Interview With Manuel X. Zamarripa, PhD, LPC-S, Co-Founder, and Jessica Tlazoltiani Zamarripa, Co-Founder, Institute of Chicana/x/o Psychology

Dr. Manuel X. Zamarripa, LPC-S is the director and co-founder of the Institute of Chicana/o Psychology based in Austin, TX, where he conducts community workshops as well as professional development training for educators and mental health professionals on issues related to Chicanx/Latinx wellness, cultural identity, mental health, and cultural revitalization from a Chicana/o/x affirmative framework. Dr. Zamarripa has presented at national and state level presentations and trainings in psychology and education on issues of Chicanx/Latinx well-being, cultural responsiveness, social justice, decolonization in psychology, psycho-social factors of academic achievement, and leadership. His publications (peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters) focus on counseling, assessment, and teaching of Chicanx and Latinx populations. His 25 years of clinical experience includes working with individual adults, adolescents, couples, and families in community and education settings (rural and urban) from varied economic and cultural backgrounds. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and approved supervisor and received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Counseling Psychology, his M.S. from Our Lady of the Lake in Counseling Psychology, and his B.A. from the University of Notre Dame in Psychology.

Jessica Tlazoltiani Zamarripa is a long time Austin mami activist and community organizer working toward social justice within the Latinx community. She is the daughter of a long ago 1930’s San Anto Chicano and a South Texas vaquero family mother. Most importantly, she is a mami to 3. Jessica is currently a co-founder and presenter with the community-based Institute of Chicana/o/x Psychology and was an organizer for the collective, Latina Mami, for more than 15 years. Her community home is Kalpulli Teokalli Teoyolotl. The preservation of her culture and community is a driving force in her life. Jessica is a founding member of Academia Cuauhtli, a local language and cultural revitalization school program for Spanish speaking Mexican American elementary students. She is also a past council member of Alma de Mujer Center for Social Change. She is a Danzante de La Luna and danzante with Danza Mexica Xochipilli. Her writing, dancing, and community work is medicine toward the liberation, healing, and flourishing of her children and her people.

Thank you so much for joining us in this conversation. Before we get started, we would love to know your backstory. When you were a young child or teenager, do you remember reading any books that reflected your culture or that told stories about life experiences with which you could relate? What are the titles of those books and how did you feel reading them?

Unfortunately, like so many of us, I did not have any books growing up that was reflective of my culture or my life experience. I do remember feeling this clear and distinct absence of cultural representation growing up. What shaped me were our oral family stories around many kitchen tables.

Thank you for sharing. Now, can you tell us what inspired you to start the Institute of Chicana/o Psychology? Who can take the classes that you offer?

The spark for me that led me down this path to ultimately starting the Institute goes all the way back to my college days in the early 90’s. I knew I had always wanted to pursue psychology, but I was already seeing how White the field was and the need to be more culturally inclusive. My other interests had to do with civil rights, particularly the Chicano movement and the history of educational equality and segregation of Mexican Americans. So, it seemed to me that I was going down this road where my two huge life interests were separate. It wasn’t until I was researching a paper in the library that I happened to come across a book titled “Chicano Psychology.” I had never heard of this book before and I was literally shocked to find it. I couldn’t believe it. It was like this ah-ha moment for me when I finally found out there had been a history of people doing work that combined my two interests. This was the early 90’s and when I looked at when the book was published, I saw that it was published in 1977. So, I thought to myself, “Again, this is another time when our history has been kept from us!” In this case, it was the history of some fantastic work that had already been done by Chicana/o/x psychologist well over 70 years ago.

Since then, I have been interested in the history and development of Chicana/o/x psychology. However, it wasn’t until after some years already in the field that I began outlining my ideas to begin the Institute. The final piece was when I met and began my relationship with Jessica, my wife, and we co-founded the Institute together. We both follow the spiritual and lifeways of Mexica traditions (i.e., Aztec) and we weave our ancestral ways with current culturally responsive Chicana/o/x psychology. As a dualidad, we weave the fabric together with the community that grows the Institute. 

