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A Book Review of The Pain We Carry

The Pain We Carry. Healing from Complex PTSD for People of Color
by Natalie Y. Gutiérrez

The Pain We Carry. Healing from Complex PTSD for People of Color by Natalie Y. Gutiérrez (New Harbinger, 2022). Paperback, 188 pp.
A review by Lucila Vargas
I've often been frustrated with self-care books because most focus on the individual, neglecting the societal structures that enable and constrain the agency of individuals and communities. But reading Natalie Y. Gutiérrez's The Pain We Carry. Healing from Complex PTSD for People of Color was deeply satisfying.
When reading the book, I felt like a caring voice was talking to me, frequently stopping to ask me to check how potentially triggering content landed on my soul. Also, I appreciate her vulnerable disclosure of her heart-rending memories. As a Latina like Gutiérrez, I identify with her, and her disclosure reaffirms that the pain I carry is indeed our people's pain.
Gutiérrez (a pen name for Natalie Yvette Román Cortés) is a curandera and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She belongs to the decolonizing mental health movement that rejects the dominant healthcare paradigm and denounces the traumatizing effects of colonization. Her book is one of New Harbinger's Social Justice Handbook Series and comes with a foreword by Jennifer Mullan, author of Decolonizing Therapy (W.W. Norton, 2023). Accordingly, Gutiérrez argues that liberation is the purpose of self-care and that racism is the root cause of complex PTSD among Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
The phrase on the cover describes the book in a nutshell: "Reclaiming wholeness despite the burdens of systemic, intergenerational & attachment trauma." Gutiérrez considers several levels at which wounding and healing can occur: the individual, the family and lineage, and the "culture" or system.
The book mostly follows the self-care genre's conventions. Each of its four parts has three chapters similarly organized to include a vignette(s), an explanatory section, and an "empowerment step" with practice guides. Gutiérrez dedicates the first two parts to the mainstream psychological models she applies, attachment theory and internal family systems. She also incorporates other significant cutting-edge contributions, such as polyvagal theory.
Gutiérrez discusses intergenerational trauma and disconnection from the Self and the Spirit in the remaining two parts. Here, she expands on racism's cultural legacy burdens and hones on internalized racism. And, without disregarding structural constraints, she underscores individual agency: "You are the source of your healing. You are the medicine for complex posttraumatic stress" (p. 173). She writes that you can heal yourself by "living with intention and making choices from a place of awareness" (p. 179).
Roughly half the book consists of practice guides for spiritual growth and for developing body-based self/coregulation skills (many of the latter are inspired by J. Eric Gentry's Forward-Facing Trauma Therapy). Further, audio recordings of several guides are available at newharbinger.com, and the book includes numerous creative prompts for reflection and journaling. But what I find particularly refreshing are the guides for spiritual growth that include making altars, invocating ancestors, and performing limpias (soul cleanses).
Applying Richard Swartz's Internal Family System model, Gutiérrez recognizes four cultural legacy burdens: racism, patriarchy, materialism, and individualism. She centers racism and endorses a collectivist and spiritual orientation to mental health care. However, I wish she would also have examined patriarchy. There are two women for every man who has complex PTSD, most likely due to the prevalence of femicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.
Gutiérrez frames the book with her "Cultural Empowerment Approach to Healing." The word "empowerment" has been co-opted and diluted. Still, it's worth reclaiming it, albeit with an updated conceptualization of power as diffused and multidirectional, as illustrated for example by French philosopher Michel Foucault. This will encourage authors like Gutierrez to fully consider the role oppressed individuals and communities play in the reproduction of society.
To her merit, she stresses colorism among the global majority and recognizes her privilege as a light-skinned Puerto Rican. "Colorism is a painful personal burden, fueled by the cultural burden of racism that's perpetuated among the Latiné community and other Communities of Color" (p. 40), she writes.
I see her approach as an effort to foster what Brazilian theorist and educator Paulo Freire called "critical consciousness" (as opposed to dominated consciousness) in his influential Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968). His ideas are closely associated with Liberation Theology, and they inspired Ignacio Martín Baró's liberation psychology, which has gained momentum in Canadian and U.S. circles in the last decade or so.
The tenets of liberation psychology overlap those of the decolonizing movement, and Gutiérrez is probably familiar with them. Yet, I wish she would have acknowledged this important Latin American school of thought, especially because it highlights economic oppression. After all, the colonization project has robbed land, extracted natural resources, and transformed the colonized people and their labor into a commodity.
Gutiérrez strives to be inclusive of various social differences (e.g., gender), but Swartz's model is limiting because it overlooks political-economic oppression. Consequently, the book would have benefited from due attention to poverty, classism, and the colonization of our most intimate realms by market principles in late capitalism.
Given that the book spotlights racialization, I would have liked to see more inclusion of Asian Americans. This shortcoming probably has to do with the publisher's imperative to issue a short book for a vast readership. Asian Americans are even more diverse than Latinés, and they deserve a whole other book.
Yet, this is a short book with a broad scope; by necessity, it has limitations. Overall, its significant contribution to the BIPOC self-care literature convincingly outweighs its weaknesses. This rare, culturally responsive book affirms the therapeutic value of healing practices that Eurocentric psychology deems backward and still seeks to eradicate.
Despite the emphasis on the effects of racism on BIPOC bodies and minds, this book does not foster victimhood. It's a hopeful book celebrating our past and present resilience and the resources inherited from our ancestors and ancient cultures. And it's a book that encourages readers to make a choice—and effort—to reclaim wholeness.
For Gutiérrez, reclaiming wholeness is an opportunity for resistance. She trusts that personal healing will encourage community healing. The Pain We Carry is far more than a self-care book. It's an activist's endeavor to save the world by helping Black, Indigenous, and People of Color reclaim wholeness—as a right, as a value, and as a liberatory practice.
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A Review of Raquel Reichard's Self-Care for Latinas

