The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

Hurt but Hopeful

decorative collage of artwork of children in various poses.

Race, class, gender, sexuality, ableism and weight spark trauma

Southern Californians’ stories of struggles and solutions

By KeAndre Berry and Joseph Cabrera

Racism, parental substance abuse, and homelessness can lead to childhood trauma but it can also lead to trauma in an adult’s life as well.

People interviewed for the “Hurt but Hopeful” project experienced traumatic moments related to race, gender, class, religion, sexuality, disability and appearance.

This multimedia story consists of this text overview exploring childhood trauma and possible solutions — combined with 15 non-narrated audio “mini-podcasts” exploring the root of these individuals’ traumas and how it affected them and sometimes, even shaped them. By hearing and understanding their stories, others in Southern California and beyond may realize they’re not alone in the pain and difficulties they have faced. These stories allow the project’s creators, audience members and sources to learn about and understand each other and themselves better, and to offer help or find it for themselves.

The stories explored several key themes, including trauma from:

  • Racism and colorism
  • Gender-based violence or assault 
  • Gender norms, appearance or weight
  • The impacts of financial and housing insecurities

Trauma from racism and colorism

Racism has almost always factored into trauma. The forms and types of racism have varied throughout history, from before the Civil War when African Americans or Native Americans were slaves to the issues that led to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and police brutality more recently.

Research indicates that in the U.S., Black Americans tend to have the most trauma.

“The lifetime prevalence of PTSD was highest among Blacks (8.7%),” according to a 2011 report in the Journal, Psychol Med.

Colorism is another prevalent issue. Brenda’s Mwingira’s story about Melissa Jude reveals how intertwined racism and colorism can be. Jude, an occupational therapist who works with kids, described how a child told her that her skin looks like the color of excrement. It bothered Jude and she even told her superior and the child’s mother. Very little was done, leading Jude to believe not many people are willing to rock the boat to help effectuate true change.

Trauma from economic or housing insecurities

Being homeless as a child can lead to trauma at a young age.

“The experience of homelessness results in a loss of community, routines, possessions, privacy, and security,”  according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. “Children, mothers, and families who live in shelters need to make significant adjustments to shelter living and are confronted by other problems, such as the need to reestablish a home, interpersonal difficulties, mental and physical problems, and child-related difficulties such as illness.”

Angel Ramirez described in one of the episodes the impact of growing up poor and not having a lot of parental guidance.

“I was just trying to get that connection, or that feeling of some type of love. That is what led me more into drinking,” Ramirez said. When you grow up in a neighborhood where there’s where a lot of families going through that…being brought up I guess you can say ‘poor,’ there’s a lot of people that kind of go that route and kind of turn to that.”

Similarly, Sarah Hernandez said she and her mom, dad, and sister were evicted from their house and they had to live in hotels and in their car. When everyone in her grade was doing sleepovers, she couldn’t because of her situation. Hernandez added that her parents went go to food pantries to feed her and her siblings.

She said she still feels embarrassed about having been homeless but also recognizes how it has shaped her in big and small ways. For instance, Hernandez, who is now a successful graphic designer, said she takes pride at being able to whip up a meal with next to nothing in her pantry.

Gender- and appearance-based trauma

Gender norms create expectations of how people should act or look based on their gender but many people don’t feel those norms match with their authentic selves. Since some people see the world through those norms, they can lash out when the norms aren’t being met.

In a 2012 report by Pediatrics, an academic journal that focuses on children’s health, kids who don’t conform to gender roles are more likely to be abused – increasing the chances they’ll have post-traumatic stress disorder by the time they’re in their 20s. Gender-nonconforming behavior occurs in one out of 10 children, according to the report.

The “Hurt but Hopeful” project included stories of people who reported being  bullied for their appearance or harmful gender-related stereotypes.

  • Joey Mosley explained how his long hair growing up led to him being ridiculed by his peers. Although it happened when he was around 8, the trauma still affects him.
  • Cezar Rodriguez said his parents told him when he was growing up that men don’t show emotion and they don’t cry. He said this prevented him from getting the help he needed.
  • Mayle Lazaro reported being judged for being “overweight” and was bullied at school and elsewhere, which ultimately led to an eating disorder. She went through a lot before she eventually found ways to get help and has grown a lot since then.

Issues can also arise when extreme and unhealthy forms of those norms are pervasive. For instance, toxic masculinity can lead to power imbalances at home and even to domestic violence.

At least 1 in 7 children have experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year, and this is likely an underestimate, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. ​​

Some of the project’s stories involved interviewees being physically abused or even sexually assaulted due to power imbalances or toxic masculinity. However, abuse isn’t just physical. There are forms of mental abuse that can leave a child emotionally damaged and can be just as scarring as being physically attacked.

The consequences of domestic violence can range from anxiety, depression, self-harm, being aggressive, engaging in risky behavior and much more.

