Claudia Morales: More people are taking a radical approach to therapy. It’s definitely not just me. But I’m just so excited to be part of this reclaiming of our healing. It is kind of like pulling back the curtain of how we’ve all been conditioned and really finding the real medicine that is like community, that is connecting to Earth, connecting to ancestral wisdom, like honoring the elements, protecting others.

Saba Waheed: From the UCLA Labor Center, this is Re:Work. I’m Saba Waheed.

Veena Hampapur: And I’m Veena Hampapur. I was so excited to hear that Claudia was bringing together social justice, mental health, healing. It’s so needed. The past years have just been so difficult with Trump and the pandemic and war. And there hasn’t been time to process. There isn’t time to grieve as a society. I think maybe in general, American culture looks away from that but also everyone is so busy and has so much to do and we’ve just had to keep pushing forward. 

Saba Waheed: Sometimes we’re just running, running, running and working, working, working. We don’t get to actually take care of ourselves, that then allows us to turn around and take care of those around us. 

Veena Hampapur: When I heard about what Claudia does, it made me start asking myself: How can we do social justice oriented work, how can we exist in this world right now, and be okay? We need to normalize talking about these things.

Saba Waheed: When I think about what we’re fighting for, it’s like yes we are fighting for better workplaces, but we’re also fighting for time. You know, having time with our communities, having time for ourselves, and you can run, run, run, but that’s not gonna help us do what we need to do. We have to figure out how we can sustain ourselves over the long term. 

Veena Hampapur: In this episode we speak with Claudia Morales, a therapist and mother of two who practices in the LA area. Claudia was born in the late seventies and grew up in northern California.

Claudia Morales: My mother’s Colombian and my dad is from Canada.For the longest time she told us that he was one of her students, and they just hit it off. And then I found out later on that they actually met in a wanted ads in a newspaper, which is hilarious, you know. It’s like meeting online today. And it’s very normal and there’s no reason to hide it. 

Saba Waheed: When Claudia was growing up, she started to notice that people treated her mother differently from her father.

Claudia Morales: A lot of times it was the White people, the White families, you know, just kinda making a joke, about selling drugs. No one ever questions my dad, even though he was also an immigrant (laughs), but he’s White. 

Veena Hampapur: Claudia has fond memories of visiting Colombia during the summer time.

Claudia Morales: Colombians are great at storytelling. There’s even people who stand on corners telling and sharing stories. So definitely the sense of magical realism is very, very real there. They told us about this – the witch and duende, which is sort of like a troll that lived on the land, but all of us cousins got so mortified that we all ended up getting injured that same night in different ways, and of course my older cousins were confirming that it was the witch, (laughs) and the duende. My cousins treated me like I was always welcome there, but they did not hesitate to also tease us for being, you know, gringos. And in the United States sometimes people would ask us where we’re from, which is interesting to always be asked (laughs) where you’re from no matter where you are. 

Saba Waheed: Claudia had a complicated relationship with her mom.

Claudia Morales: I picked up on art from my mother. She was a professional artist. I do feel like it’s such a strong foundation in how I see the world. She sculpted pre-Columbian sculptures. So for me, I also feel like I was raised by my ancestors literally because they were kind of always in our homes, in the yard. I always felt their presence, even though she would tell us to go to church and tell us all these Catholic beliefs but I always felt like there was like a plan B for me through that. She’s someone I admire very deeply because of her own rebellion of leaving Colombia, of leaving what was expected of her, but she also had a sternness and a rigidness. She would hit us, although it was considered very normal. So in the 70s, 80s, before, they were not respecting the humanity of the children or wanting them to be their own person, which in my understanding of more indigenous practices is not the way. Like in indigenous practices everyone has a place. Everyone can express their queerness or their gender expression, but my mom, you know, she espoused a lot of like homophobia, some White supremacy tendencies as well just by even putting my dad on a pedestal, putting Whiteness on a pedestal. But again, I feel like the culture always like helped me understand other ways. So on the records she would play, the cumbias, they would always talk about the beauty of Black culture, Black people, and so hearing the Blackness, the love of the African traditions and even the African beats in the music non-stop was like a contrast, and it helped me understand like, no, actually this feels more right, you know? 

Veena Hampapur: Claudia attended Catholic school while growing up and she went to church every week with her parents and her brother. But she realized at a pretty young age, that this wouldn’t be the place where she found community.

