Living in the United States as an undocumented immigrant for over 20 years, Mayra Barragan-O’Brien spent her adolescence thinking the only way she could be a citizen was if she was a hard-working “perfect immigrant.”

When she arrived from Guadalajara, Mexico, to the U.S. at 14, she started to see the systemic barriers in place for herself and other marginalized communities. She didn’t know a single word in English and was able to graduate from high school and California State University, San Bernardino, with honors.

Now, with her Masters of Science in clinical/counseling psychology, Barragan-O’Brien hopes to contribute to the destigmatization of mental health topics as an associate marriage and family therapist. While undocumented and amid the pandemic, she had to volunteer part-time to accumulate clinical hours and work elsewhere to survive financially.

“I’ve always worked in warehouses, hotels, and restaurants,” explained Barragan-O’Brien, who became a legal permanent resident over the summer. “I was about to go back to a warehouse when I found out about entrepreneurship.”

Barragan-O’Brien spoke to mitú about becoming a business owner out of necessity, facing imposter syndrome, and how a fellow Latina entrepreneur guided her along the way. 

Barragan-O’Brien’s worthwhile journey to entrepreneurship

Due to her undocumented and low socioeconomic statuses, Barragan-O’Brien spent ten years working on earning her Associate’s degree, three more to earn her Bachelor’s, and another two for her Master’s. When she graduated, she only had two options because she could not practice therapy: returning to work at a warehouse or becoming a business owner.

Support from her community led her to the latter, and UndocuMental Health got its start. Her for-profit organization shares information and provides a space and resources to people and groups about mental health. “I knew there was a need to bring awareness and uplift the voices of those in the immigrant community,” said Barragan-O’Brien.

Along with immigrants, Barragan-O’Brien works with the BIPOC, neurodivergent, and LGBTQ+ communities while sharing her distinct point of view. She does mental health awareness presentations, consultation services, and judgment-free discussions called “Cafecito and Tea Talks.” 

Barragan-O’Brien also collaborates with other organizations, like Immigrants Rising, to develop professional opportunities for underrepresented communities. Caring and advocating for everyone’s unique mental health needs will lead to the more equitable and inclusive society she hopes to see one day.

How she fought her worries and imposter syndrome

Barragan-O’Brien’s biggest challenge when starting her organization was creating it. Luckily, she had guidance from Maritza Gomez, a formerly undocumented Latina entrepreneur who runs her own custom printing company. Gomez walked her through the process of creating her business because Barragan-O’Brien didn’t know where to begin.

Jumping into UndocuMental Health allowed her to use her knowledge and skills from her years of schooling. As soon as she got information about independent contracting, she took action. However, it wasn’t long before she started to experience imposter syndrome and a general uneasiness.

“I felt like I was doing something wrong like I was going to get caught and get in trouble, which is a constant fear immigrants live with,” explained Barragan-O’Brien. “I was no different.”

To this day, she occasionally struggles with it in her business and personal life. She says her passion for helping her community is much larger than her fears of “getting caught.” Plus, she understands that she is doing her best with her knowledge and resources every day while being gentle with herself.

The strength she finds in her background and culture

Barragan-O’Brien may have once felt that entrepreneurship wasn’t in her DNA, but she realized that Latinos have always been entrepreneurs.

Her grandparents sold produce from their “rancho” in Mexico. Her mother used to buy products in bulk to resell. Barragan-O’Brien herself used to resell clothing. “Realizing this has helped me diminish the feeling of being an imposter, and I’ve realized that this is what I was meant to do,” she said.

In addition, the “wealth of knowledge” from her culture has helped her steer through her career. She would recommend other entrepreneurial Latinas to use that wealth of knowledge and power within themselves to their advantage. Taking things one step at a time and resting when needed but never stopping are other tips she has.

“You have a huge community that is here to help you,” advises Barragan-O’Brien. “I know it is scary, but please know that it’s okay to do it with fear. Let your dreams be bigger than your fear.”