One of the podcast mini-episodes highlights the story of Ray Sheppard, a victim of the “machismo” mentality. When times were hard, Sheppard did some things that he would regret: He joined a gang, rarely went to school, and participated in risky behavior. Things got worse from there. In recent years, he has found a new purpose in education and in helping young people avoid what he went through.

“All that pressure…on coal turns you into a diamond. I get that saying now…If it wasn’t for everything I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” Sheppard said.

Here are some ways experts say folks can help their friends or family members who have experienced trauma related to race, gender, class, religion, disability, appearance, or for other reasons:

  • Be there for them. Active listening and offering support is often enough and it shows them that you care.
  • Listen without judging them and validate their feelings.
  • Don’t pry if they’re not comfortable talking about it yet.
  • Refrain from giving advice unless you’re asked to.

The weight of sorrow

By Oscar Torres

Mayle Lazaro grew up juggling the responsibilities of growing up and taking care of her siblings. Through all this, she says she faced the ridicule of her peers and a relative because of her weight and bisexual identity.

At home in violence

By Mia Alva

Selena Garcia says she experienced gender-based trauma and abuse as a child. She even stayed with her husband for years, though he beat her. She says it’s strange but she must have felt “at home” in an abusive relationship because of her upbringing.

Racism in the city

By Clifton Johnson, Jr.

Myles Hughes has been fortunate to live in different parts of the country but Chicago was one of the toughest because of the racism he said he faced there as a Black student.

Colorism at work

By Brenda Mwingira

Melissa Jude, a child occupational therapist, says she is supposed to be helping people but sometimes, she faces traumatic moments herself when on the job. One example she describes is related to the color of her skin.

From punishment to prison

By Xavier Zamora

Ray Sheppard says he grew up facing abuse, and it led him to a life of drugs and gangs at the age of 13. After serving 22 years of a life sentence for the murder of Henry Sanchez, Sheppard is going to college and turning his life around.

Long-haired boy

By Miguel Diaz Magaña

As a child, Joey Mosley says he was often bullied by other kids because his appearance didn’t fit gender norms. The bullying that he experienced as a child had lasting impacts.

Being homeless as a child

By Oscar Beltran, Trevor Megginson & Adrian Leal

Sarah Hernandez says she lived with housing instability and homelessness as a young child. She has dealt with the shame of living in poverty, but has also can see the positives of her childhood.

Coming out to dad

By Alyssa Ramirez

As Madi McGuire got older, she says she began to question her sexuality. She struggled to come out as bisexual to her father because she worried about being rejected and losing all forms of stability.

Objectified and assaulted

By Erik Adams, Anne To & Anthony Aguilar

As a vulnerable child with her parents often away for work, Rocio experienced abuse at the hands of relatives. She was forced into silence due to fear of rejection from her father, who often verbally degraded her. Warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual assault. The full name of the source will not be disclosed to protect her identity as a victim of sexual violence who does not want the perpetrators to know her whereabouts. 

Without love or money

By Denis Akbari

Angel Ramirez says he grew up facing economic hardships and a lack of parental presence. He turned to self-destructive behaviors. He got help about three years ago and has been clean ever since.

Toughened up

By Jessica Hernandez

Cezar Rodriguez describes being a boy in his family who was “toughened..up” through physical violence.

Domestic danger

By Evelyn Contreras

Cynthia Alonso says she and her mother faced domestic violence as women in a family with undiagnosed mental health issues.

An undiagnosed difference

By Alyssah Hall

Christine Figueroa always knew they were a little different from others growing up, but they had no idea why until being diagnosed with autism last year.

Embracing Judaism

By Alysia Burke

Learning to love and accept yourself in a world that seems to constantly remind you that you’re different, is tough but Ashley Arpel shows us that it can be done.

Salvadorian at school

By Jessica Lopez

Tania Aguilar describes facing racism as a young child from teachers and peers due to her Salvadorian heritage. If it wasn’t for her school counselor, she says she would not be where she is today.

This project was produced by students in Cal State LA’s JOUR 3500 Race, Class & Gender in American Journalism class.
Art Director: Anne To with contributions from Ettan and Devash Liss.
Audio engineers: Erik Adams, Anthony Aguilar, Oscar Beltran, Trevor Megginson & Anne To
Reporters: Oscar Torres, Mia Alva, Clifton Johnson, Jr., Brenda Mwingira, Xavier Zamora, Alyssah Hall, Evelyn Contreras, Jessica Hernandez, Denis Akbari, Leslie Magaña Arias, Alyssa Ramirez
Alysia Burke, Erik Adams, Anne To, Anthony Aguilar, Oscar Beltran, Trevor Megginson, Adrian Leal, Miguel Diaz Magana, Jessica Lopez, Joseph Cabrera and KeAndre Berry.
Professor: Julie Patel Liss
Developer: Vraj Mehalana
UT Editor-in-Chief Victoria Ivie