The Legacy of Trauma

I am part of the sweetest book club in all the land. Well actually, we call ourselves a Readers Club cause we don’t want to limit ourselves to only reading books. Maybe we wanna read an article, or a graphic novel, or watch a movie together based on a book! Or maybe we want to get together and just chat about how much we love our dogs, and maybe we have talked about renaming our club Dogs Who Read Books and Bark and Watch TV Shows Club. You can’t pigeonhole us!

This club was born of wanting to spend more time with friends who we don’t see enough, new friends who we want to get to know better, and committing to consuming books and media created only by people of color, women, immigrants, queers, and femmes. We rotate hosts, we vote on what we will read next, we share snack duties and there is a dog (or two) at every one of our meetings. At our last get together the host, Leif, went above and beyond. We all grilled, there was a kiddie pool, we sat in Leif’s beautiful backyard, and the night ended with us sitting in the pool, eating hippie otter pops, next to a beautiful fire that Leif had built. Tell me that isn’t dreamy.

One of the books we were discussing at our last meeting was The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende.

Isabel Allende has been a long time favorite of my family’s. She is an internationally recognized Chilean author, my father has written books about her writing and counts her among his friends, my brother named his daughter after one of her famous collection of stories, and mom has read everything she has ever written.

But not me!

Probably because I am a total brat and had to do everything to try and differentiate myself from my family, I decided to completely ignore the Allende canon. Until within the context of this very supportive and fun space, I thought I could finally read and discuss Allende’s first novel.


It is hard to express the emotional journey that La Casa de Los Espiritus (I much prefer the title in Spanish) took me on, because words fail me, and are generally lacking to express complex and deep emotions. But I’m gonna try, cause this is a blog, and presumably you came here to see words.

Never before in my life have I felt so understood by a work of literature. I had no idea what the book was about, and didn’t realize it would build up to a depiction of the 1973 CIA backed Chilean military coup, which ousted socialist president Salvador Allende (related to Isabel Allende) and put into place the military dictator Pinochet, who amassed countless human rights violations from 1973 till 1990.

My family lived this. In every way. My father’s cousins were imprisoned and tortured for being communists, my parents helped hide contraband guns and my mother played “socialist telephone” through her therapy office, sharing and trading political secrets with those trying to resist the government, find their “disappeared” loved ones, or escape the country and seek asylum.

Also during this time- my parents had their first child and, within the year, lost her to a rare form of leukemia.

Within this context of loss they decided to leave their home country and move to the United States, ultimately settling in New York City. Here they did their best to, in so many ways, start new lives. They had to learn a new language, a new culture, all while grieving the loss of their first child, their home, and their community. They got jobs, finished degrees, had children, moved to the suburbs. And when my brother and I were born, even though in every way we were American- born on US soil, learning English as we learned Spanish- the truth of our parent’s trauma, the trauma of our lineage, the heritage of imperialism, was ever present. In the stories that they told us, in the food they fed us, in the country we knew we actually belonged to.

The military coup that occurred in Chile on September 11, 1973 was fueled by the motivation of capitalism. It didn’t serve the interest of the rich, and by extension the “first world” (read: the United States) to have the poor and disenfranchised citizens of countries long pillaged by Spanish colonialism, elect their leaders; It endangered business interests to have poor farmers read Marx and imagine worker’s rights. And so the upper class, factions of the government that wanted more power and wealth, and surely a whole other cast of unsavory characters, teamed up with the CIA to overthrow the socialist government and instill a despotic military regime.

For the next 17 years this regime literally traumatized dissenters.

Trauma is stored on a cellular level. It gets into the fiber of your being, it affects the way your body functions, and it is passed from mother to child for generations. This is why imperialism works so well- you need only to break families once to have a ripple effect. At the time of our reading The House of the Spirits, the current US political administration is systematically separating asylum seeking families at the “US boarder.” Literally taking children from their parents and keeping them in holding cells.

