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UW-Madison student explores cultural identity through undergraduate research

UW-Madison undergraduate Luis Gonzalez explained mental health stigmas that exist within Latin American culture.

UW-Madison undergraduate Luis Gonzalez explained mental health stigmas that exist within Latin American culture.

Image By: Kai Brito

For Luis Gonzalez, a simple question such as “Where are you from?” never has an easy answer. Born in Minnesota, raised in Ecuador and moving to and from multiple towns in Wisconsin, he said he has a hard time choosing a single place to call home.

Through his research, Gonzalez had the opportunity to explore other cultures similar to his own in Latin America. He shared his senior independent research project during a poster session at the 2017 Undergraduate Research Symposium last Thursday.

The project involved an investigation of mental health perceptions within indigenous communities through a series of interviews throughout the rural region of Saraguro, Ecuador, the origin of his cultural roots.

“My idea was basically to see what is it that goes into mental health within indigenous communities,” Gonzalez said. “I wanted to start with a community that I was relatively familiar with, which was Saraguro, where my family comes from.”

Gonzalez spent three weeks in Saraguro last summer interviewing 11 members of the community to understand regional perspectives surrounding mental health care. The interviews were categorized into three main types of perspectives: spiritual advisors, medical providers and traditional medicine practitioners.

He explored the differences between indigenous medical practices and traditional Western-based methodology. From his observations, he offered recommendations to help improve community-based healthcare models.

Gonzalez stressed the difficulties of obtaining interviews from community members due to the mental health stigmas within Latin American culture.

“The topic of mental health is something that’s not really talked about much, especially within indigenous communities,” he said.

Gonzalez plans to publish his research later this year so he can share it with other mental health professionals. He has already earned presentation spots at both the Oxford Education Research Symposium and Stanford Research Conference. He also plans to continue his research and apply to the counseling psychology graduate school program at UW-Madison to continue his work with Stephen Quintana, current mentor and a professor in the department of counseling psychology.

“When I came to college, I did not see [indigenous mental health] as a subject that I was going to be very interested in,” Gonzalez said. “I would never have expected to be, right now, in the position that I’m in, but I took a chance on a project that I thought, you know, it’s just kind of working within a Spanish community. Lo and behold…it’s kind of what I plan to do.”

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