By Jennifer Vogel
Being an immigrant is like having a chronic illness, says Dr. Maria Veronica Svetaz, a native of Argentina who runs a health program on Lake Street in Minneapolis tailored to the needs of Latinos. “Somehow it never goes away and will always be there, for good and for bad.” Svetaz is referring to the “extra layer of complexity” that can infuse virtually every aspect of an immigrant’s life, from the ability to communicate to the opportunity to earn enough money to the fortitude needed in navigating a byzantine immigration bureaucracy. “It makes you more vulnerable in some ways but also stronger and savvier in others.”
Svetaz’s bilingual, bicultural health program, called Aqui Para Ti, which translates as “Here For You,” is part of Hennepin County Medical Center’s East Lake Clinic. It provides a range of services to young Latinos and their families including mental health and substance abuse counseling, assistance with birth control and prenatal care, and even help strengthening communication between parents and children who may not speak the same language, literally or figuratively.
“Mental health issues are higher in Latinos, particularly in Latino girls,” says Svetaz, 47, an energetic presence in a small, homey office, surrounded by cards and memorabilia. “It’s mainly depression. And suicide attempts, they are number one. One out of seven Latina teens will try to kill themselves. It’s the pressure of the two cultures. They get entangled.”
On the wall above her desk hangs a colorful collage of a woman with the inscription “No soy la mujer maravilla” or “I am not wonder woman.” The painting, from an art fair in Buenos Aires, is a reminder of how demanding Svetaz’s work can be and that, no matter how much she wishes the contrary, she can’t do it all. Working to close the health equity gap for her Latino clients and realizing that all many need is “a little love and tender care, puts you at moments at odds with trying to do too much,” she says. “And when you have so much passion, I learned that you need to ‘curb your enthusiasm’ as burn out is for real.” Continue reading