The Candle of The Sacred Heart/ La vela del Sagrado Corazón

To celebrate Hispanic Heritage month, I’m sharing a reflection on a family tradition that has made a lifelong impact. What parts of your Hispanic heritage have shaped your life?

IMG_20180920_134422990In my Puerto Rican household, one of the most significant family values ingrained in all of us was the Catholic Faith and the fact that we would follow it. Dreading every early Sunday morning for Mass, going to prayer services with my Abuela for every group of prayer circles, and receiving five out of seven sacraments were all part of the checklist that my family expected me to complete.

Later in life, when these things seemed difficult or life got in the way, the one thing that continued to be important was the lighting of the church candles by my Abuela. She always made sure at the end of every Mass to head to the small Chapel, usually in the back of the Church, and in front of the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Usually, the rows of lit candles would glow quietly while I watched my Abuela silently stand in prayer for minutes on end. In my mind I can still see the graceful long wooden wicks and smell of sulfur burning reverently at the feet of the tall statue of Jesus. The images burn lasting memories, knowing how important each prayer was for my Abuela and how I often longed to know what things she was asking for or for whom she prayed most.

As she became older, my Abuela attended church services less; life and health often got in the way as it does. But one thing she always had were her candles. “Abuela, mañana tengo un examen, ¿prendame una vela?” “Abuela, acabo de aplicar por un trabajo, ¿prendame una vela?” “Abuela, estoy mal, ¿prendame una vela?” And when she saw us struggle she would offer and say, “No te preocupes, te prendo una vela.”

Our understanding of the Candle was that the lighting was a way of extending a prayer and showing solidarity with the person on whose behalf the prayer was offered. Honestly, with all the Puerto Rican home remedies I was taught over the years (i.e. rolling a coconut with only your feet or having a full glass of water behind the door, both practices used to absorb bad spirits and energy in the house), it was always the Candle that did the job. I keep one in my kitchen, near the sink of course, as is tradition, and will offer the same support my Abuela did for all who ask and all who need it. It’s one of the ways I honor the my Puerto Rican heritage and the wonderful Abuela who gave me my life lessons and the traditions that continue to keep grounded to the path which I walk today.

It’s summertime, and the livin’ is not always easy

Many people have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but it is more frequently associated with the colder months. However, it can also present during the summer, along with many other disorders. Here are a few articles discussing  some of the research on how the summer months can be a difficult time for some. If you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone and that help is available!

Dealing with Mental Health Issues During the Summer

How Does Summer Affect Your Mental Health?

Actividades para los niños/Activities for Kids

El verano

¡El año escolar está al punto de terminar! Ahora, ¿que podemos hacer con nuestros niños? Aquí hay varios sitios con sugerencias, pero nosotros queremos saber cuales son sus lugares o actividades favoritos. ¡Déjenos un comentario!

The school year is almost over! Now, what do we do with our kids? Here are a few sites with suggestions, but we want to know what your favorite places or activities are. Leave us a comment!

Nature and Parks in Charleston

Parques y atracciones naturales de Charleston

10 Things to Do in Charleston, SC with Kids

Using Children’s Books to Start a Conversation about Immigration

Sometimes the most important things to talk about are also the hardest things to talk about. Immigration is one of those things, and if the person you’re having the discussion with is also a child, things can get even trickier. Here is where picture books come in, and they are useful for different reasons for different groups of people. For those children directly affected, they can help them process their emotions and let them know they are not alone. For those not directly affected, they raise awareness and instill empathy for people who are often dehumanized. This New York Times article discusses 4 children’s books about immigration: ‘Mama’s Nightingale,’ by Edwidge Danticat, and More. Have you read any of them? What others should we be reading?vasile-tiplea-226841-unsplash

Natural Disasters Have Unexpected Impacts on Mental Health.


Whenever there’s a disaster, there’s a rush on hospital admissions for psychiatric problems. But on the whole, the illness is already there.

Emergencies naturally provoke delusions and the emergency efforts, for mania. Obviously, there are direct mental health consequences – a small rise in post-traumatic stress disorder inevitably follows disaster. This correlates with the severity of the consequences of the disaster (loss of family, friends, animals and property).

And there’s usually a big rethink, with about a third of those affected leaving the area permanently. But, for the most part, this isn’t driven by mental health issues, it results from the very real fears about whether living in a disaster zone is worth it.

Resilience and Weakness

In terms of mental health, the real effect of disasters is surprising. When handled well  disasters are an opportunity for communities and people who are directly involved to come together, and this appears to fight against mental illness by strengthening social bonds, and feeding a sense of purpose and meaning.

