VIANCA COLON-BARRETO

Vianca Colon-Barreto
About our Columnist: Vianca Colón-Barreto is an 18-year-old amateur columnist who began professionally writing in January of 2019. She currently attends Kenmore East High School and is expected to graduate this summer, and hopefully, attending Erie Community College the following Autumn. Vianca is a Buffalo native and is of Puerto Rican descent. She is an artistic and well-rounded individual who occasionally participates in community-based events. She has performed in several spoken word events, her most notable performance being at the 2018 Hispanic Heritage Concert at Kleinhans Music Hall. She is also an art student, having had artwork displayed in student exhibitions from 2015-2017 at the University of Buffalo.

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MENTAL ILLNESS IN THE LATINO COMMUNITY: A SUBJECT MATTER WE CANNOT CONTINUE TO IGNORE!

February 2020 Issue

In our last article, we were able to conclude that susceptibility to mental illness in Latinx communities is the same as the general population. Latin Americans are no less or more likely to suffer from a range of mental health issues than any other group in America. It’s far more common than we think. In fact, we discovered that over 9 million Latin Americans suffer from some type of mental health issue. Some common mental health conditions that Latinos suffer from tend to be “generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD, and an excessive use of drugs and alcohol” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org).
Despite experiencing mental illness to the same degree as the general population, access to and quality of treatment is quite disproportionate. Only about 33% of Latin American adults receive yearly treatment for their mental illness, in comparison to the average 43% in the United States. This disparity leaves room for more severe and long-lasting forms of mental illness.
So why? Why must Latinos suffer more for something that is so common and treatable? Why aren’t Latinos seeking proper treatment for their mental health?
Well, to get to the root of the problem, I think that the question must be rephrased. To understand the full scope of the issue we must look at it from a different angle. Instead of asking “why aren’t” Latinos seeking treatment, we should ask “why can’t” Latinos seek treatment. What is preventing them from doing so? What is holding them back? The answer, it’s a lot… It’s our culture, our privacy, our shame, our religion, our poverty, our language barriers, our social stigma. There are so many reasons as to why Latin Americans can’t/don’t seek treatment.
There is a general stigma around being a person who is mentally ill. If you are mentally in some capacity, you are portrayed as some emotionally unstable individual who others should be weary of. Mentally ill people tend to not be respected or validated. With these stigmas comes the shame and reluctance to talk about these issues.  This leads to a lack of knowledge and information about the topic. “We cannot know what nobody has taught us. Many Latinos do not seek treatment because they don’t recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions or know where to find help” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Latino communities also tend to be private about challenges at home or in their personal life. There’s a common idiom in Spanish that goes “la ropa sucia se lava en casa.” It translates to “the dirty clothes are washed at home.”  It basically means that what happens in your home or personal life, stays at home or to yourself. This is a big part of our culture, so to challenge this key notion is to go against everything you’ve been taught, which is a whole another issue. It’ll leave more to discuss next month though. Thanks for listening, till next time!

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MENTAL ILLNESS IN THE LATINO COMMUNITY: A SUBJECT MATTER WE CANNOT CONTINUE TO IGNORE!

September  2019

For this month, I would like to discuss mental health issues within our Latino communities. It is a subject I’ve been wanting to write about for months, simply because I am a Latina American person who happens to suffer from a mental illness. Not only that, there are so many people like me who don’t see themselves, and their suffering represented or validated. Our communities need to learn about mental illness. It is not going away! Mental illness is a legitimate issue, part of the human experience and no one is exempt from it. It affects everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, age, etc.… So, to be left out of the dialogue should no longer be tolerated or acceptable. I want to start an open dialogue for Latino Americans who suffer from mental health issues. I’d like to cultivate freedom, acceptance, and a wealth of information and knowledge for Latino Americans who seek it. And I’d like to see it start here.
There are an estimated 58.9 million Latino Americans residing within the United States, which makes up about 18.1% of the overall population. Of the Latino population recorded in 2017, 62% of the nation’s Latino population was of Mexican origin, 9.5% of Puerto Rican origin, with about 4% each of Cuban and Salvadoran, and 3.5% Dominican. The remaining 17% of other Central American or Southern American origin, or origin directly from Spain. About 16% of Latino American adults live with a mental health condition, which translates to 9,424,000 million people. In short, there is a large presence of mentally ill Latino Americans in the United States.  Mental illness has always been portrayed as a myth within Latino communities, hardly is it ever given the time of day. But to see actual numbers and statistics of people in your community, people who share your ethnic background and culture, who share the same problems as you, are absolutely validating! Which is amazing! But on the other hand, it raises some concern. Even though 9,424,000 million is relatively small to the remaining 49,478,000 Latin American population, it is still over 9 million people that we are talking about here; and what about those 9 million Latino Americans? How many are being treated for their mental illnesses?  Do they have access to treatment? I’ll talk about it in next month’s issue. Please share this article or information with your family members, friends, and colleagues.