Book cover by Priscilla Yuen



As an avid reader of self-care books, I've often been disappointed by authors who give advice to the general woman reader because they disregard that culture, social difference, and lived experience matter in self-care. So, I was delighted to find Raquel Reichard's forthcoming book, Self-Care for Latinas (Adams Media/Simon & Schuster, Dec. 2023).

While most self-care books neglect history and glance over stressors like discrimination, Reichard focuses on the effects of colonialism and racialization—processes by which we Latinas are marginalized and made to feel inferior. For instance, Richard points out that we still earn much less than men and White women and that we've internalized dehumanizing stereotypes.


Reichard writes like the award-winning Latina journalist she is, offering more than 100 suggestions, each in a brief entry that reads like an article from Latina Magazine. She groups the entries into three sections: Mind, Body, and Spirit. In entries that suggest starting a face or hair care routine, for example, she endorses Latiné-owned brands such as Maude, Ceremonia, and Bomba Curls. Likewise, the online resources she offers are from Latiné entrepreneurs, including Adriene Mishler, a YouTuber and yoga instructor, and Adriana Alejandra Alejandre, founder of Latinx Therapy, a directory of Spanish-speaking therapists. In this, she follows her advice of supporting Latiné-owned businesses and entrepreneurs as a form of activism. This guidance is well taken as Latinas hold much purchasing power and influence.


Reichard sings the praises of Latiné culture, but she doesn't shy away from pointing out its ills. She tells Latinas to reject marianism, the traditional gender role that many are still expected to play. This core and valuable message comes loud and clear. Still, marianism hits us harder in our role as mothers, and the book could have included more mentions of the types of pressures Latina mothers experience.