Claudia Morales: I had a lot of big questions as a young person, even at 11, so I brought some of the questions to the confessional. His response was so gruff. A lot of the message from the pulpit was, we’re sinning if we’re not praying hard enough, and I just couldn’t imagine a God being so petty, that you would be punished for how hard you’re praying. As a preschooler, my mouth was washed out with soap because I didn’t close my eyes during prayer. So I think I always kind of carried this, like doubt about the adults. Like what are y’all doing? What the heck, you know? But especially when I learned about the abuses, it just tore away my sense of faith altogether, even though now I kind of reclaim some of the cultural aspects like candles and the rosary, in that it connects me in some ways to my ancestors. Now I really lean into the areas where I was taught to distrust. So my body, I was taught to distrust my thoughts. And so now as an adult I really try to trust my body, trust my thoughts and use them to benefit my life, like use them creatively, use them to lean into trust and compassion. 

Saba Waheed: The church deeply impacted her father in his childhood.

Claudia Morales: He’s come to a place of deep vulnerability where he’s telling me about his childhood and how he was orphaned and how he was treated by the nuns, which was very abusive. But most of my childhood he was as if he wasn’t present. Like he was there, but emotionally checked out. And I would even go to the lengths of like dancing in front of the television to like try to get his attention, like, hey, I’m here. But one thing he did do with us that always gave us ease and happiness, it wasn’t through dialogue, but he would take us on hikes. So we’d go to Mission Peak. If you’re familiar with Fremont, there’s Niles Canyon. They have their own ghost stories in Niles Canyon which was a lot of fun as a teenager to explore. 

Veena Hampapur: Getting out into nature gave Claudia a sense of connection and solace. I went through a lot of grief in my teen years. So a lot of people close to me died very tragically. It made me think like what is the point, you know. I became very nihilist. So I started to really tune out of like school, and I would just leave and go to nature as much as possible. 

Saba Waheed: When Claudia would visit Colombia when she was growing up, she loved seeing people express themselves through dance. In her teen years, dancing also became a way for her to process her feelings.

Claudia Morales: I would also escape to raves. It was like the underground scene in the ‘’90s. There was a lot of like warehouses. We’d go to like a donut shop to get a ticket. Dancing all night, listening to the lyrics in the music that were about freedom and justice and unity and love was very useful. And just kind of breaking away what I grew up with, and even though I didn’t know what I would replace it with yet I think things just had to get shaken up in a way that I could assert some autonomy in my life. So high school was sort of a dud. I didn’t graduate on time with my class and out of rebellion, even when I got my diploma, I wore this sparkly raver dress and jelly heels. 

Saba Waheed: I love this image of her wearing a sparkly raver dress and jelly heels to her graduation. My hero.

Veena Hampapur: Post-jelly heels, Claudia and her brother ended up in Colombia.

Claudia Morales: My mom didn’t know what to do with me or my brother. We were just so lost in our lives. So she just sent us to Colombia, which I think was a great instinct. I actually hitchhiked all over Colombia with my cousin, and my brother, and we got to learn even more stories about all kinds of people. A lot of those people that I met didn’t have access to education, and I realized that I was sitting on some privilege. One of the people I met that was most transformational for me was this woman named Lettie Sarai. And she was studying biochemistry, I believe, and she said, you know, we have our wisdoms. Like we don’t need this degree to live by how we live, but we need this degree to protect our people, to protect our way of life. That was a pivotal point for me to start to embrace education and when I came back I went to Ohlone college which is in Fremont. It was a struggle, you know, but I did find a lot of support. One of our counselors would rap about herstory, so she would rap about ancestry and about female empowerment, and this was like mid 90s, you know, so they were very advanced. It was the first time I had seen women be their true selves in a setting that wasn’t a performance, you know, in the way that I sometimes had to see my mom kind of mask up around like White people or people she was trying to impress. I didn’t see that in them. I just saw their authentic ways of being.

Saba Waheed: After that, she transfers to UC Berkeley.

Claudia Morales: My favorite class was June Jordan’s poetry for the people. She used poetry teaching to activate the students towards change and towards organizing and towards self-expression, authenticity and holding space, and all of this that we don’t normally associate with poetry, which led me to really feel that regardless of what avenue I took there’s a way to make it authentic. 

Saba Waheed: I actually – I took June Jordan’s class too. 

Claudia Morales: What! Oh, my God. So you know, right? 

Saba Waheed: It was amazing!

Veena Hampapur: Claudia tried a bunch of different jobs after graduation.

