Growing up in the rural eastern Coachella Valley, Olivia Rodriguez, 25, couldn’t talk openly about mental health. While she had always used writing as a coping mechanism — constantly carrying a notebook or piece of paper to write down her feelings — there wasn’t a safe space for her to have a conversation about her emotions with peers.
“Growing up, I remember there [were moments when I thought], 'Oh, I need to talk to someone about this, but where do I go?' Or even when I talked about it, I was like, 'Well, what's the next step?' ” Rodriguez said. “The infrastructure for mental health is not fully there.”
But last summer, Rodriguez became a founding member of ¡Que Madre! Media, a storytelling collective of young women of color. Through telling their own stories, ¡Que Madre! gives its participants a platform to talk about mental health — taking steps towards destigmatizing this issue in their community.
The project started when members of Coachella Unincorporated, a youth media program in the Eastern Coachella Valley, requested a platform of their own — one that was dedicated to amplifying the voices of young women of color. Last summer, a pilot group of around 10 participants began to meet regularly. By March, the group had grown to 40 consistent members and had connected with 70 young women in total.
Rodriguez has been part of Coachella Unincorporated since 2015, and was thrilled to help create a space for young women to talk about mental health. She’s seen how the dialogue sparked by ¡Que Madre! has made these conversations more accessible.
“It's really inspiring to know that the message that ¡Que Madre! instills in young women is [that] we are creators and we are worthy of telling our own stories,” Rodriguez said.
Members of the project are able to share their stories through diverse mediums, including audio pieces, illustrations, and poetry. They also run social media campaigns on Instagram, sharing their perspectives on mental health in both English and Spanish.
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Photos from one of ¡Que Madre!'s social media campaigns, where participants described how and why they cope with mental health issues.
Rodriguez helped decide on the name ¡Que Madre!. In Spanish, the phrase “que padre” means “how cool.” However, when “padre” is replaced with the feminine “madre”, the expression turns into an insult.
Rodriguez and other founding members saw ¡Que Madre! as a powerful reclamation of a typically offensive phrase. It also serves as a commentary on how women and mothers are treated in their community.
To use the name ¡Que Madre!, Rodriguez said, was to say, “You know what, women can be seen in this positive light — as this source of empowerment. And we also are creating this space for us. So why not just have [it] in the title?”
There are not many mental health resources in the eastern Coachella Valley that provide culturally competent care for the largely Latinx community, according to Rodriguez, such as having bilingual doctors. ¡Que Madre! fosters partnerships with mental health professionals, bridging the gap between advocacy and accessible resources for their members.
Rodriguez has since graduated from the program and is now a mentor for the group. She says she looks up to the writers she mentors and the pride they take in telling their own stories is inspiring. “Even having that space, knowing that it’s there in the valley for younger generations … brings me a lot of hope.”