LA RED TIG Week: Understanding Systemic Trauma When Working With Latinx Communities by Josephine V. Serrata, Gabriela Hurtado Alvarado, & Laurie Cook Heffron

Hello, we are evaluators, researchers and practitioners who work alongside Latinx communities in Austin, TX. Josephine V. Serrata, Ph.D. is an independent evaluation consultant and licensed psychologist, Gabriela Hurtado Alvarado, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and research program manager at the University of Texas at Austin, and Laurie Cook Heffron, Ph.D. is a licensed social worker and professor at St. Edward’s University. This post focuses on a recent project involving immigrant Latina women who experienced family detention while seeking asylum at the US border.

As promoters of culturally relevant research and evaluation, we strongly feel that evaluators who are working within Latinx communities must develop an understanding of the multiple ways that systemic trauma (e.g., environments and organizations that give rise to trauma and sustain it) impacts Latinx communities collectively. We would like to share some lessons learned from our recent project as an example of the intersecting traumas that Latinx communities may face.

Lesson Learned #1: Asylum Seekers Are Often Fleeing Severe Violence and Trauma. For example, violence in the Northern Triangle and Mexico has increased significantly in the past few years. These areas have often been dominated by criminal groups causing increases in the rates of gender-based violence, extortion, gang violence, and human trafficking.  These perilous circumstances push people to flee their countries of origin to pursue safety. Evaluators should consider what having this experience may mean when working with these populations.

Lesson Learned #2: Our Systems are Replicating Violence and Trauma. Individuals that have been detained describe that immigration detention centers in the U.S. are restrictive environments where they struggle to get their needs met. Previously detained women noted that physical and mental health services are inadequate. Asylum seekers also have to describe their experiences of trauma during a credible fear interview, which can exacerbate stress and be retraumatizing.

Lesson Learned #3: The Impact of Systemic Trauma is Far Reaching. The current political climate has created stressful and unsafe circumstances for Latinos living in the U.S. In fact, hate crimes against Latinos have increased significantly since 2014. This does not only include immigrants, but also permanent residents and U.S. citizens. Although researchers have found that Latinos are now experiencing more anxiety, PTSD, as well as other emotional and behavioral health symptoms, it is also important to remember the resiliency and strength of the Latinx community as they actively resist systemic oppression.

Rad Resources:

This document shares more information about understanding trauma and trauma-informed care through a Latinx lens.

This measure is a good starting point for evaluators who are evaluating trauma-informed practice.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Latina/o Responsive Evaluation Discourse TIG Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from LA RED Topical Interest Group members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


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