We are taught in school that imperialism is a thing of the past, relegated to our history books and the darkest corners of our imagination. But you know what imperialism actually is? Yes, it is the taking of land and resources- but in practice, it is the breaking of bodies, the altering of cells, the trauma that becomes blood and spans generations. Imperialism is happening right now, with children who are scared and not with their families- they are learning and internalizing fear, isolation, and loss. Deep deep loss.

The practice of taking children from families is a long standing tradition of imperialism. And these children who have most recently been separated from their parents will grow up facing all the same challenges everyone else does, but with the added challenge of that fear response. Of anxiety and depression that creeps up, that goes undiagnosed or untreated. That needs to be ignored in exchange for mere survival. It is literally the difference between surviving and thriving.


I have struggled with anxiety for much of my life. Mostly I have tried to ignore it and when I think as to the root cause, I can figure some things out, but mostly I get frustrated. I think of myself as weak and like if only I could just think it away, do some complicated equation in my head, I could come out the other side anxiety-free.

A few months ago, while laying in bed on a rare lazy Saturday morning Lola said “I think part of why you are so anxious is because you have inherited, on a cellular level, the trauma that your mom has carried around.” How beautiful, to have a companion at your side who can lovingly help you see yourself.

To say my mom and I are similar is an understatement. In so many ways, we are carbon copies. As a child I watched her struggle with anxiety. I was acutely attuned to the triggers and warning signs of her panic attacks- restaurants with loud music, excusing herself to go to the bathroom several times, bright lights or extreme heat. As I moved through my 20s and found myself starting to exhibit my own signs of anxiety, I felt a sense of despair. My mother’s fate was my own, I was becoming that which I most feared in her, my weakness catching up to me. I was her child, and this was my birthright, my inheritance.

I never stopped to consider where it was coming from and what it meant, why my body and mind seemed more prone to anxiety and fear response. This isn’t about blame, not at all. I love my mother and her strength astonishes and amazes me, strength that was also passed down to me, that is also a part of who I am. This is about seeing how factors beyond her control, controlled in fact by fascists, had a deep and adverse impact on her quality of life. Its about seeing how that has found its place in my reality, without mine or her consent.

Reading The House of the Spirits was like reading a road map through the time and space. Its a terrain that I haven’t necessarily walked all of myself, but it is familiar and I know it in my bones. Its a terrain that my family, my ancestors, all the energy and life force that came together to bring me into existence, have traversed. Have endured. Have lived through.

This is, RIGHT NOW, about seeing how imperialism isn’t conceptual- it is something that is continuing to unfold before our very eyes. And you know what else can’t be conceptual? The dismantling of imperialism, and the active role we all can, nay NEED, to take to interrupt the perpetuation of trauma.


The book we are reading now to be discussed at our next meeting is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. He clearly and devastatingly articulates that the breaking of the body, specifically the black body, is terrorism. To break the body is to break the spirit and is to break communities- interrupting life with constant grief. I can’t understand the reality of being black in America, and in very many ways my skin keeps me more safe and living in different reality than that of black PoC in this country. The breaking of bodies happens to varying degrees and extremes to different groups of people, but to a certain extent it happens to all bodies that are deemed “other.” It is the breaking of that which isn’t male, which isn’t white, which isn’t straight, able bodied, monied, clearly “gendered,” and believing in Christ. It breaks those of us who are extra and who don’t fit or make “sense.”

I am not sure what needs to be done here, but I do think a first step is to see that although our pain is very much real and very much ours, it isn’t our fault. I suppose there is a certain amount of cause and effect, but living within a broken system- how much are all our choices and actions really ours?

Writing all this down was hard and a little disheartening. Mostly I don’t just want to be an observer- guess its in my Aries nature to find and offer a solution. But I don’t think I can for this. So I guess I will just end with a petition, which I think in some ways can lead to undoing some trauma. My beautiful others- lets care for ourselves, and care for each other. Our struggles are not the same, but our liberation is bound and none of us can be free until all of us are free. Oh, and you should read The House of the Spirits and Between the World and Me. And maybe start a book club to discuss.

