An Open Letter to My Community

Written by Maricruz Herrera-Cruz, CRSS, MHP  

Growing up in Little Village, Chicago, as a neurodiverse, queer Latina, I navigated a world that often seemed not to have been built with me in mind. My neighborhood, vibrant with the colors of our murals and the sounds of our celebrations, also echoed with challenges. It was a place where every street corner told stories of resilience and struggle, a place that shaped me into who I am today. My journey, intertwined with the cultural richness of my heritage and the complexities of my identities, was far from straightforward. Yet, it was in Little Village where I found the seeds of my passion for mental health advocacy, deeply rooted in the principles of social justice. I was just 12 when I heard for the first time “Brown and Proud.” As a child of immigrants, I was accustom to deny all forms of my Mexican identity to prevent eyes on my family in case ICE had a raid. The constant fear I had everyday after school, that I would walk into an empty home because my parents were deported.  

The protests and activism movements that swept through our streets became my safe space, teaching me lessons no textbook could. I learned about the power of community, the strength found in collective action, and the importance of lifting every voice, especially those often pushed to the margins. These movements showed me the value of my own story and the stories of those around me. They taught me that being neurodiverse and queer were not just aspects of my identity to be tolerated or accepted but celebrated as sources of strength and perspective. These experiences helped me to see the beauty in diversity and the critical need for inclusivity and understanding in all spaces, particularly in the mental health field.  

As I stand today, a confident young professional dedicated to dismantling mental health stigma, I carry with me the lessons I learned while growing up in Little Village. The journey here was not easy. It required me to navigate systems that were not designed for someone like me. But it was the solidarity, the unwavering belief in the possibility of change, and the love from my community that propelled me forward. My work is now informed by the conviction that mental health services must be accessible, culturally competent, and affirming of all identities. I advocate for spaces where neurodiverse individuals and those from the LGBTQ+ community can feel truly seen and supported. My story, like many others from Little Village, is one of resilience, transformation, and hope. It is a testament to the power of social justice movements in shaping individuals who are not only proud of their identity but also committed to making the world a more inclusive and compassionate place for everyone.  

With gratitude and solidarity,
 
A Confident Young Professional from Little Village, Chicago

 

 

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