The threads of advice that run through the book are three: Developing a strong ethnic identity, cultivating community (a support system), and embracing spirituality. This advice is right on the mark as all three protect Latinés against stress, which is related to most physical and mental problems. Reichard suggests many practical, doable strategies, such as journaling, dancing, doing a body scan, learning about ancestors, and excavating family history. At times, however, I wish the advice would have been more prescriptive, emphasizing the need for repetitive, consistent practices. For example, she tells us not to listen to our internal critic, but she doesn't say that doing this takes hard inner work and requires persistent practices like daily meditation.

She speaks directly to the reader lovingly, often addressing Latinas as hermana, mi vida, mi amor. And she makes herself vulnerable, especially in a letter to the reader after the introduction, where she tells us that she struggled with imposter syndrome when writing the book. She also acknowledges she writes from her experience as a cis, working-class, light-skinned Puerto Rican, and the cultural references in the text come primarily from her Puerto Rican background. Words like 'bochinche,' however, will not prevent Latina readers with other roots from understanding its information and advice.

The book reminds me of Sandra Hinojosa Ludwig's Chica, Why Not? How to Live with Intention and Manifest a Life That Loves You Back (Hay House, 2021). Richard's tone is more casual, and hers is a broader and less in-depth text. Still, it is an easy-to-read, short book that introduces Latinas to ideas they can dig deeper into later. Especially when reading other self-care, culturally responsive titles for Latinas that are coming out (finally!). This book is an empowering call to action for Latinas to transgress marianism with no guilt and begin to care for our whole selves.

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Los Seremos: A Local Día de los Muertos Tradition

Documentary photography of Los Seremos tradition by Sylvia Alonso

The chiaroscuro image of a child lying on the sidewalk, covered with a white cloth, a crucifix, and a burning candle on his chest, made me close my browser with a gasp. His little shoes took me back to when I was seven and witnessed my younger brother's lifeless body lying on the ground, covered by a white sheet.


At first, I turned away from the other photographs by Sylvia Alonso, now exhibiting at Casa Chihuahua (https://www.casachihuahua.org.mx). I thought her stunning documentary photography of the tradition of Los Seremos was disturbing. I thought a staging of the most devastating of losses, the death of a child, was macabre. I thought my mother would have burst into tears.

Los Seremos ("So shall we be") is a centuries-old tradition that honors deceased children in Valle de Allende, a city in my native state of Chihuahua, Mexico. People believe—or suspend their disbelief—that the souls of departed angelitos, little angels, come down to earth on November 1.

The ritualistic performance takes place at the end of the day, under twilight. Small groups of children go door to door, staging the wake of a dead child. A child lies down on the sidewalk with their head facing a house's door and pretends to be dead. Other children cover the "dead" with a white sheet and place a crucifix and a candle on the child's chest; sometimes, they also place flowers. The children then kneel around the child, light a candle, and say an Our Father and a Hail Mary. After ringing a bell, they sing loudly, "Seremos, seremos, y calabacitas queremos" (So shall we be, so shall we be, and we want little squashes.) They say they're angelitos and threaten to break doors and windows if their demands go unmet.

At the end of the performance, the children laugh and cheerfully receive treats before moving to the next door. But all along, the adults who chaperone them make sure the little ones perform the ritual with respect and reverence toward death. There is transcendence here.

This local custom is one of the myriad ways we Mexicans celebrate our dearly deceased. A day or more when we mourn and remember them to keep them alive somehow. A sacred time when we stop working to acknowledge the inevitability of death. But also a festive pause to appreciate how magnificent life is in its brevity.

I tried to turn my back on the feelings Sylvia Alonso's striking photograph stirred in me. Still, I later realized that rather than being macabre, Los Seremos is awe-some. It made me feel that rare and dumbfounding emotion that takes us out of the mundane: Awe—a tangle of wonder, amazement, and admiration muddled up by fear, dread, and horror. The celebration teaches children about death and reminds adults how precious and fragile a child's life is and how deserving of respect and reverence.


My mother would have burst into tears. But the celebration should give a healing, cathartic respite to parents like her, who buried a small child. Alonso's photographs prompted such an exquisite moment for me.

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