Another surprise is the flipside – an inexplicable rise in the mental illnesses that affect the elderly. Those who are frail and are unable to get involved may feel they are ultimately only a burden. Such people suffer terribly from mental illness as a result of disasters. The big rise in mental health admissions after disaster happens in this group – its first presentations of dementia and senile degeneration is many times higher than with any other mental illness.

The complexity of social, environmental and psychological dynamics during an emergency cannot be underestimated. With normalcy going with the first evacuees, the strength of “all that is good” becomes the new foundation. As the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience points out, the power of the community (people you never met before come out of the woodwork to help), and the abiding dedication of the emergency services can be truly inspiring. And this is just the thing for building physical and mental resilience.

A useful way to understand this effect is through a theory called salutogenics. The theory rests on a relative sense of coherence that’s built by fostering three things – manageability, comprehensibility and meaning. Conversely, the sense of coherence is depleted by anything that rattles the ability to cope – not only a lack of resources required to manage; a lack of knowledge needed to comprehend circumstances, or a lack of meaning in life, but more general forces like the deterioration of age and time.

While emergencies inevitably attack the ability to manage, they allow for meaning by providing clear answers to life’s big question – what are you here for? Getting involved in an emergency effort gives the answer – I’m not a parasite, I’m here to save people. I’m a contributor.

The formation of beliefs like these has been shown to assist in the best of health outcomes, not only in mental health. Recent research has also identified the effect of improved meaning and comprehensibility in conditions as diverse as heart disease and cancers. Surprising as it is, disasters can actually improve health if people find a way to get meaningfully involved in the disaster response effort.

Perceiving is Believing

Reading this, you might think a flood or hurricane is a wonderful thing. But there’s a big caveat – in emergencies, the perceptions of those involved are critical. Good interpersonal connections create meaning, but the lack of structure within emergency situations also provides opportunities for selfishness and even criminality. And these inevitably lend themselves to atrocious outcomes (consider Hurricane Katrina).

Good information improves comprehensibility, but in an emergency, information may be hard to come by and is frequently manipulated. What’s more, people might not have the heart to be honest when it matters most.

An under-promise allows low expectations to be exceeded, and this allows for a powerful message of hope and the belief that everything ultimately works out well. On the other hand, disappointment is easily taken as betrayal.

Disaster victims should be expected to make unreasonable demands. Victims may, for instance, extract promises that are difficult or impossible to keep. Who, after all, wants to deny someone who is desperate and might have his life in danger? Who wouldn’t prefer to lie and say, “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine”?

But a hastily made guess that “someone will be there to help in a couple of hours” can start doing damage at 120 minutes and one second. The reason is because the promise suddenly becomes questionable, and at this point, comprehensibility collapses and meaning starts to erode. What could be more destructive mentally?

Trending In Immigration Today: ‘Sanctuary schools’ across America defy Trump’s immigration crackdown

3000High school students in South Florida rally against Donald Trump’s immigration policies and ask that their schools become ‘sanctuaries’. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • This article – the first of a three-part series – was reported by, a nonpartisan education news nonprofit, in partnership with the Guardian
  • From Los Angeles to Miami to New York, dozens of school districts are vowing to shield students and their families from immigration authorities

It’s been an excruciating six months since 14-year-old Fatima Avelica watched, sobbing, as immigration agents picked up her father on their way to school.

Fatima’s father, Rómulo Avelica-González, who immigrated illegally from Mexico in the 1990s, had driven Fatima and her 12-year-old sister, Yuleni, to school in Los Angeles every morning for years, despite a deportation order hanging over his head. But a month after Donald Trump took office as president and called for ramped-up immigration arrests, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents pulled over the family’s car.

The wrenching video of the arrest that Fatima took from the backseat went viral, capturing a moment that would come to symbolize the anguish of schoolchildren who have seen their families torn apart by aggressive immigration enforcement, as well as the anxiety of others who worry their families could be next.

For many of the estimated 1 million undocumented children in the US — and the roughly 4.5 million young people, like Fatima and Yuleni, born here and with at least one undocumented parent (like Fatima and Yuleni) — anxiety travels with them from home to school, creating a climate of fear in which learning is disrupted and classrooms are destabilized.

As Trump tightens immigration enforcement, education officials across the country are launching a national resistance movement, declaring their schools “sanctuaries” from Trump’s immigration policies. Superintendents and school board members from districts as diverse as Miami, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York City, Des Moines and Portland,

Oregon have created or revised “sanctuary school” resolutions, vowing to shield students’ personal data from immigration authorities and block federal agents’ access to school property unless they present a warrant.

California — where about 250,000 undocumented children are enrolled in public schools and 750,000 have at least one undocumented parent — is at the forefront of the movement. Statewide, about 60 schools and county education offices have adopted resolutions to safeguard undocumented students. Lawmakers are also debating a “sanctuary state” bill that, in part, takes aim at potential data mining that could use students’ personal information to uncover their immigration status.

