How do you do it? by Gioconda Guerra Pérez

twinsBorn and raised in Panama. She received a M.A in Sociology and Communication and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Organizational Development both from the University of Louisville. She attended Universidad de Panamá, Panama where she studied Journalism. Gioconda is currently the Director of La Casa Cultural Latina at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Before joining UIUC, she served as visiting assistant professor at Indiana University Southeast (IUS), School of Education and as Socio-Cultural specialist for the New Neighbors Center at IUS. She has taught courses on Multicultural Education, Current Social Issues in Education, and Intercultural Relations. Gio has also developed curricula for K-12 schools to work with Latino families and English Language Learners (ELL). Her professional and personal interest has been finding ways to help Latino students to achieve higher education. She currently lives in Champaing, IL with her twins Jose and Natalia.

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Two years ago, my husband took a job 900 miles away from “home”. The excitement of a new job and the sadness of separation from the family produced an indescribable feeling. Suddenly after sharing domestic and family tasks with my husband for years, I was left with the twins alone in a new adventure. Then, I became a full time parent, full time housewife, full time chauffeur, full time everything and on top of that I was a full time faculty.

Throughout all this time, many friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, have asked me “how do you do it?” and I always answer, “I do not know; I just do it. I am neither the first one nor the last one, I usually joke”. But today, I decided to reflect and write about it, in less than two weeks the family will be reunited. My husband is coming home for good.

In reality, I have been able to handle the task because of my own essence. I am a Latina, and as a Latina have learned to be resilient. We are told we are never alone, that family is always there for you. We tend to fully rely on our family; but what happens when your family is hundreds of miles away? Including your extended family, and they can only help you so much. Well, we find ways to recreate our own family just like the one from the barrio or colonia (neighborhoods) where we grew up. In my current job, my students, my colleague, and friends occupy the role of nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, padrinos, madrinas, (godparents) and so forth. We, Latinas/os, use the relationship of the “extended family” as a mechanism to survive when we struggle. It is actually a mental health practice that we have used for centuries. Having that network called “familia” gives us that sense of tranquility and dependability.

The term of mental health practice is something Latinas/os do not speak often. It is still considered a taboo in certain communities. But for those like me, who have relied on that mechanism for survival, we fully understand that thanks to my “familia” I have been able to continue being a full time everything and still going strong. I have learned to ask for help from those who are not related to me by blood, but are close to me by other means. I have been able to accomplish so much, thanks to a network of friends who have become my family. A lot of them are Latinas/os themselves and we share that cultural trait, even though we may come from different parts of Latin America. So if you asked me today, how I have done it, I have done it thanks to my familia.

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