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Mental Health Awareness Month: Sueño Americano – Artist Intro Tor Serrano & Sovanarry Phy

Updated: May 20, 2022

Nepo+ Salton Sea Artist Collective "Sneak Peek" Introduction: Tor Serrano and their business partner, artistic collaborator and best friend Sovanarry Phy established the brand NEPO+ which focuses on a mission to restore the economic growth and quality of life for a greater global community.

"WE ARE A LATINE / KHMER OWNED BUSINESS AND THIS IS OUR CREATIVE COLLECTIVE – NEPO+ COMMUNITY, ART AND TECHNOLOGY"

As a Latine American mental health was an enigma for both my family and myself. To this day I struggle with unlearning the toxic traits passed down from generational trauma and colonialist practices of division. Seen by my family as a sign of weakness or an excuse to be lazy, our Chicane heritage has taught us to strive for nothing less than perfection or risk loosening our grip on the "American Dream" which they so fervently desired to attain. The concept of "viva la raza" was proclaimed at every benchmark of success in our family. This fear of erasure was so prevalent that we were almost fully indoctrinated into the notion of pure exceptionalism which I now know is not a healthy state-of-mind.

My family left Mexico in waves, often separated for months and years at a time simply because they could not afford to migrate the 10-12 children they had created. This developed into a deep connection to the Americanized version of the family unit, a cookie cuttered ideal of happiness and perfection propagated to migrants in the early 70's.

My maternal Abuela did not receive her citizenship until her 60's and was nicknamed "Goldy" by my mom shortly after as a symbol of her greatest life accomplishment being achieved. Untypical of gender norms at the time my Abuela was considered educated in her hometown as she was able to completed junior high school. However, shortly after she returned to the traditional feminine structure of working with nuns and learning domestic traits until she was ready to start a family.

My maternal Grandpa grew up in Kansas working the fields. He was 13 when he started coming to the states with a work permit. At the time crossing the border or "frontera" was less demanding than it is now. His father who died when he was relatively young never thought to get him citizenship since the border crossing was again at the time so easy.

My mother came to the states from Guanajuato in 1970 not speaking any English and her parents would work multiple jobs at pizza parlors and restaurants for their family of 10 to survive in Long Beach, CA. My dad's family is from Tamaulipas, Mexico and settled in Downey, CA. They too had a large family and struggled to provide a better life for them stateside. This is why they were less likely not only as migrants but also as proud Chicanes to reach out for help when the family unit they so preciously hoped to preserve begun to experience internal hardships.

These hardships passed down the line to their children and children's children. Back then there was a deep sense of feminine virtuous religiosity and male machismo (a social behavior pattern in which the Latino male exhibits an overbearing attitude to anyone in a position he perceives as inferior to his, demanding complete subservience) and so the children of these families had fewer options other than marriage, complete emotional neglect and pretend ignorance. There simply was not any resources available at the time directed towards mental health or familial support in black and brown communities and the constant fear of deportation loomed over the whole family.

Don't get me wrong, my family loves deeply for one another however, they severely lack the emotional and cognitive ability to communicate their needs in a healthy way without using tactics of manipulation or verbal abuse. Gossip or "Chisme" is a tool they use to metaphorically stab one another other and it does hurt.


When my family lost the love of my Abuelo they had to reevaluate their connections to one another and the way they treated each other. Some separated and distanced themselves and others clinged on more tightly to the traditions we knew but, would still make others feel badly about not continuing the legacy which is our family. I myself had to pull away so I could find my true self without the limitations or the burden of familial expectations. I wanted to unlearn all of the poorly patched coping mechanism and replace them with healthy communication and an overall stronger sense of self. I was always their "sweet little girl" and that no longer fit with who I knew I was inside.

As a closeted tomboy my now queer, non-binary identity had never felt safe to be my authentic self until later in life after my younger siblings fearlessly came out. I was like oh, it's ok to be openly queer now? After years of battling mental health disorders alone it was foreign for me to be able to speak out openly about them in contrast to my younger siblings who were now attending therapy and gaining access to resources that I just did not have growing up. It was like I had been living in a strange dystopian dream or "Sueño" and suddenly was awakened by the accessibility to care.

Unfortunately, this is the reality for many migrants in America.

They are brought up to believe it is shameful to reach out for help let alone speak openly about their vulnerability. When I first met Sovanarry in High School I thought she was "mean-looking". I sat behind her in class and one day I asked to borrow a pencil and she looked at me as though I was the most annoyingly unprepared person in the world – sometimes she still gives me this look. Little did I know at the time that moment would be the spark of a deep friendship one connected by truth and an honesty that I had never known.