P.S. Happy Chilean Independence day. On this day in 1810, Chile started the process of ending Spanish rule. Layers of Colonialism and Imperialism.




Of Therapy, Race and Unpaid Labor

About two years ago shit was getting super real and with every passing day it become increasingly apparent that I was in need of some GOOD CLEAN THERAPY.

I was raised by therapists, and my brother is a therapist- I often joke that its the family business and wonder to myself how long it will take me to just give into the familial calling and become a therapist myself.

I will now guide you on a picturesque stroll through therapist-memories past-

  1. I had a childhood therapist analyze my IQ for scholarly aptitude at age 7. This was bogus though because the test was done in English and the time I primarily spoke and understood only Spanish. Bet that douche isn’t bilingual.
  2. During my parent’s divorce, my brother and I endured family therapy with the dreaded Evan- she was the first to suggest we be given chores to help my mom out. Can you even handle the nerve?!?! My job was to set the table. My brother’s job was to take the trash down the hall to the trash chute. One night he decided that rather than walk down the hall a few hundred feet,  he would chuck it off of our eighth floor balcony. The trash bag landed on the balcony of our downstairs neighbors, exploded, and littered their property with our mail. Not exactly an airtight plan right there.
  3. I asked for a therapist my first year of high school- actually just for fun. My mom found me an older lady with cats, who lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She didn’t understand me AT ALL.
  4. I was provided with a therapist after my abortion my second year of high school and I requested a male therapist this time around- who the FUCK can even understand why. I think I was trying to be edgy, and he was as confused as I was.
  5. I got myself a therapist through my college my sophomore year when I started experiencing extreme anxiety- Marge Litchford. Marge was a great therapist but then later went on to hit on me and completely disrespect the patient-therapist code of conduct, opting instead for a complete abuse of power which included (but wasn’t limited to) using facts from my life that I shared in therapy against me in a sick game of Two Truths and a Lie. Playing the game was her idea. So was inviting me out to dinner and suggesting that although she can’t “break the rules,” (presumably because of her occupation as a THERAPIST, our extreme age difference, my status as a former patient of hers…) I should “throw caution to the wind.” These last two comments were completely unprompted by me, and punctuated a bizarre night of personal panic and dissociation.
  6. This last experience seriously soured me on therapy, which is a shame because I really needed help at the time. Smith College provided me with a therapist to process the situation with Marge – just to cover their asses- but they didn’t fire her. In fact, they promoted her, and for the remainder of my college career I would endure public panic attacks any time I saw her on campus.
  7. I don’t feel any sort of guilt here using her actual name and the name of my school. According to Smith’s website, Marge is now available via Google Chat. How nice.
  8. Took a long hiatus from therapy after college.
  9. I decided I needed more therapy sometime during my first year in Portland. Probably because I couldn’t understand why I had moved to Portland- but thats neither here nor there. I started with the therapist my partner at the time was seeing, but she was really nice and gentle, and I need someone to smack me when I try to bullshit my way through things. She clearly wasn’t up for the task.
  10. She suggested I see this other person, who was located a 45 minute drive from my house- which is hard to imagine, considering everything in Portland is within like a five mile radius. Previous therapist assured me that this therapist would “hold my feet to the fire.” But alas, she wasn’t up for the task of my BS either.

So I gave up for a little bit. And during this break once mentioned to my ex that I didn’t understand how everyone in the queer community was always talking about how they were healing. I was like – I’m not healing from anything- IM FINE.


But the truth is- I wasn’t healing because I was in the depths of denial. And after years of suppressing everything, things started to boil over. At the time that I started realizing it was time to get back to therapy, I was going through a break-up, my father was getting sober and suffering extreme fluctuations in health (he also moved to back to Chile at this time and found out that my step mother— whom he had been married to for over 25 years— was gas-lighting him), I was starting the process of buying a house- which is a total privilege and also very stress inducing, and my body was showing extreme physical manifestations of anxiety- – – I really needed to talk to someone.

