From the Rio Grande Valley to Silicon Valley, Alumna Aims to Work with Underserved Populations

September 15, 2021
Monique Cano
 
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month September 15 through October 15, we asked Monique Cano, a 2020 alumna of the PhD in Clinical Psychology program, about her path to PAU and her hopes of serving Latinx communities as a clinical psychologist.
 
Please enjoy this first-person account:
 
I was raised along the Texas-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the poorest regions in the United States. As a child I witnessed health disparities among low-income individuals in my immediate community, which included hard-working immigrants from Latin America. Limited access to resources and education impacted their ability to address threats to their physical and mental health. 
 
Based on my training, I am aware that underserved populations are less likely to access and receive the health care that they need when compared to individuals from other backgrounds. Witnessing how health disparities impacted my community influenced my interest in psychology and social justice issues. 
 
My family’s experiences, values, and my upbringing fostered an interest in clinical psychology. My abuelo (grandfather) traveled hundreds of miles away from his family, friends, and home in Mexico to the United States to gain a more prosperous life for himself and his family. He spoke of sleeping under overpasses, only having the clothes on his back to keep him warm, being discriminated against, and having the drive to continue to move forward despite these hardships. His mental resilience and ability to succeed, despite the cultural and language barriers, inspired my family to honor his legacy. 
 
My parents practiced these values through their work as principals at schools that serve low-income students. Many of the students that attend these public schools live in colonias (low-income subdivisions that lack basic services such as proper plumbing, electricity, and paved roads), are English-language learners, and have little to no access to health care. My parents have always modeled respect, compassion, empathy, and hope when working with their students. I often reflect on these values and make a conscious effort to put them into practice by ensuring most of my clinical and research work focus on vulnerable, underserved populations. 
 
I like to think that finding PAU had something to do with fate. I remember coming home one day after working as a counselor at a nonprofit and being handed my mail. There was a letter from PAU with an invitation to apply for the Clinical Psychology PhD program. I hadn’t heard of PAU prior and immediately began doing my research on the university. What ultimately influenced my decision to apply to and attend PAU was their training in diversity.  
 
While attending PAU, I made sure to seek opportunities to 1) become a leader in student organizations that promote diversity & Latinx mental health, 2) align my clinical experiences with my goals of receiving excellent training in minority mental health and cultural competency, and 3) seek research experiences with a focus on underserved populations. 
 
I served as secretary and treasurer for the Society for Ethnic and Multicultural Awareness (SECA) and treasurer for the Palo Alto University Latino Student Organization (PULSO). As a leader in these organizations I have had the opportunity to organize and attend multiple round table events that focus on various diversity issues, host a Día de los Muertos masking event at PAU focusing on destigmatizing mental illness, and invite scholars such as Dr. Yvette Flores [author of the book Chicana and Chicano Mental Health: Alma, Mente y Corazón (the Mexican American Experience)] to PAU to discuss diversity issues amongst Chicana and Chicano Mental Health with students and faculty. 
 
These various opportunities have provided me with enriching educational experiences and discussions that enhanced my learning in and out of the classroom while at PAU.
 
While at PAU, I also made sure to align my clinical experience at a specialty clinic that coincided with my goals of receiving excellent training in minority mental health, underserved populations, and cultural competency. 
 
La Clínica Latina, a specialty clinic that provides culturally competent psychotherapy and assessment services in English and in Spanish to children, adults, families, and couples was the perfect fit for my training goals. At La Clínica, I learned how to refine the therapeutic techniques that I deliver in Spanish, conceptualize cases through a multicultural and biopsychosocial lens, and received clinical supervision in Spanish. The many different facets of cultural competency were frequently discussed and addressed during individual and group supervision; having the opportunity to learn about delivering culturally competent services from my supervisor, Dr. Revilla, and being a part of enriching scholarly discussions with my peers in La Clínica Latina during supervision was a hallmark in my clinical training at PAU.  
 
My mentor, Dr. Ricardo Muñoz, was and still is pivotal in influencing my career trajectory. Before joining the Institute for International Internet Interventions for Health (i4Health) lab, I met with Dr. Muñoz to discuss my interest in becoming a student in his lab. The very first question Dr. Muñoz asked me was, “Monique, what are your dreams?” I was initially taken aback because no teacher, no professor, no mentor had ever asked me that question before. I immediately began discussing my career goals of reducing health disparities and creating a clinic that would provide free and low-cost services to those in poverty. Dr. Muñoz welcomed my ideas and helped me brainstorm avenues to ensure that I would meet my goals; becoming a clinical professor at a university seemed like the perfect route to take. Dr. Muñoz encouraged me to believe that my ultimate goals and aspirations were possible and not merely dreams. Since that conversation, I have been working towards the goals we discussed in our first meeting and I know that because of his mentorship and my dedication to these goals, they are within close reach.
 
PAU plays a crucial role in educating future mental health professionals to serve communities through a social justice lens that focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The university’s dedication to diversity studies, clinical opportunities to work with patients from various backgrounds, and faculty members who are ground-breaking researchers within the diversity literature make PAU students trailblazers in serving communities in culturally relevant ways. 
 
Currently, I’m a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) T32 Postdoctoral Scholar at the UCSF Weill Institute for Neuroscience's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. My primary research interests include adapting and implementing culturally appropriate health-related interventions for underserved populations who suffer from co-occuring disorders.  
 
As a Clinical Psychologist I want to give back to the communities that taught, inspired, and encouraged me to achieve my goals. I am committed to serving marginalized populations and will dedicate my future clinical and research endeavors to creating, implementing, and testing health related interventions with a focus on these communities.  
 
As PAU celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, are there Hispanic or Latinx role models you’d like to highlight? 
 

First and foremost, my parents and grandparents. The impact they had on me to be the scholar and psychologist I am today has had the most profound influence on my career.   

 
My Latinx friends and colleagues, you inspire me every day with your grit, resiliency, and dedication to our community.   
 
Dr. Ricardo Muñoz, for asking me what my dreams were and daring me to have faith in making those dreams a reality.   
 
Roberto Lovato (the author of Unforgetting) for taking the time to meet with me to discuss navigating being a Latinx in the U.S., digging deep into our own difficult experiences to find beauty & meaning, and to rise to the occasion of my dreams.    
 
Every Latinx immigrant who chose to journey to the United States with the hope of a better life and future. I see my family in you, and you inspire me.  
 
Every Latinx farm worker & every Latinx migrant worker who work tirelessly to fill our grocery store shelves with the goods that we so often take for granted. I see my family in you, and you inspire me.  
 
Every Latinx domestic worker who plays a crucial role in some of the most essential tasks of life such as raising children, caregiving, maintaining a home, and preparing meals. I see my family in you, and you inspire me.   
 
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her commitment and dedication to social justice issues.   
 
Selena Quintanilla, enough said.
 
I would also like to highlight every mental health professional who dedicates their time to working with Spanish-speaking and Latinx populations. I know that translating materials, formulating treatments, and developing research to adequately serve Latinxs takes a great deal of effort because Latinxs are not a part of U.S. majority culture and do not fit into the general therapy / Western psychology mold. There is always more work to be done in this area and I applaud those who are dedicating their time to do it. ¡Sí se puede!