We joined the cross-country team together and those long hours of running out our familial frustrations became a kind of therapy where we could both talk about our feelings and vent a little. Her family had escaped the Cambodian Genocide (of 1975-1979, in which approximately 1.7 million people lost their lives (21% of the country's population) and moved to the states for a better life. They learned english just as my family did and there were obvious cultural barriers between the parents lived experiences and expectations versus their child's intersectional identities as second generation Americans. Our parents kept us both busy with extracurricular activities and after school programs to keep us out of trouble which was one of their ways of showing love. Those programs helped me to discover the power of communal structures that assist in mold young minds and identities outside of the constraints of life at home. I remember thinking if only these spaces were designed to be safer and less "othering" they could become more inclusive and benefit society as a whole.

My family shows love through acts of service, helping out every season at the catholic church events, schools, parks and recs. Whether it was preparing food, making decorations and signs, or passing out flyers they would always show up together as a strong unit a testament to the hardworking, selfless identities they had cultivated. This is why I recognized this love immediately from Narry's mom Chrep who never judged me for wanting to chop and dye my hair all kinds of crazy colors. She welcomed me to her salon lovingly, helping me play with and sculpt my true identity. Similarly her dad Dee always encouraged me to eat more at their family parties making sure I never left hungry. Their extended family of aunties and uncles always showing up to support the Khmer community and all of our non-profit events. I consider them all my second family and appreciate their support and acceptance more than anything.

Over the years we have both lost many loved ones to suicide, disease, overdose and gang violence. The youngest life lost was Franklin Senkarana Pon-Ros (11/06/2014 - 01/20/2018) just two years old shot in his carseat a victim in the crossfire of a gang shootout in Compton. His family continues to pursue closure and support with the #justiceforfranklin movement. Advocacy in the form of art is a powerful tool to unite a community in need and raise awareness to larger social issues. I have always used art as a coping mechanism and never thought it could hold such power to unify a collective of vastly different individuals.


Our shared experience – suffering, loss, and pain yet we were unified by love.

That being said in order to do this we have to be aware of ourselves and our limitations. Be there for one another when we fall short. Our team has been incredible about uplifting one another throughout this whole process. We look forward to sharing more artists experiences and content in future! We will do so with the mental well being of others in mind so we ask our followers and collaborators to be patient as consistent output of materials can be an incredible undertaking and very stressful for the featured artists.


"Investing in yourself is one of the greatest fulfillments. Mental health has always been a sensitive topic to discuss and many of us still don't feel comfortable confronting these emotions. Rooted to my Asian background, the vocabulary of mental health didn't even exist in my own culture and was unrecognizable for generations. Although, there wasn't a definition to this feeling, this doesn't mean it didn't exist. This is why this month is very important, because mental health is real and influences how we move through our daily lives. Life can be frustrating, overwhelming and at times feels lonely. However, these moments of confusion and midst of discomfort are only temporary, yet these feelings should not be ignored. Take a pause, surround your safe with those who make you feel safe, or even professionals to provide tools to help heal. Making these steps to change your mental state for the better is normal and a part of personal growth." #MentalHeathAwareness Sovanarry Phy

The SOS Earth Day Pop-up allowed us to connect with so many more individuals who were also struggling in life. They too used art as an expressive medium to communicate their authenticity and collectively came together to raise awareness for larger social issues. NEPO+ was founded on the core values of inclusivity and acceptance for queer and BIPOC community. We aim to create safe spaces for creative collaboration that works towards something bigger than ourselves.

Please be patient and kind not only to yourself but others as well. Take time to be alone, recharge and never feel shame when asking for help. Also, remember nature and friendship can be an incredibly useful set of tools for collective healing.

We appreciate all of your love and support.


Sincerely,

The NEPO+ Creative Collective


 

Suggested Reads:

References:


Alvarez, L. (May, 2007). Derecho u obligacion?: Parents’ and youths’ understanding of parental legitimacy in a Mexican origin familial context. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 29(2), 192-208Machismo 10


Carlos, J., Kurato, Y., Ruiz, E., Ng, K., & Yang, J. (April, 2004). A multicultural discussion about personality development. The Family Journal, 12(2), 111-121.


Davis, S.K., & Chavez, V. (1985). Hispanic househusbands. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 7(4), 317-332.


Galanti, G. (July, 2003). The Hispanic Family and Male-Female Relationships: An overview. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 14(3), 180-185. Mayo, Y.Q., & Resnick, R.P. (Fall, 1996). The impact of Machismo on Hispanic women. Affilia, 11(3), 257-277.


O’Connell, H. (1994). Women and the family. New York: Zed Books.


Sable, M. R., Having, K., Schwartz, L. R., & Shaw, A. (May, 2009). Hispanic immigrant women talk about family planning. Affilia, 24(2), 137-151.


Stevens, E.P. (1965). Mexican Machismo: Politics and value orientations. Political Research Quarterly, 18, 848-857.


Stevens, E.P. (1973). Machismo and marianismo. Society, 3(6), 57-63.


Wood, M., & Price, P. (1997). Machismo and marianismo: implications for HIV/AIDS risk reduction and education. American Journal of Health Studies, 13(1), 44-52.

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