Reporting by Eimee Mendieta Soto and Dania Alejandres
Dozens of community members walked into the Boyle Heights Beat’s headquarters on Saturday, April 22, for the organization’s first community meeting since the COVID pandemic. They were able to enjoy pastries and cafe de olla while reading the latest print edition Boyle Heights Beat before jumping into the topic of the day: the state of mental health in Boyle Heights.
BHB executive director Kris Kelley opened the meeting by explaining that the organization’s mission is to remain guided por y para la comunidad, by and for the community. She introduced the students in the program, all going to schools in the Boyle Heights/East LA area, and the organization’s staff – most of which are former participants in the Beat’s youth program.
The discussion began with an hour-long Q&A panel led by Evelyn Alfaro, Luataní Flores and Maria Campos, all mental health professionals. Issues discussed during the conversation ranged from mental health issues specific to the Latino community to the unique relation of well-being and age and how parents can support youth navigating depression, anxiety and other mental challenges.
A full recording of the panel is posted on the Boyle Heights Beat Instagram:
A large portion of those in attendance were parents, many of which said they came to the meeting to better understand the unique challenges facing their children in today’s world. Some shared how older generations would often hide mental health issues due to stigma within the Latino community passed on from one generation to another.
Sabrina Gomez, a Boyle Heights resident, said that she has often struggled with mental health and hopes the meeting “sparks conversations among youth to spread awareness on mental illnesses and resources available in the local neighborhood”. She added that being open about such issues will help end the stigmatization.
Aaron Salazar, a 20-year-old resident of Boyle Heights, said Latino men face a unique challenge due to machismo.
“If you’re a man, even when you’re just a little boy, you always get told that men shouldn’t cry,” Salazar said. “You’re taught to become emotionless, and you pass that onto those around you. Recognizing that is the first step of breaking that cycle.”
Salazar, who works at a cafeteria on Skid Row, added that everyone in LA needs to have conversations on mental health to address issues of homelessness throughout the city. He elaborated that communal support is essential in financial struggles, and shared that public services helped his parents during his youth, which is why he chose to give back to others who are struggling.
Following the panel discussion, attendees were sorted into three rotating wellness stations led by students in the program. After the stations, everyone reconvened into the main room to share a highlight from the meeting.
Though the conversation came to a close just a quarter after noon, attendees were encouraged by members of the Beat to keep talking about mental health to end the stigma surrounding it within the community.
Boyle Heights Beat reporter Alex Medina contributed to this story.
This post was updated on May 1 to correct the name of panelist Luataní Flores.