“It’s not that the public school necessarily has a file that says, ‘These kids are undocumented’ and ‘These kids aren’t undocumented,’” said Adam Schwartz, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group that fights for online privacy. Rather, schools collect all kinds of personal information about students, including addresses and languages spoken at home. “One database by itself might not tell you anything,” he said. “But when you sew it all together, when this mosaic comes together, a motivated party could use this to begin to identify who undocumented immigrants are.”

All children living in America have the legal right to attend public schools, regardless of their immigration status, due to a 1982 Supreme Court decision. And since 2011 Immigration and Customs Enforcement has maintained a policyof avoiding enforcement activities at schools. In a statement, agency spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said the policy remains in effect under the Trump administration, adding that the Department of Homeland Security is “committed to ensuring that people seeking to participate in activities or utilize services provided at any sensitive location are free to do so without fear or hesitation,” though she added that authorities “will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement”.

Still, many immigrant families worry that enrollment in school could create data and paper trails that expose them to possible enforcement action. And Trump’s executive orders on immigration encourage collaboration between federal and local authorities, triggering concern that local police officers stationed inside schools might share information with federal immigration agents.

In the first 100 days after Trump signed executive orders ramping up immigration enforcement, federal agents arrested more than 41,000 people for civil immigration offenses, a 38% increase over the same period in 2016. His proposed 2018 budget, which faces an uphill battle in Congress, calls for the hiring of an additional 1,500 immigration agents at a cost of $300 million and earmarks $1.5 billion for expanding detention and deportation efforts. On 2 August, Trump announced a proposal that would halve the number of legal immigrants admitted to the country over the next decade.

The heightened enforcement has brought heightened anxiety. After the recent presidential election, some schools saw marked drops in attendance as immigrant parents, afraid of exposing their children to the authorities, kept their kids at home.

Schools in Las Cruces, New Mexico, saw a 60% spike in absences following a local immigration raid in February. That coincided with a national Day Without Immigrants protest when several districts across the country reported a surge in absences; but many students didn’t return to class for a month or longer. Now as schools begin their academic year, the Las Cruces district is opening “international welcome centers” at four high schools to better serve students who are new to the US, said Roberto Lozano, the district’s chief officer of equity, innovation and social justice.

Some sanctuary school policies represent symbolic actions to show families that schools are on their side and educate them about their rights. Earlier this month, Los Angeles, where Fatima and Yuleni still attend school, rolled out the “We Are One” campaign. Online resources offer students and their families a list of local immigration attorneys and advice should they encounter federal authorities. They also recommend creating a family preparedness plan and designating a trusted adult to care for a child if an emergency arises.

Coincidentally, in the days after LA superintendent Michelle King announced the campaign, Fatima and Yuvelina received some good news. On 10 August, an immigration appeals court threw out their father’s deportation order. He could be released on bond by the end of the month, though deportation proceedings could take years.

In Oakland, California schools have new posters — in multiple languages — that proclaim: “Oakland schools are sanctuary schools, you are welcome here.”

“Walls speak,” said Nicole Knight, executive director of the district’s English language learner and multilingual achievement office. “When the community comes in and this is one of the first messages that they see, that’s comforting to them. They know that the school has their back.”

Francisco Negrón, chief legal officer at the National School Boards Association, said he fielded questions from education leaders after the election about the legality of sanctuary resolutions. His advice: be cautious, because “sanctuary” is not a legal term and is, in some instances, “politically loaded”. In those conversations, Negrón said, he warns districts to not “overpromise” the protections they can provide to undocumented families.

Though they don’t always carry much legal weight, sanctuary school resolutions help ease parents’ and children’s anxiety by ensuring that teachers and principals know how to respond if immigration agents go to a school or request student information.

A new sanctuary school policy in Portland, Oregon reminds staffers they may not disclose the immigration status or other personal information about students, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. In Oakland, school administrators received training this month on what to do under the district’s sanctuary resolution should enforcement activity occur at or near a school.

The resolutions can also help counter fear generated by heated political rhetoric and misinformation. In a television interview earlier this year, Mike Ritze, a Republican member of Oklahoma’s House of Representatives, said the cash-strapped state spends $60m to educate non-English-speaking students and officials should “identify them and then turn them over to ICE to see if they truly are citizens, and do we really have to educate non-citizens?”

Ritze later said he was referring to non-English-speaking students with criminal records. “If they’re a criminal, they should be turned over to ICE,” he said. “Murder trumps educating a 16-year-old.”

That sort of talk, some school officials say, is why sanctuary resolutions are so important.