Twenty-year-old Alejandra Gonzalez and her 42-year-old mother Carmen Hugon might not share the same taste in clothing or shoes, but they love horror movies, cooking and enjoy staying in.
They describe themselves as listeners more than talkers, and their disagreements, at least in public, are playful: “She likes chiles rellenos,” Hugon says about her daughter’s favorite home-cooked meal. “I’d say that I like tacos dorados more,” Gonzalez rebuts, with a smirk.
The pair, who were both raised between the U.S. and Mexico, say their relationship is open and honest. But it wasn’t always like this. In middle school, Gonzalez was a victim of sexual assault, which led her into depression and forced the family to embrace a new way of thinking and talking.
Navigating trauma and mental health was uncharted territory for them. It took time, but the family eventually started therapy — an experience that was new to both mother and daughter.
“She didn’t understand therapy or how it worked,” said Gonzalez about her mother. When they first went, “there was a lot of crying and uncomfortable feelings and she thought that’s what therapy would always be like.”
While the idea of talking to a therapist was foreign to her, Hugon says she has seen how it’s helped her daughter and their relationship.
“We have more communication with her. She tells us what bothers hers. She wouldn’t tell us before, Hugon says. “It has been positive for everyone.”
Much like Hugon and Gonzalez, a new generation of young Latinos is having difficult conversations with their parents on topics that have often been ignored. The work put in has led to stronger relationships and helped bridge cultural and generational gaps.
We sat down with Gonzalez and Hugon to have a candid conversation about their childhoods, relationship, and how their lives have changed through therapy. This is a translated, all-English version of the interview that has been edited for length and clarity. The original version published by De Los contains statements in English and Spanish, depending on the language spoken by the interviewee.
How would you say your childhoods differed?
Gonzalez: We grew up moving around. My dad was deported when we were young, and then we moved to Mexico to be with him. We had to take the bus at a young age by ourselves. I saw it as really scary and my mom saw it as “these kids can be alone, we don’t have to worry about them.” I don’t see it like that. I just look back at our childhood and I feel a disconnect from it.
Hugon: My mom was always very strict and didn’t let me go out and my dad always worked. They beat us when me and my sister fought. But it’s something that I think my generation went through because everyone got hit.
What is something your generations don’t understand about each other?
Gonzalez: That [our parents] are people separate from being a parent. They are people that had a childhood, they had teenage years, they have goals. I feel like they reduce immigrant parents to just that, just the parent.
Hugon: I think the way you express yourself. There are many things that when I was younger were not so offensive, and now there are many things that are offensive and one has to learn not to say them.
Watch a video version of the interview:
Is it difficult to talk about your feelings with each other?
Gonzalez: Growing up, watching movies of teenagers and how they interacted with their parents made me have this idea of what a parent was. So I just wasn’t very open with my feelings. I think I’m really open with her now.
Hugon: Yes it’s difficult, but I do it. When you don’t have your parents or your sister nearby, you have to rely on [your children] and sometimes I say “it shouldn’t be like that, I should be the support for them, not they for me.”
How did you find therapy as an option?
Gonzalez: We got help from school first. It was an on and off thing. … My mom and I were very new to therapy, we didn’t understand it. After a while I stopped going. In August last year I started going to therapy again with someone my sister helped find.
Did you ever feel any kind of shame about therapy?
Hugon: I’ve never been ashamed, but sometimes people don’t understand what therapy is and they think you’re crazy. When I was younger, therapy was not used. There wasn’t any, or there was and we were not aware of it.
How has your communication changed after therapy?
Gonzalez: I think therapy has helped communicate my feelings and needs more with both my mom and my family. … As I grew older and my mental health was getting worse, my sister was there for me for support and made me look at my parents in another way.
Hugon: The communication that my daughters and I have now was not always like this… [Therapy] helped us to have more communication and for her to talk more. Little by little, she began to talk more and go out more with friends.
What are three things that you’ve come to value the most in life?
Gonzalez: My art, my relationship with my siblings and my mental health. I have anxiety, and it really showed up when I was a child. And that stopped me from doing things I wanted to do. As I became older, I realized that there were resources and help out there. I just found out that my mental illnesses shouldn’t stop me from doing what I wanted to do.