LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) — September 15th through October 15th is Hispanic Heritage Month. News 10’s Caroline Marcello spoke with a local bilingual counselor about the struggles that her community faces.

Maria Istre with Tree of Life Counseling and Consulting is one of just two Spanish-speaking counselors in the area.

“Here at Tree of Life, we focus on serving minority populations. That includes ethnic, cultural minorities, also linguists. I’m bilingual, so I’m a Spanish-speaking counselor. Just one of two in the area.”

Maria Istre specializes in helping clients cope with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and sexual trauma recovery.

She says that people in the Hispanic community don’t always seek help, because it can be hard to find.

“It’s disheartening at times but there is a definite need and we are trying to fill that gap,” Istre said.

She says education and awareness are key.

“If you are interested in knowing someone’s ethnicity or cultural background, don’t ask inappropriate questions,” Istre said. “People are really open to educating most of the time. Knowing that xenophobia is a real thing as well so being open and aware of that.”

Xenophobia is defined as dislike of or prejudiced against people from other countries. Maria says it’s something we saw affect the Asian-American population during the coronavirus pandemic.

Maria says immersing different cultures within our Cajun culture can make our community more inclusive.

“Hosting cultural festivals, not just Latino but others; Asian-American, Indian festivals. Those are all great. It’s immersing ourselves in those cultures and creating spaces where they can exist,” Istre said. “Hosting concerts even with diverse artists and inviting them into our venues is a way to expose us in a way that’s healthy and inviting.”