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One psychologist offers strategies for Latinx community to cope with Texas shooting

Soccer teammates of Tess Mata, who died in the school shooting, cry, supported by their mothers, as they visit a makeshift memorial outside the Uvalde County Courthouse in Texas on May 26, 2022.
AFP via Getty Images
Soccer teammates of Tess Mata, who died in the Texas school shooting, cry, supported by their mothers as they visit a makeshift memorial outside the Uvalde County Courthouse in Texas on May 26, 2022.

The mass shooting in a Texas elementary school on May 24 has left many across the country dealing with feelings of grief and loss. The massacre in Uvalde that left 19 children and two adults dead was the second-deadliest K-12 school shooting recorded in the U.S., and it has hit the Latinx community especially hard.

“This hits very close to home,” said Dr. Rocio Chang, a trauma-informed psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at UConn Health. She works closely with children and adults who’ve lived through traumatic events, especially in the Latinx community.

Uvalde lies about 85 miles west of San Antonio and about 70 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. It is a small community of about 15,000 residents, and more than 70% identify as Latino or Hispanic, according to census data.

So Chang says it’s not uncommon for members of the Latinx community, and other vulnerable communities, to process the news differently.

“Tragedies like this influence the way that we see the world, that we see our communities. Many times one of the things that makes us wake up every day and go about our lives is that we feel relatively safe to do so,” Chang said. “And when tragedies like this happen, the message that we get is that we may not be safe.”

This comes almost three years after another gunman claimed the lives of 23 people in El Paso, Texas. The gunman was allegedly a white supremacist, and the tragedy is regarded as one of the deadliest attacks on the Latinx community in modern U.S. history.

“What I saw in 2019 after El Paso were questions about safety, who to trust and how to respond in our small communities but also communities at large in the midst of tragedy,” Chang said.

She said for people who may be watching the news unfold and feeling a variety of emotions, it’s important to recognize those feelings.

“We need to name our emotions and identify them. This is a part of mental health, and we have to give ourselves permission to identify how we’re feeling,” Chang said.

And when safety is in question, it’s important to find it in places you can trust.

“Try to identify a place in your community where you feel comfortable, where you trust people and groups, so you can get support but you can also provide support for others,” she said. “In moments like these, I think it’s very important to find where you belong and to be with people who can support you.”

Relying on actions that might bring comfort is equally important – like talking to a loved one, leaning on spirituality or enjoying music, dance or any other activity that might be grounding, Chang said.

“There are many different practices that different Latino communities utilize. And they all come from that collectivism that we really appreciate,” she said. “So I believe that continuing to get together and listening to one another is very important to start.”

Chang encourages people to connect with community resources that can offer help in both English and Spanish.

Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.

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