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Humans of MHT: An Interview with Maria Elena Marquez

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Maria Elena Marquez

Lauren Ziel: Hi Maria Elena! I am really excited to talk with you today about humanness. I think this is the second to last interview we’re doing with all of our clinicians. And the first question we lead off with in this series is: What does humanness mean to you?

Maria Elena Marquez: Great question. What does humanness mean to's where I feel most grounded, the most connected…to myself. And in this case it means with food and those around me. So, for me humanness is a sense of calmness in myself.

L: You mention food and your connection with food as this space of feeling grounded, feeling connected…it's so interesting because that’s such a primal thing. It's in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – it’s the baseline, you know. And on one hand it's survival but it can also be a way to connect socially and a lot of the activities we have are based around food. I am wondering for you how food is the mechanism to which you find your humanness. So, why is it FOOD for you?

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ME: Food for me is a place in which I can be in my five senses. I can look at this dish, I can smell it, I can see the smile of the person bringing it to me; and just talking about the ingredients, it takes me to a place; it either takes me to my childhood or to a place in my adulthood maybe where I am going to a new restaurant and trying a new dish and we’re both discovering this new dish together. So, it’s a sense of being connected to my past or just in this present moment and both of us are just enjoying this, and talking about it; talking about the ingredients and if anything feels familiar or totally not familiar to you. So, that’s the connection part for me  - the connection with the other person that’s sitting with me or a group of friends and we’re really just connecting and enjoying this present moment with this food and it's doing something, and just connecting to your emotions and your warmth in your body or the coolness when you're eating something like sushi… so that’s a little bit about my process with food.

L: I can see you light up when you talk about it. Like even as you describe it you are completely going into the memory of.  I mean, it radiates off of you! I was also thinking as you were talking it also sounds like a mindful meditation practice - using all of your five senses, being in the moment, if there is someone with you connecting with them in that moment. It just sounds like a really real-world practical way you can be mindful and present. I hadn’t thought about it in the context of food but there a little ‘light bulb’ moment.

So food being an extension of a place of grounding for you, I can totally see how that applies perhaps on a personal level, how does it show up for you in your work as a therapist?

ME: As my work as a therapist, I feel it really helps me be in the moment. When I am with clients I try to calm myself down in the process of looking at all these processes the client is going through. So it reminds me to calm down and go piece by piece, ingredient by ingredient with a client. And also I use it outside of therapy for me - it's my self-care - in actually making an intention to go out with someone or maybe by myself and try new food just to get me in the state of acknowledging what’s in front of me instead of always being in my head and trying to process client work. It’s really a place for me to calm myself down and just enjoy my surroundings, the person serving me, this dish. I feel it helps me to be more grounded and just more mindful of what’s in front of me, whether it’s a client or maybe an amazing dish. 

L: This is a little off the sheet perhaps but I’m really curious what’s a recent meal you had that just blew your mind because it reminded you of something or that it was completely new and exciting? I should have eaten before this…

ME: Well, a dish that took me back, or a restaurant that took me back to my roots, which is Salvadorian and Columbian, was actually a Mexican restaurant here in Highland Park. I was with a colleague and we had plantains and black beans, a nice queso fresco; we had some fresh avocado. And just the way it was plated was so beautiful. To me it was very simple, it was very humble because that’s the type of food I would have in El Salvador so it took me back. It was really nice.

I was eating with this coworker and I was able to go back with her and tell her a little bit about myself and a little bit about my culture. Though I was in a Mexican restaurant, all these ingredients and all the spices and how it was plated was so home-based that it was just a great way to start my day.

[It’s] a place in which I can be in my five senses. I can look at this dish, I can smell it, I can see the smile of the person bringing it to’s a sense of being connected to my past or just in this present moment.
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L: I mean, I was thinking about kind of an analogy - you're in a Mexican restaurant but then there are all these familiar flavors - its almost as if…I mean, sometimes I find myself in front of a client and I don’t share their cultural background, or I don’t have parallel experiences to them, but there is always this sort of ingredient or this flavor of “I see you. I understand”. Anyways, that was a little off the cuff but… its really lovely to hear how food is this one connecting thing; how you bring your culture in your work with clients, how it helps you stay grounded, how it keeps you full so that you are able to be that for the clients that you have. Its just really awesome. I would have never thought ‘food’ but I totally see it now.

ME: Yeah! And that’s why we should make a date and have a group dinner, and we can really enjoy and dive in and be mindful and just engage with a different place within ourselves.

L: Love it. I love it. Well it was lovely to interview you here and I am definitely going to go have food now . But thank you Maria Elena. I appreciate it.

ME: You're welcome. Thank you.

Maria Elena Marquez, MA, is a bilingual Spanish-English Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #103470, working under the supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT.  As an art therapist, Maria is passionate about helping clients unravel complex cultural beliefs and family pressures through the use of expressive art.

Lauren Ziel, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker, ASW #76483, working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. Through the use of movement and mindfulness, Lauren develops specialized treatment for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, challenges in life-stage transitions, relational difficulties, and identity/intrapersonal development.