.” I say to friends, “I can’t bar hop all night through Brooklyn because the lights and the sounds and all the activity that I meter in doses to keep sane overwhelm me.” The response, while kindly meant, is usually dismissive and destructive. “Oh, that bothers you? Me too!” I get it. They’ve occasionally felt something akin to what I go through on a 24-hour basis, no breaks on weekends or bank holidays. They’ve never felt what I’ve felt. They don’t know the severity and they can never know it fully, no matter what words I use. So I just smile.

What I want to say is, “No, not you too.” It is ironic that the empathy I now receive that I needed so badly as a child is what stifles me as an adult. People don’t get it.

If I was weirder, if I broke down in public, if I presented as “autistic,” they would just take my explanation as fact. But because all of that was beaten and shamed out of me as a young Latina, my issues don’t seem so big. All they see is the pato gliding on the water. And while I am grateful for my upbringing that served as informal therapy and my inborn ability to imitate normalcy if never actually been “normal.” There is a part of this 39-year old woman who wants to pull a foot out of the water, show my friends what happens when I stop constantly treading water, and break down in public. But I never do. For exactly the same reason I never kicked off those squeaky patent leather shoes and ripped off my scratchy lace-trimmed socks in the middle of a fancy dress party as a child. Because I was raised a good Latina.

My mother and I have struggled to find peace.

Photo provided by: Veneranda Aguirre

In some ways we are more intimately connected than any other two people could be. And, in some ways, her rigidity has meant that she will never come to understand who I am. Just this morning while we were talking, she got frustrated at my very literal answer to her question. “Why do you have to be so…” she searched for the right word. “Autistic?” she asked finally. I couldn’t help but smile. She could have called me obstinant or disrespectful. But she finally knew to attribute my action to the right cause. It’s not just that though. She’s starting to pick up on her own symptoms. This is actually quite common. As parents of a child on the spectrum become acquainted with the common factors of ASDs, they see those factors in themselves and realize that they are also on the spectrum. For my mom and me it took years me of repeating that something I did was common amongst autistics for her to first acknowledge that I even had autism and then for her to realize that she did too.

My mother doesn’t have to be around the corner with a fly swatter or a mean look to make me behave anymore. She’s got a permanent residence in my head. So at the end of the day, what am I to do? I can’t change the outside world any more than I can change my autistic brain or my internalized ethnic identity. So I teach one person at a time about the difference between empathy and compassion. What I tell people is that you may never know what my particular brand of pain feels like, but you can be sure it exists if I’m talking about it. And your compassion in my time of expressed need makes this world a little kinder for us all to walk through. Or waddle, as the case may be.


Read: Walking With The Dead On Día de Los Muertos

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The Spanish ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ Is Being Shared To Honor Hispanic Workers Fighting COVID-19

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The Spanish ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ Is Being Shared To Honor Hispanic Workers Fighting COVID-19

There’s no denying that the world looks a lot different now than it did in 1947. And while the list of all of the positive changes that the decades stretching between now and then have done for the world and minorities, a recent campaign is also highlighting the ways in which our current president could take some notes on certain values the United States held dear during this time. Particularly ones that had been pressed for by one of our former presidents.

As part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” effort, he worked to promote positive and healthy relations between the United States in Latin American countries.

At the time Rooseveltaimed to ensure that the North, Central and South American countries avoided breaking under the influence of Axis countries during World War II. As part of this campaign, Roosevelt comissioned a Spanish and a Portuguese version of the U.S. national anthem. According to Time Magazine he also “recruited Hollywood to participate in this Good Neighbor Policy; Walt Disney went on goodwill tour of South America, hoping to find a new market for his films, and ended up producing two movies inspired by the trip: Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944). The Brazilian star Carmen Miranda also got a boost, and her role in The Gang’s All Here made her even more famous in the U.S. And alongside these cross-cultural exchanges, the U.S. government decided it needed an anthem that could reach Spanish speakers.”

According to NPR, Clotilde Arias, wrote wrote the translation at the end of World War II, was born in the small Peruvian city, Iquitos in 1901 and moved to New York City to become a composer when she was 22-years-old. Her version of the anthem is now part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Now in an effort to support Latino communities affected by the coronavirus, the non-profit We Are All Human Foundation’s Hispanic Star campaign commissioned the a remake of the song.

Hoping to raise awareness of its Hispanic Recovery Plan and efforts to help to connect Hispanic small businesses and workers with resources during the pandemic, the campaign brought the old recording from obscurity.

For the song, the 2019 winner of the singing competition La Voz,  Jeidimar Rijos, performed “El Pendón Estrellado.” Or, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

The song has already received quite a bit of comments and support on Youtube.

Hang in there, fam. We can only get through this together.

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A Group Of Primarily Female Mexican Scientists Discovered A Potential Cure For HPV

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A Group Of Primarily Female Mexican Scientists Discovered A Potential Cure For HPV

“If you’re having sex, you’ll likely contract HPV at some point in your life.” That is how one gynecologist explained the sexually transmitted diseases to me, which completely freaked me out. Even though human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus contracted through sexual intercourse, it doesn’t make it less scary when you realize that it’s related to 150 viruses and can lead to cancer for both men and women. While there are vaccines available to prevent the spread of HPV to a broader age group than in previous years, we are finally closer to finding a cure.

A group of primarily female Mexican scientists at the National Polytechnic Institute cured their patients of HPV.

Twitter/@StephDenisse

The team of researchers, led by Dr. Eva Ramos Gallegos (pictured above), treated 420 patients from Veracruz and Oaxaca, and 29 from Mexico City. They used “photodynamic therapy” which “is a treatment that involves using a drug, called a photosensitizer or photosensitizing agent, and a particular type of light to treat different areas of the body” according to their report.

The doctors found extraordinary results through their method of treatment that led to cure 100 percent of the people that had HPV. They also cured 64.3 percent of people infected with HPV that had cancerous cells, and 57.2 percent of people that had cancerous cells without the HPV virus. That last result could mean that a cure for cancer is not far behind.

“Unlike other treatments, it only eliminates damaged cells and does not affect healthy structures. Therefore, it has great potential to decrease the death rate from cervical cancer,” Dr. Gallegos told Radio Guama.

People on social media ecstatically hailed the finding by the Mexicana researchers.

We highly doubt President Trump will ever mention this achievement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has yet to comment on this remarkable finding.

While there’s more testing that will inevitably take place, we will have to wait and see how long it takes for other researchers and scientists to catch on to their method of treatment.

The fact that a woman-led team discovered this cure is something we should all be applauding.

Hopefully, their research will get more funding so they can further test patients and help educate others about their process.

According to the CDC,  79 million Americans, primarily teens and people in the early 20s, are infected with HPV. In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer. The way to prevent contracting HPV is by getting the vaccine — available for males and females — and by using condoms. However, you can still contract HPV because HPV can infect areas not covered by a condom – so condoms may not adequately protect against getting HPV.

READ: Here Are A Handful Of Reasons Why We Need To Talk To Latinx Kids About S-E-X

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