I strongly believe in the clarity that can come from processing with someone who is completely uninvolved in your life, but the task of getting into therapy is daunting, and finding the right one can feel like an insurmountable challenge. There should be a Tinder for therapists- just a brief snippet of what they focus on, if they accept insurance, what their sliding scale is if they don’t take insurance, and as cute or calming a picture as they can find. Cause finding a therapist is like dating, if dating involved delving into your most vulnerable shit in one hour increments every single time you go out. And always being the one that pays for dinner.

One weekend I drove out to the coast for a friend’s going away party, and she asked if I could bring one of her friends back to Portland with me. On the 2 hour drive home we talked about all kinds of stuff, one of them being therapy, and she told me that her current therapist had changed her life. I took it as a sign that maybe this could be the therapist for me. She mentioned that her therapist- we shall call her Cindy- also worked with sound healing, which in my head I was like “what the hell is that???” but didn’t press the matter and instead got Cindy’s contact info and thanked my new friend for the lead.

I should note here that I am a no-nonsense East Coaster and when I first moved to Portland was allergic to all talk of: astrology, tarot, woo, crystals, phases of the goddamn moon etc.


The first session went just fine. We got some basics out of the way, and I found that I enjoyed speaking with her. I was right there with her on most of her insights, and her take on things. The first session ends without much fan-fair.

Second session- I wear my hair in braids, which is what I do when its too greasy for decency and I don’t have time or motivation to shower before getting on with my day. I sit down for the session, and she looks at me and with a smile says “Well, don’t you look like your beautiful indigenous self.”

This is the part where the record stops because she is a nice older white lady, and I am young and ornery Latina.

Like in most questionable racist and misogynist moments, I swallow my shock, and carry on. Because, as backwards as this is, I don’t want to question someone and make them feel uncomfortable or on the spot. I don’t want to assume the worst, and clearly she thought she was paying me a compliment. But fucking hell, if I don’t get a stupid ass comment every time I wear my hair in braids.

I work in customer service in Portland Oregon, for crying out loud. Talk about mislead white people trying to be nice by fetishizing you incessantly. I think people get excited when it looks like “Pocahantas” is making their latte.

Here is a snippet of some of the things people have actually said to me during my time in Portland-

Wow your skin is so tan. NO- its not “tan” if its my year round skin color.

Omg you went camping for the first time just 2 years ago? Thats so chola of you! NO- chola isn’t a blanket term for all Latin American people raised in an urban environment. Also- what?

Gracias for my latte! NO- I took your order in English, you are not my friend, my language isn’t just a fun tourist moment for you. ALSO what a privilege to just speak spanish freely as a white person, without ANY THREAT OF DEPORTATION.

You speak Spanish?! No way- can you teach me? NO- will you just quickly teach me coding in exchange? Also- see above. Also, why? Like really- why do you want to know how to speak Spanish? So you can order your burrito in Spanish? Give me a break.


So here is this new nice therapist, saying some super questionable shit to me. But I push on with the session and in my head tell myself I am never coming back.

During the following days I tell everyone about what Cindy said. “O M G can you believe this lady?” “blah blah blah what a terrible person!” And my friends and community members lovingly followed along, ooed and ahhed and agreed and said, “ugh you clearly need to leave. her. in. the. dust!”

And yes- that was a totally bone-headed misguided thing to say. But also, now stay with me here- People Mess Up. That doesn’t make it ok, and its up to PoC on an individual basis to make the choice regarding how much unpaid labor they want to put into the general education of white people. But I knew that there was more going on for me here. Yes, she said something offensive, but also, I was pretty freaked out about taking steps to move towards healing, and trying things that were new to me (like, um, sound healing…) that could be good for my anxiety, my relaxation, and my relationship to therapy. It would have been much easier for me to ditch this therapist and claim that she couldn’t understand me based on her misunderstanding of race and fetishizing- which would be well within my right- than it would have been for me to confront her about the comment and push forth into the unknown, taking potential steps towards some personal healing.