National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Services  —- Hotline and  Website in Buffalo and Erie County   / 716-834-3131

Sources: 

Hispanic Facts
Latino Mental Health
Overcoming Mental Health Stigma in the Latino Community
Hispanic and Latino Americans
Multucultural Mental Health Facts Manuel 

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ON THE EFFECTS OF AGE ON THE WAY WE LEARN LANGUAGES

(August 2019 Issue)

Because of the effects of age on the way we learn language, we should consider how important it is to learn more than one language as soon as possible. Research shows that learning more than one language can stimulate growth in areas of the brain such as the hippo-campus and cerebral cortex, which results in better language skills overall. Being multilingual has also proven to build cognitive skills that are completely unrelated to language and can even prevent dementia. It’s also been proven to delay early onset Alzheimer’s disease symptoms by four year. This of course is related to being multilingual.
Having conducted substantial amounts of research and analyzes, people should find value in learning more than one language because of the benefits it provides. Not only is multilingualism cross-culturally habitual, with 60-70% of the world’s population being multilingual, but being multilingual greatly improves a person’s mental and physical health. Research has shown that learning more than one language promotes better concentration, comprehension, memory retention, and multi-tasking. Being multilingual can even help prevent degenerative diseases. Having established this, learning another language, or even multiple languages, has easily proven itself to be beneficial. Thank you for reading!
Works Cited:
“The Advantages of Learning a Second Language.” Student Resources In Context, Gale, 16 Apr. 2015
Barber, E. J. W. “Language, Linguistics, and Literacy.” New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, Vol. 3, Detroit, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, pp. 1231-38. Student Resources In Context.
“Connectivity and Competition: Multilingualism in Ancient Italy 800-200 BC.” Mena Report, 29 Nov. 2018. General OneFile.
DeKeyser, R. M. (2017). Age in Learning and Teaching Grammar. In the TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching (eds J. I. Liontas, T. International Association and M. DelliCarpini). doi:10.1002/9781118784235.eelt0106
Macías, Reynaldo F. “Bilingualism and Multilingualism.” New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, vol. 1, Detroit, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, pp. 209-13. Student Resources in Context  — Accessed 9 Jan. 2019.
“Multilingualism Education Unifies, Expert Says.” UWIRE Text, 9 Oct. 2018, p. 1. General OneFile.
“TimesCast / Understanding Hyperpolyglots.” General OneFile, Gale, 9 Mar. 2012,  Accessed 11 Jan. 2019.

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THE BENEFITS OF LEARNING ANOTHER LANGUAGE

(Part ll – July 2019 Issue)

Continuing with children’s relationship with language, children learn “implicitly”, which means they are able to absorb have a substantial amount of knowledge of a language but are not consciously aware of it. Adults can possess a substantial amount of knowledge prior to developing any knowledge “that can be used with the same speed, accuracy, and spontaneity with which children use their implicit knowledge”. Teens and adults depend on analysis and working memory, whereas children utilize patterns in sound and short-term memory.
Because of the fluidity in learning with children, those who learn more than one language before the age of 6 are more likely to become native speakers in all aspects of a language but the older children get the harder it becomes to be fluent in a language (DeKeyser 1). Timing and sequence heavily impact how a person learns a language, so much that researchers have discovered distinctions between kinds of multilingualism​. An example of different​ kinds of multilingualism ​can be informal and formal bilinguals. People who are “formal bilinguals” are people who learn a language in school or academic settings, where people who are informal bilinguals learn their languages outside of settings like schools, “imitating the natural processes of acquiring the mother tongue”.
Another distinction in multilingualism is hyperpolyglots. Hyperpolyglots are multilingual people who are able to retain knowledge and learn languages at much faster rates than the average person. Their neurology is much different than most providing them the capabilities to learn several languages with ease. Research has shown that hyperpolyglots tend to be​ “males, left-handed and… take pleasure in pouring over grammar and vocabulary exercises that others might find tedious.”​ Hyperpolyglots also tend to use various methods to learn another language. These methods can range from being on online chat rooms where only one language is spoken, watching TV or listening to music in a language, reading a book in a language, and so much more.
In the experience of one hyperpolyglot, “​I’ll probably go through anywhere between three to 15 hours of audio programs and then, after I’m relatively confident in terms of vocabulary, I’ll start reading and watching the news. I’ll read the BBC, I’ll go through English and then Arabic, Farsi, maybe Swahili or Indonesian. I’m guessing [foreign language] would be to make it legal. You know, once I’m really confident with a language, I can watch a movie without reading the subtitles [background talking] and also, I can feel a little bit less guilty about you know, watching [laugh] soap operas.”​
Hyperpolyglots provide great insight into how the brain functions when learning multiple languages. Their proficiency can open new doors in the way of learning. I’ll be finishing up this series next month, so please stay tuned!
See you next month.

