There are many ways to experience and react to trauma. One of the priorities for Minnesota Women’s Press coverage in the coming year is what we can learn about how to address trauma in all its forms — domestic violence, sexual assault, witnessing brutality, lack of housing and food — in order to reduce the impact it has on crime rates and substance use. We will be developing statewide conversations with a team of readers and underwriters about our past and recent histories of trauma, the impact of that trauma, and how Minnesotans are understanding prevention as a solution rather than punishment.
In August, we hosted an online conversation circle about “Healing Trauma.” This was the third in an ongoing series of Minnesota Women’s Press forums. Following are two of the voices who engaged in the discussion: Rosario de la Torre of Esperanza United (formerly Casa de Esperanza) and Sen. Mary Kunesh.
I am from Mexico City and have been in Minnesota since 1988. I am the co-director of family advocacy and community engagement with Esperanza United (formerly Casa de Esperanza). We work with survivors of gender-based violence, who don’t necessarily think of it as trauma. It is something they simply live with every day.
Esperanza United opened in 1982. We knew that the Latinas who were surviving domestic violence did not receive culturally specific programs. Latinas were not coming to a shelter program. What I have seen changing in the last 30 years is that there is more programming for specific communities. That is one of the main advances starting to happen in the state. Seeing that change gives us hope. I think we can do much more of that, but it is a huge step toward providing the services and support that communities need.
It is not enough to work with men only as offenders, but as men in the community who want to be part of the solutions — talking about what is right and what is wrong.
With the new immigrant communities, for example, there is trauma just to get here. We are hearing that from our participants. There is trauma in home countries, and from colonization, and the act of crossing the border into the U.S. — triple levels of trauma. There is the fear of the struggle to get here and get settled, and then perhaps being confronted by the police and being sent back because you are an undocumented immigrant. There is another layer of trauma for immigrants who are living every day not knowing what might happen if, for example, if the light on their car is not working and they are pulled over, putting them in a potentially dangerous situation because of immigrant status.
We have community groups where Latino men and boys gather and learn about healthy masculinity. It is important to be in a space where men are comfortable having these conversations. Sometimes they don’t even realize they are being abusive. We believe that in the Latino community, men are the ones who have the power to go and talk to the compadre, the friend, the amigo, and say, “Hey, what you are doing is not right.” What we also know is that many men do not know about healthy relationships — only what they saw at home. It is more effective when men can talk to men about their own issues. We even have children who say they do not know what healthy masculinity looks like.
In our culture, people see men and boys as the caretakers without thinking of the heavy responsibility and the trauma a child can have being in that situation. In my experience, when my husband was deployed to Afghanistan 17 years ago, family and friends told my son he was responsible for us. Imagine the impact of being a six-year-old boy hearing people tell you that you need to be the responsible one. The groups are a great space for men and boys to reflect on what we teach our boys about how to become a man.
I am a state senator representing District 41. I am a descendant of the Standing Rock Lakota, and so I have focused quite a bit on the trauma around our missing and murdered Indigenous relatives (MMIR). I passed legislation for that first initial task force in the House in 2019, and I am happy to say that one of our top recommendations — to create a permanent MMIR office in our state — passed this year. Good things are happening. People are recognizing and realizing this historic trauma.
It is not only our Native communities. I also passed legislation along with Rep. Ruth Richardson on creating a task force about missing and murdered African American relatives. [Task force recommendations will be completed in December 2022.]
I have been a teacher for 25 years in inner-city schools and have seen the wide breadth of trauma around so many of our families. People are becoming more and more aware, and they want to be better educated and understanding of the way history has played a part in generational trauma.