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Research shows hate & anti-immigrant speech hurting Latino youth mental health

Posted at 6:30 PM, Aug 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-06 21:39:47-04

PHOENIX — For Latino youth living in the U.S., the El Paso shooting is the latest trauma. Researchers say the hateful rhetoric and discrimination are taking a toll on their mental health. 

Eighteen-year-old Jennifer Suarez is a Valley teenager who graduated from high school in May. She vividly recalls a ninth-grade classmate who singled her out and spewed hate speech. 

"He wrote it on a piece of paper and he held it up to me and then he said 'build the wall,'" says Suarez. 

Suarez is the oldest of four children of Mexican immigrants from the state of Guanajuato. At her north Phoenix home, her mother proudly framed her birth certificate from Paradise Valley Hospital.

"Yes, I was born here," she adds. 

Suarez says her classmate's remarks were only the beginning of a downward spiral of depression, loneliness and feeling left out. 

"It was part of the reason why I started seeking help because it made me feel not included, I felt I wasn't loved by anyone, I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin," she said. 

Suarez is a perfect example of a recent study by the American Psychological Association, which cites hateful speech and anti-immigrant messages as two reasons why Latino youth across the country have elevated rates of depression. 

The hate-driven mass shooting in El Paso, where the shooter targeted people of Hispanic origin because of a feeling of 'invasion' is now coupled with the many other shootings Suarez has seen in her lifetime. 

"Trump saying that it was an act of mental illness--I personally think it was an act of racism because [the shooter] drove nine hours," Suarez said. 

Suarez says the classmate who told her to 'build the wall' learned it from the President, who campaigned on a promise to construct a southern border wall to protect the U.S. from illegal immigration. 

"I just don't want people to see us and to think automatically we are things that we are not. Of course, every race has its group of people who aren't good, but the majority of us are good," she said. 

Suarez says years of therapy have helped her believe in herself and her sense of self-worth. She attributes her ability to move forward from her years of suicidal thoughts to her family, who has always pushed her to be better. 

"I feel much better: I have friends and my family and I have felt much better since I graduated and I've been out of there."