Jessica Tlazoltiani Zamarripa is always clear that her family-life growing up, seeing the struggles, and the beauties of her people, as well as leading children in this society, made her realize that being a mami and a mujer in a world where children grow, is a social justice position. That has guided her community work and medicine in the Institute of Chicana/x/o Psychology.

We’ve always seen ourselves as a community-building organization and, thus, have worked to make our offering available to the community in general. We like to offer community workshops and online educational course on or related to Chicana/o/x psychology and overall wellness and cultural identity. These offerings are open to anyone interested in the content. We also offer professional development and mental health training for professionals in the mental health field. 

What type of feedback have you received from the Chicana/o/x community and the professionals that take your courses? How do you believe the courses have made a difference in their personal and professional lives?

The feedback we have received from the community has been overwhelmingly positive! We are so fortunate that the offerings we have put out seem to be filling a gap in the Chicana/o/x community in terms of the topics we are discussing and that we always come from a cultural strengths’ perspective.

People consistently tell us that our offerings have helped them to reconnect to their/our culture and especially have an appreciation for our ancestral ways and wisdom. Professionally, many continue to let us know that our trainings are usually the first ones they encounter that does not center a Western perspective of mental health and that utilize a Chicana/o/x affirmative framework and shifts their work.

When did you realize that you had created something special?

You know, we began offering topics that Jessica and I felt were important and needed in our community, but they were topics that we didn’t often see discussed, especially from a psychological perspective. We believed these were important, but the truth is we didn’t know what kind of reception we would encounter. I think I began to realize we had something special when people continued to show up to our platicas (before the pandemic when we had our offerings in person) and the feedback we were getting in the workshops. People kept on saying in our workshops that they finally felt they had a space where their voice was heard and their experiences were respected. Every time someone would begin crying when they were sharing their experiences and even saying they didn’t know they were crying. It was clear that the discussions we were facilitating and the information we were sharing was deeply touching people. Many of these people have stayed in touch with us even today.

What are the most popular courses that you have taught?

Our most popular offerings are our community plática “Spirituality & Mental Health: Chicana/o/x Indigenous Perspectives”, “Power of Stories to Heal: Cultural Strengths, Cultural Wounds” and our education class “Foundations of Chicana/o/x Psychology”

What is the most fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of creating the Institute of Chicana/o Psychology? 

I think when we give birth to an organization that is meant to uplift our communities, re-connect, re-member, add to a liberation and healing cause, social justice shifts in the mental health and wellness industry complex; the vision is strong. Then, to see that happen, heart by heart, person by person, professional by professional over these 10 years, it is incredibly fulfilling.

Who are three Chicana/o/x health, wellness, and spiritual practitioners, past or present, that everyone should know? Also, how did they help to advance and improve their industries?  

Dr. Manuel Ramirez is a retired psychologist, researcher, and practitioner that contributed so much. We build on his work for sure. Jerry Tello is an elder who historically and contemporarily does a lot of the same work we do with indigenous-informed mental health and community wellness. More and more of us are beginning to contribute to this movement to bring mental health and wellness into a right relationship with our spirits, our bodies, and our minds in our communities.

What new courses are you excited to teach in 2022? How can our readers stay informed about the courses you offer?

We are offering several new events this year.

We have several upcoming offerings beginning in March! We’re excited to offer a community workshop: “Rebozo como Arma Cosmica” March 26th,

A community workshop that is also open to mental health professionals: “The Importance of Psycho-Spirituality for Trauma Healing” April 2nd, 

A community workshop: “Our Relatives, Your Allies: The Medicine of the Rocks and Crystals” April 9th.

We also have our 6-week online class in Chicana/o/x Psychology “Contemporary Chicana/o/x Families” beginning April 7th

A 4-week training for mental health professionals: “Chicana/o/x Affirmative Therapy – Level 1” beginning June 18th 

Will also offer again our community plática on “Chicana/o/x Liberation and Healing” later this fall and so much more throughout the year.

Thank you for this meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success.

Thank you so much for the work you do. We appreciate sharing this time and energy with you and your readers.

People can find our offerings at – www.razapsychology.org, IG: @xicanpsych; Facebook: facebook.com/chicanopsychology

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