Introducing No Soy De Aquí nor from there with Christine, a series centering on the search for self, healing, and fumbling towards liberation!

Join us for this blog series, where therapist Christine Leone, LCSW, ICDVP, will share her experience, strength, and hope for community liberation and healing.

Today we’re introducing Christine, who draws from her extensive and varied experience to put language to some of our shared realities (and possibilities).

Questions and Answers

Sarah Suzuki: Let’s start with your story – where did you grow up, and what led you to where you are today? Has it been a straightforward path for you?

Christine Leone: My life and work have not been a straightforward path for me, and that is part of what formed the foundation I draw from in this work. I am half white and half Ecuadorian, I am a trauma survivor, and I was an older student when I entered graduate school. These experiences often left me feeling like an outsider and searching for a place to belong. It has been a journey towards recognizing that I can create the spaces where I belong, and I can discern what doesn’t belong to me. I also feel grateful to understand that I am still on that journey. It has been life-changing, and it will be lifelong.

I was born in New York City, where my mom and her family immigrated to in the 1960s from Ecuador. My mom was young when I was born, and we lived with my grandparents for the first few years of my life. I didn’t know my biological dad. But after my mom married my preschool teacher (a white guy from Connecticut), he officially adopted me, so I did have the traditional nuclear family growing up.

My parents valued education and worked hard to put each other through college and graduate school. They moved us from New York City to Portland, OR, and finally to the Chicago area to pursue their education. Growing up, I saw how they worked to create a solid middle-class life for my sister and me.

Now, my son, my partner, and I live upstairs from my parents, and my sister lives 15 mins away. I resented moving around at the time, but now I am so grateful because I know that what I have is primarily because of them.

I think where things were not so straightforward was the trauma I experienced and my search for belonging due to being multi-racial. Searching for a place to belong when your nervous system is dysregulated can make you susceptible to questionable decisions and abusive situations. Additionally, when you are half white and half “other,” you may never fully feel like an insider, and any sense of belonging feels precarious. There was often a sense of bracing myself because eventually, someone or something would make me question how authentically white or Latina/e/x I really was.

Speaking Spanish, for example, only recently have people begun to understand that someone might not speak Spanish due to the collective trauma of assimilation. Still, it is often used to measure how Latina/e/x you really are.

I was well into adulthood when I realized I am both. I am white, and I am Latina/e/x. Spanish was my first language, and I had to relearn it due to my proximity to whiteness. I can dance to any Latin rhythm, and I like mayo. I can make a ceviche con tostones and a tuna casserole. That’s just me, and I know that comes with a lot of privilege.

Anyway, my search for belonging influenced my career trajectory because I dropped out of college, moved around, worked various service jobs, and had no idea what I wanted to do. At some point, I got serious. I learned how to use computers and landed a job as an administrative assistant in a law firm that represented people being charged with crimes in the Cook County court system.

This experience of working in a lawyer’s office exposed me to the horrors of what we call the justice system, and I saw firsthand how we were living The New Jim Crow. Yes, some folks do terrible things. But mostly, I saw neighborhoods being terrorized by law enforcement and Black and Brown men paying thousands of dollars to prevent themselves from being swept up into the prison system. Also, by then, my mom had completed law school and had her own practice serving the Spanish-speaking immigrant community. Her stories about the injustice she saw and the satisfaction of helping folks navigate the “justice” system were inspiring.

This ignited a spark in me that guided me through community college and eventually through graduate school. It took me a long time because I also had to work, but with the support of my family, I did it.

Talk about determination. What happened next?

Well, it wasn’t just determination. It was a recipe that included a family legacy of survival skills, curiosity, and privilege. I have the intergenerational survival skills from my mom’s side of the family to get things done, critical thinking from parents who valued ethics and kindness more than their status, and the privileges of a middle-class upbringing with close proximity to whiteness.

You really appreciate the intergenerational context in how you got to this point. What drew you to the field of social work? Psychotherapy?

Living through trauma and being a witness to trauma exposes you to truths that many folks don’t want to see. I couldn’t unsee it, and I couldn’t unknow it. And I could never feel at peace working for profit and resource hoarding. I needed deeper meaning.

I chose social work for practical reasons. A social work degree costs less than law school and takes less time than a Ph.d. or Psy.D. Also, at that time, I could get a solid and affordable education by attending the Chicago community colleges, transferring to Northeastern Illinois University, and I graduated with my MSW in 2008.

