Mariam Lara is a member of the INVST Class of 2020-2022. She has been passionately involved in destigmatizing mental illness in the Latinx community for the past couple of years. We had the chance to connect in October and she shared with me her work, drive and personal evolution.
SAMLA stands for Supporting Action for Mental Health for Latinx People. Initially, it emerged as a grassroots movement formed by Latina women in response to two mental health crises that happened in the city of Longmont. One resulted in a child being taken from their family. Initially called Chispaz, the group had the goal of destigmatizing mental illness, providing mental health resources, and building community around Latinx mental health support.
Mariam joined the movement last year. She participated in two events: at the first, a presentation called “Semillas” at Front Range Community College, Mariam spoke from her perspective as a Latina college student, of the problem of hiding mental health challenges within the college community. The second event, “No Estamos Solos” was a collaboration with CIRC and bilingual mental health professionals, and aimed to address the struggles in dealing with immigration and the stigma of going to therapy. Mariam recalled how powerful it was for her to see people in her community speaking up and calling for mental health resources.
In her own family, Mariam describes the unspoken understanding that “whatever happens in the house, stays in the house.” There is shame surrounding appearing weak or speaking of depression or anxiety. The norm is to put up a strong shield and “pray it out.” Mariam wants to normalize pursuing mental health resources within the Latinx community. “Sometimes we need more than praying and pushing it away can make it worse.”
Through this work, which began as an exploration into her own mental health and an interest in understanding herself better, Mariam has found her voice as an advocate and cultural representative for her people. She transferred from Front Range to CU Boulder in the Fall of 2020 and joined INVST and PA (Public Achievement). Mariam speaks of her anxiety and fear of public speaking. “If you would have told me a couple of years ago that I would be doing this, I would have thought no way.”
She credits Karen Moreno, one of the founders of SAMLA, and a mentor to Mariam who encouraged her to get involved, telling her the importance of representation of Latinx leaders, and supporting her in embracing her identity and building her leadership skills. She has been a strong inspiration for Mariam and has guided her from speaking at school meetings to mentoring at the youth center, to helping her build her resume.
In INVST and PA, Mariam feels that she can share her views and be proud of herself and her culture. With her INVST cohort, where not all members share her identity, she has had the opportunity for cross-cultural exchange and has found support for her passion and vision. She appreciates how her INVST cohort embraces practices such as meditation and mental health support.
Mariam finds hope in the younger generations talking about mental health more and exposing the toxicity of the machismo culture of keeping everything inside and putting on a strong front. She puts out the call to everyone reading this to support SAMLA through financial gifts or otherwise, so that the program can continue to stay relevant and provide mental health services to Latinx and BIPOC communities during the pandemic when these resources are more important than ever.
Mariam studies sociology at CU Boulder in addition to pursuing the 2-year INVST Program and Public Achievement.
Written by Annie Miller