Pierina Reyes and son
Kathy_Reed_Photo_1_crop

Pierina Reye’s children

Pierina Reyes, a resource for her LatinX Community

On the eve of her 22nd birthday, Pierina Reyes felt the world crumbling around her. A young new mother recently abandoned by her husband, she felt helpless, alone with her young son in the mountains of Colorado. She had no money, job, support or hope. “That was the first time I had a suicidal thought, not only to end my own life, but also the life of my son.” Moments later the universe aligned and a mother’s long-distance intuition intervened.  “I received a call from my mother in Peru. She listened to my struggles and was a great support. I still wonder what would have happened if she didn’t call, and I also wondered what happens to someone like me if they have no family or support?” 

Struggling far from home 

Twelve years ago, at the age of 18, Pierena (a.k.a. Nina) came to Summit County with a J1 work Visa from Peru. She admits she was running from a toxic and sexist family environment laced with alcoholism. 
When Nina arrived to Summit County she struggled against many barriers, including language obstacles and troubles with documentation. Lonely and without any close friends or family in the area, she met and married her husband. Nina quickly became pregnant and gave birth to her son at the age of 21.  “Being a first-time mom was a great feeling, but was also a traumatic event. Being in a different country with a different language, different system, and no documents created many barriers. When you’re undocumented you don’t have access to health care or mental health services.”  Due to her thoughts of suicide and concerns for the safety of her son, law enforcement and social services became involved. “This was a bad experience for me. I felt prejudices and a stigma around me not meeting their expectations of being a good mom. They didn’t care about the underlying issues and struggles I was going through. They just judged and assumed things about me.” 

Masking the pain 

After receiving a job at Walmart Nina began to feel more financially independent and was able to start providing for her son and herself. However with continued thoughts of depression, anxiety, and fear she began to drink heavily to cope and mask these feelings. She often left her son with friends and babysitters to go drink on the weekends. Her drinking led to more issues with law enforcement and increased legal troubles. Once again she felt the feelings of judgment from society- this time from her own LatinX community. “They didn’t want to help me or to understand the struggles and underlying issues I was going through. They just expected me to stop.”  Feeling isolated again and with no support she became involved in another relationship. Despite signs of toxicity and physical abuse, she forgave him and stayed in the relationship. This was the type of sexist relationship she had seen back in Peru growing up, and she didn’t know any better. However, one night things took a turn for the worse. It’s still hard to remember details. She ended up in the hospital with over 25 bruises, a broken lip, and the side effects from being strangled and choked.

Blessed by therapy 

 

After Nina’s assault, the Summit County Advocates for Victims of Abuse provided Nina with therapy for the first time in her life. She began to deal with her own obstacles, including alcoholism, depression, codependency, toxic relationships and being a single mom. 

“Looking back at all of the traumatic events I had been through, therapy was truly a blessing. I changed my views and my perspective. I also felt more connected to my son. I became more nurturing, and spent more quality time with him.  A lot of parents think that not doing bad things in front of your kids is enough- but it’s not. We need to show them more love and spend quality time together.”

After the sessions with the advocates ran out Nina recognized two things. One: she needed more therapy. Two: the community needed more bilingual and bicultural counselors. This began to propel a new vision for her life and intentions of an ideal career where she could help people like herself. She began to volunteer with the Advocates, grateful to give back to the organization that had helped her both mentally and financially after her domestic-violence incident. She signed up for classes at Colorado Mountain College and an English as a Second Language (ESL) course. She worked during the day and took night classes, bringing her young son along to make it work. 

After graduating from CMC with an Associate’s Degree in Science and General Studies, she decided to continue with her education. She received financial assistance from the Advocates, allowing her to transfer to MSU Denver, completing her BA in Psychology. She continued to feel the cultural restrictions and judgments. “Education is a privilege in the U.S., not a right for everyone. Education discriminates people based on their legal status and finances. There are a lot of immigrants who are competent and have a desire to be productive for their communities but we have too many barriers that don’t allow us to grow.” 

In 2019, alongside her mother visiting from Peru, Nina celebrated her graduation with a BA in Psychology. At the time she was content, school was expensive and time consuming. But the quiet whispers of helping people with similar experiences and situations didn’t silence. Nina continued to believe that Summit County needed more counselors to treat others with kindness, love and empathy. “The unfair part about stigma is that people can shame others without knowing the facts of the situation. 

Every person deserves to be treated fairly and with dignity. No one should be stereotyped by authorities or law enforcement.” 

Healing by giving back 

It’s no surprise Nina chose to continue her education and expand her goals. She is currently in her last year of graduate school working towards her MA in clinical counseling. Nina loves her job working with a mental health organization in Denver. She also serves as a board member for Building Hope and taught ESL classes at CMC.  Self-care is something Nina prioritizes, working with a therapist and staying involved with the community. Although it can be challenging to work long hours and two jobs, she is proud to be a Summit County homeowner and is laying down her roots here.   Nina hopes that sharing her story will encourage other people in her LatinX community to be open about mental health struggles. She is hopeful that more bilingual and bicultural therapists will be able to serve Summit County residents soon. 
Pierina Reyes at the Statue of Liberty

Piernia Reyes at the Statue of Liberty

She also believes that there needs to be less shame for mistakes that are made. “It’s never too late to ask for help and start over,” shared Nina. “Try to find what self-care routines work best for you – working out, manicures, shopping, or dancing. I try to take two road trips a year, eliminating some of the stresses from traveling that undocumented immigrants can face. I want to represent my LatinX community and be a resource for newcomers facing similar challenges.”

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Story by Alyse Piburn, special projects writer for Building Hope Summit County. If you have a story to share, reach out to her at alyse@buildinghopesummit.org. Photos submitted by Pierina Reyes.