Claudia Morales: When the market crashed, I decided to try my hand at flying. I went to the interview with a little, like, scarf in my hair, you know, kind of dressed already like a flight attendant. But once I started you only get paid when the airplane is moving, so I felt like that was not worth it. Plus the way people treat you in an airplane is so rude and I felt like I can’t really be bothered with people’s petty problems. If I’m going to hear problems I want to hear, like, problems that matter. So that’s what made me curious about organizing and therapy eventually. But that’s when I realized I was pregnant and one of the flight attendants had told me that if you’re pregnant more than likely you’ll lose the baby. Because I was already with my partner, because he already had proposed to me, and he already had talked about starting a family, I just really wanted to have this child. Even though nothing was indicating that we had the resources to raise it, but we just had love, and we had our commitment to each other and like a relentless hope that things will work out. 

Saba Waheed: Claudia really wanted to be an organizer, but it took multiple attempts before she finally got a job. 

Claudia Morales: I was trying to keep up with that director who was working 80, 90 hours a week. It was the culture. And it was really hard, because I had my brand new baby, and I was happy to find something that was meaningful, but I was also really, really, really sad for me to be so separate from him. So I would have my parents sneak him to me and I would nurse the baby.  After having my second son I realized like I probably need something that could sustain me better, but I also was finding that people would confide in me very deep, traumatic things, so that’s what made me want to get my social work master’s after I already had my two babies, which was very, very hard. We were struggling financially and just really having a hard time. And we’ve lived in places with like black mold and mice. To be honest, Veena, I think because of our financial situation it felt like I was in crisis for many years Just trying to like hang on. At least education would put me on a trajectory to more stability. 

Veena Hampapur: Getting her masters in social work ended up being a really good fit for Claudia.

Claudia Morales: My program was very good at challenging our privilege and helping us recognize it and also helping us use it effectively, like helping us to not be an enabler of the status quo, to be more than willing to challenge that. I was thankful for my education and my experience in organizing to recognize when I have to stand up against what is being asked of me and kind of like to answer to a higher calling. I think once I had children it definitely made my moral compass more crisp and my life journey more crisp and clear, like what is my purpose. I have to try at least to do whatever’s in my power to make the world a better place in some sense. If not for myself then definitely for them, you know? And looking at their faces I think just was very inspiring. It also really helped me become a better parent because I only had my mom’s like reactive nature, which she would like explode on us and through that educational knowledge that I learned it also helped me be able to show them boundaries but without punishment, and then also a lot of more positive reinforcement when their behavior is good. Like ever since, it really changed the trajectory of my parenting. 

Saba Waheed: Claudia very much sees her work at this intersection of social justice and mental health.

Veena Hampapur: I feel like it can’t be understated how important that is.

Claudia Morales:It is tied to being more of a collectivist thinker because many of our problems in society are from oppression, colonization. Learning that the root cause of a lot of people’s suffering is very, very systemic and goes back hundreds of years through colonization made me really hunger for the answers, the solutions that are also ingrained in us, that are ancestral as well, that are our medicine. It made me see the parallels of my thirst for art and dancing and connecting through storytelling – that inner knowing that I have to connect with those aspects of my ancestry is what we all have — that hint, that longing, that desire to reconnect. Which is tricky, because I think in American society, work is centered so much and wealth, individual success, and so it’s kind of paradoxical to help people heal from those things while they still want them. And I do too if I’m being honest, because we all have to survive capitalism. We all want stability. We all need it. But it’s also led to so much isolation, so much burnout, so much like loss of connection to our own children, to our loved ones, and the price is too great, you know? So I think because I had that background in organizing it was easy for me to approach therapy from a similar way. I always challenge my clients if they only want to benefit themselves because that’s not where it ends, right? Like, when people only think that they are good and that’s good enough and that’s the end of things they’re really missing the point. 

In a neurological way, our nervous systems are wired to connect. We know this. So this idea that we could possibly be well individually if others are suffering is problematic. And so the therapy work that we do is helping people acknowledge how to engage when others are suffering and how to use their wellbeing to support others. And so I try to use like Paulo Friere type of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” philosophy so we’re not having a transaction. We’re having transformation together, and I grow from the experience and so does my client. We grow together. We create it together, so it has to honor them. It has to honor their timing, their process, their brain, their experience, and I really like to use the client’s own culture and faith traditions. Because of my own experiences, like, in religion just causing so much self-suspicion I guess and self-policing, one of the things I center is self-trust. I have to be humble and treat it like they’re the expert themselves and let them lead. 

Veena Hampapur: Since we spoke with Claudia, I’m just asking myself what makes me feel connected, what makes me feel disconnected, and what makes others feel connected and disconnected. And how can we tap into that more?