The Benefits of Learning Another  Language

Part 1 (June 2019 Issue)

Linguistics is the study of language and all its aspects. Questions of language and its functions began to emerge during the eighteenth to nineteenth century, among European scholars. But Europeans were certainly not the first to ponder language history and structure. Indian scholar Panini organized a collection of data and analysis on the grammar and sound of Sanskrit in the fourth or fifth B.C.E. Because of these investigations we now have a much better understanding of language functions. Some principle elements of any spoken language may include “the speech sounds themselves, the system of using certain sounds to tell words apart in a given language, the forms of words, the structures by which words are combined into phrases and sentences, and the meaning components”. In the terms of linguists these are known as phonetics, phonemic, morphology, syntax and semantics. Language also has certain designs.
An example of language design can be something like arbitrary speech, which is a speech that allows us to be able to talk about things hypothetically or imaginatively. This type of speech helps us solve theoretical problems. There’s also productive speech, which means when we take conventional vocabulary and speaking patterns to create new messages and new vocabulary and patterns. This design partly contributes to the evolution of speech. Shifting from “basic word writing to syllabic writing” then from “syllabic to alphabetic” is a product of generational rebuilding of learned information, so systems of writing and notation have been restructured by what works best. Humans have also created various mediums of communication, which essentially is multiple ways to teach languages. An example of this can be ASL or American Sign Language. It’s a visual language that possesses all the “structural features and design complexities of a spoken language” only with a different manifestation.
After developing a relative understanding of language history and its functions, we can begin to delve into the science of learning languages, its effects on the brain and how it can benefit us.  Learning a language is important for the brain’s health. “Research shows that children deprived of early exposure to linguistic communication (which happens sometimes with deaf babies) do not develop the neurological structures in the brain necessary for handling the complexities of language later”. Children who aren’t taught how to communicate at a certain age are shown to suffer from neurological damage, thus leaving children intellectually stunted as a result. And though I must stop here, I’ll be happy to write more on the subject in next months column. Till next time!

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE LATINO AND QUEER

(May 2019 Issue)

To be Latino today is to be diverse. Latinos come in different shapes, sizes, sexual orientations, colors and backgrounds, so it’s no longer feasible to maintain old stereotypes of Latinos as a whole. Today’s culture is far more accepting of these differences and has opened a brand-new dialogue as to what it means to be Latino in the 21st century.
Queer identities have always been present in Latin communities but have only been recognized up until recently. To no one’s surprise, the delay in queer inclusion within Latin communities can be attributed to deeply rooted homophobia and toxic masculinity, more formally known amongst Latinos as “Machismo” This has a lot to do with Catholic influence on Latin communities. Though ever threatening, it has left queer Latin activist undeterred. The queer and Latin community have made many strides in recent times. So, let’s take it back to where it all started.
In the summer of 1969, a series of brutal riots and demonstrations occurred. These riots were led by trans women of color against the NYPD for their vicious attacks against the LGBT community. These riots are what triggered the following Gay Rights Movements, so it begs the question… who are we to thank? Countless people, of course. No movement can be attributed to one person, as it would erase the efforts of those who have put their lives on the line for said movement. But if we are to recognize at least one person, it would most definitely be Ms. Sylvia Rivera, transgender rights activist and self-proclaimed drag queen.
She was rumored to have thrown one of the first Molotov cocktails during the riots but was this was later debunked in a 2001 interview. All gossip aside, Rivera did become a leading voice of a revolution. She continued her activism up until her death in 2002. She paved the way for many queer Latinos (queer people in general) despite having the odds stacked against her.
In modern times, being queer and being Latino still has its ups and downs. It has become more celebrated within the LBGTQ+ community, notably creating new terms to represent gender non-conforming people of Latin American descent, “Latinx”, as they call it. It is an alternate of Latino or Latina and caters to those who don’t identify with being male or female. It is a gender-neutral term, which is hard to come by in the Spanish language, being that almost all words are influenced by gender. It’s renowned.
What’s unfortunate though, is that violence against queer Latinos is still never-ending. Despite the progress made and the amount of representation queer Latinos have now, they are still heavily targeted, and it is estimated in 2014 that LGBTQ+ people are the most likely targets of hate crimes in America, vast majority of those killed were black or Latino transgender people.

Sources:

Being Latinx & LGBTQ: An Introduction
Queer, Punk And Latin: A Discussion About Sexual Identity
It Doesn’t Matter Who Threw the First Brick at Stonewall
L.G.B.T. People Are More Likely to Be Targets
of Hate Crimes Than Any Other Minority Group

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