I have done a lot of unpaid emotional labor in my life- both femme and PoC. It exhausts me, it really does. I also have come to understand that some of it is my work in this world. I have found myself countless times in positions of mediation and leadership, starting at age 5; some of those situations have been detrimental to me and have been forced upon me without my consent. Other times that position has helped shape me into who I am, has played off of innate strengths and a deep ability to empathize, and has given me strength. I engage in this labor at work, where I do get paid, and in my social and familial life, where I have needed to develop tools to discern whether or not it is additive or detrimental. I have worked a lot on learning to have boundaries.

At the next session, I sat across from her and said:

“Before we get started, I need to address a comment you made last session.”

I outlined what she had said, how it made me feel, and why it was inappropriate and steeped in white supremacy. She apologized, explained where she was coming from, and didn’t make excuses. She thanked me for helping her understand. We got into a deeper conversation about choosing to be in a therapeutic relationship, and how both parties involved need to make sure its a good fit. She said:

“I understand you have reservations about working with me, and I thank you for telling me about those reservations. I too have my reservations about working with you.”

“What are those reservations?”

“You are very cut off emotionally and I am not totally sure that you are interested in digging deep and making yourself vulnerable to the process.”


We shared our reservations, our honest observations about each other and whether or not the relationship could work; I felt like she was seeing me as clearly as she could.

What I have gained over the past two years of therapy with her has been invaluable and imperative. I had a few sessions of sound healing- and it was weird and not totally my thing, but I am glad I tried it- and worked at unraveling why I go right into my thoughts when an emotion comes up, worked at understanding family of origin relationships that no longer serve me to perpetuate, and got closer to feeling my own personal power and standing more fully in myself.


I am honestly still on the fence a lot of the time regarding how much its the responsibility of PoC to teach white people about the ways in which they perpetuate racism and white supremacy. Even without meaning to or knowing thats what they are doing. Cause, duh, white people- you have access to the internet and BOOKS and a responsibility to be the least shitty iteration of yourself. PoC are also engaging in personal work, and the added work of holding your hand through race 101 (and putting up with white fragility and tears) is really, just honestly, asking too much. And so actually, fuck being on the fence- its NOT the responsibility of ANY PoC to guide you through understanding your racism. Just like it isn’t femme/female identified people’s responsibility to help misogynists (in alllll their iterations) stop speaking over the femmes and female identified people in their lives.

If individuals benefitting from the power of being favored within dominant culture find themselves learning from a member of any marginalized community, they are extremely lucky.

In this situation with the therapist, I did the math in my head of what I stood to lose from making myself extremely vulnerable and helping a white person evolve, vs. what I could possibly gain. I ended up gaining a positive long term relationship with a therapist who helped me a lot. In 90% of cases where I am working to help lift the veil of white supremacy and the patriarchy, I actually gain very little aside from knowing that I am *maybe* keeping someone else in my community from having to do the work for this particular individual. My chance of not being objectified or fetishized in this particular instance has passed, and I missed it.

And this is a VERY cursory explanation of the risk management those of us in marginalized communities asses on a constant basis moving through this world.

I guess my ultimate take away is that my relationship to therapy, especially the white anglo tradition of therapy, has always been a complicated one; its been a relationship that at times has taken more away from me than it has given me. I am back on another hiatus, and as with most other parts of my life, unpaid PoC labor played a role in this most recent leg of my “therapy journey.”

Interacting with each other within the system of white supremacy affords us all with various opportunities: the opportunity to learn, the opportunity to work and teach, the opportunity to assert boundaries, and the chance to feel both enlightened and exhausted. Its up to each of us, my fellow PoC queer femmes with whom I share my particular community, to make the call for ourselves when to engage, and when to keep ourselves safe and for ourselves.

I know the work needs to be done, and that teaching is, and will continue to be, an imperative part of dismantling white supremacy.  But I think its important to understand at what cost it actually comes.