Saba Waheed: There’s this big global thing that happened that literally disconnected us, and we’re trying to make our ways back but in this kind of new fold of the world, we know that it has to look different than it did before. In order to take care of ourselves, we also have to heal in community and she recognizes that and brings that into her practice.

Claudia Morales: Trump’s election itself brought a lot of pain and CHIRLA called me in to do a healing circle, and it was a really good approach in my opinion. It was too hot to be indoors, and we went up on the roof and we were under the moon, and we had this circle, and it just felt so perfect. Starting there, my desire for more and more and more community work has grown. I think one of the challenges of individual therapy is although you can go deeper, sometimes it can feel a little isolating, and it can feel that you’re having this experience by yourself, whereas in community if somebody speaks on their pain you can automatically feel understood.

Obviously the pandemic was very isolating, very painful, and so now I’m seeing that people are needing community even more and more and more. I feel like centering and including our grief for how we’ve all been lied to as, you know, growing up and living in the US in many ways about the American Dream, about what our taxes were funding, about a lot of things, so just grieving. You know, I feel like it’s a good time, coming back to physical spaces where we can co-regulate is really valuable. And how we can feel aspects of joy and levity even as we’re confronting our grief, our sorrow, our pain, our sadness, I think is very important because one doesn’t cancel out the other. You know, we need joy to survive, and to imagine a better liberatory future, and we have to do that in community, because it’s easy to fall into despair or paralysis or compartmentalizing which causes just fragmentation and isolation and confusion that isn’t beneficial to any of us. 

Veena Hampapur: How can we take better care of ourselves so we can stay committed to the work that means so much to us, while also being okay?

Claudia Morales: I think it’s really important to recognize what values drive you and to let that orient you during these times of deep loss and confusion. We’ve been conditioned to conform to things that might harm us, like ignoring our bodies, ignoring our physical needs, ignoring our emotional needs. Build in time for stillness and reflection and your own creative practice just for you, because a lot of times you’ll hear a lot of your wisdom through that practice by either processing pain or identifying what you’re dreaming up and how you want to imagine a liberated future for yourself and your community. Honor your humanity as well and just the fact that sometimes we make missteps and that’s part of being human, but knowing it’s part of your discovery process of what works for you, what works for your community, what helps your relationships, what helps you be authentic. It takes a lot, you know, it takes a lot to be okay, but to not hesitate, to tend to all these aspects of yourself. 

Saba Waheed: So how does Claudia follow her own advice?

Claudia Morales: It turned out that private practice has been offering me the most flexibility in terms of being a mother, in terms of like using art and it’s been the most fruitful and I guess intuitive that I could follow and connect with people that mean a lot to me and community partners that are friends, so it just – it really comes together in a really creative and beneficial way that also gives some room for rest. (laughs) I’m still trying to rest more. The work in community mental health had me away from my children for many years, which was really heartbreaking, but even though they’re teenagers now, spending time with them has been really wonderful, just picking them up and just instilling a sense of connection and love in whatever way I can. 

A practice that I began doing was sort of like collage in a journal, and coincidentally a sweet, beautiful friend of mine integrated this aspect of like calling in what you hope for, what you long for, which is like such an important practice, because I think sometimes when we have a longing – like something like liberation or equality, it could almost be painful to long for such things, because we see so much suffering in the world. So she kind of taught me to create pages based on what I want and long for, dream for, desire as it relates to not only my own life but just our collective consciousness. And I’m looking forward to deepening that practice even more and somehow doing like immersive installation healing work. That’s how I’m picturing it, and that’s what I’m dreaming up. If there’s any collaborators out there, hit me up. 

Saba Waheed: I think that there’s a lot of different ways that you can serve in this world and I really just appreciated how Claudia really embodies her values in her work. Therapy in itself doesn’t necessarily bring the things that she brings to it but she makes sure that her values, her politics, her spiritual guides, all of those things are a part of how she does that work. In many ways, as organizations, as individuals, as colleagues, as family members, having all of those things in our approach will only make us a stronger movement.


A special thanks to Claudia Morales for sharing her story. To learn more about Claudia’s work, visit Or find her on Instagram @socialjusticehealing. You’re listening to Re:Work, which is a production of the UCLA Labor Center. This episode was produced by Veena Hampapur and Saba Waheed. Sound design and editing by Veena Hampapur and mixing by Aaron Dalton. Stay tuned for more episodes focused on mental health and healing. Until next time, rethink, rework.