Since getting my MSW, I have worked extensively with folks who have experienced migration trauma, sexualized or intimate partner violence, generational trauma, and oppression-related trauma. Most of this work has been in the non-profit sector, and after getting burnt out by all the non-profit nonsense, the stars aligned, and I found you all. You all have provided the space for me to continue my healing journey and meaningfully develop my identity as a therapist. I am finally beginning to feel like I am doing what I was meant to do.

You have a passion for working with people who have experiences with immigration and migration – particularly folks from Latin America and South Asia. Tell us more about that.

Well, I lived abroad in Ecuador and South India, which gives me more of an intercultural perspective. And migration in search of opportunity is part of my lineage. Intergenerational stories and experiences give me a deeper understanding of the immigrant experience – including the costs that can come with acculturating into an individualist society from a collectivist culture.

I also have had the lived experience of feeling like an outsider or like “no soy de aqui nor from there.” This is partly because of my ethnic identity and because I straddle two different cultures that question my belonging. Historically, that has been a lonely place for me. Still, I also recognize the privilege and freedom it can bring.

Often to belong, we need to shrink ourselves to meet someone else’s imagined standards. But when we realize this hurts, we can begin to be curious about what it might be like to not hurt like this. What would it feel like to remember and reclaim your divine beingness no matter where you are? It is a question worthy of exploration.

What’s inspiring you professionally right now?

Right now, it has become a little more challenging to feel inspired. I had a lot of hope that what we witnessed collectively during the pandemic and uprisings for Black lives would lead to more fundamental change. However, I am seeing the anti-racist endeavors that people were so enthusiastic about are now being placed on the back burner in service of “getting back to normal.” It is disheartening and can feel very isolating.

In response, I have sought out the teachings of those whose ideas challenge and comfort me. Some of the teachers inspiring me right now include Shawna Murray-Browne, adrienne maree brown, Sonya Renee Taylor, Prentis Hemphill, Alok Menon, and anyone who actively questions the merits of colonialism and its insidious derivatives.

Impressive. I can tell you take integrity seriously.

You can only be what you actually are. That is why all these DEI endeavors are gathering dust now. The lessons were not internalized.

So true. Do you have a favorite podcast?

My go-to’s are Finding Our Way with Prentis Hemphill, Radio Menea with Veronica Bayetti Flores, and Miriam Zoila Perez. Now I am starting to get into Work Your Magic, hosted by Ada. Work Your Magic is about harnessing your divine energy and making it work for your business.

What book are you reading right now?

Right now, the pleasure reading I am doing is with my son. He just started second grade, and we have been flying through chapter books at bedtime. It has been a fun way to connect and be playful. Although we were disappointed to realize how racist and fat-phobic Roald Dahl is.

I love that your answer focused on pleasure. It brings to mind adrienne maree brown’s concept of “pleasure activism.”

Yes, I am very familiar with her work. I am working my way through the Institute for Radical Permission course led by adrienne maree brown and Sonya Renee Taylor. Their work has influenced the shifts I’ve made these past couple of years.

What do you believe is the most critical issue facing the mental health and psychotherapy industry? How do you think the field will change in the next decade?

Right now, the most critical issue is a lack of access to care and increased demand. I feel the demand is a response to the past six years we have collectively lived through. And the pandemic and uprisings for Black lives crystallized abusive and deadly systems we live under. For many of us, it feels dangerous right now, and for many, it is.

At the same time, more and more folks are putting words to these experiences and speaking about mental health in the context of oppressive systems. Putting words to previously silenced experiences raises critical consciousness and deepens human connection.

It is hard to say what will happen ten years from now. Still, I want to hear the voices that have been silenced speak, connect, and transform their internal experience into a new shared reality. The matrix we are currently in is cracking, and we need alternatives. I hope more of us unplug from this matrix and begin to co-create something new because we are all hurting.

And that’s what your series is about. I can’t wait! When will you be posting?

Every Monday for the next 5 weeks. Stay tuned!

Quotable Takeaways

Takeaway #1: “What would it feel like to remember and reclaim your divine beingness no matter where you are? It is a question worthy of exploration.”

Takeaway #2: “You can only be what you actually are.”

Takeaway #3: “Putting words to previously silenced experiences raises critical consciousness and deepens human connection.”

Learn more about Christine Leone, LCSW, ICDVP.

Christine Leone, LCSW, ICDVP

Christine Leone, LCSW, ICDVP

Hi, I'm Christine, and I'm a counselor who helps people explore healing through liberation practices. I currently offer counseling services here at Chicago Compass Counseling and specialize in EMDR, anxiety, and Race-Based Traumatic Stress. If you're interested, you can read more about me on my about page.