The Latin American Youth Center is in a neighborhood in D.C. called Columbia Heights. Since I live in Foggy Bottom, I take either the blue, silver, or orange line from the GWU-Foggy Bottom Metro Station to the L’Enfant Plaza station. From there, I take either the yellow or green line to the Columbia Heights station. Walking to the LAYC from the metro station is nice because it is not too far, but I still get to walk a few blocks (I personally like being able to walk to and from places, it is just too time consuming to walk directly from my dorm to the LAYC). Walking through the neighborhood, I see a lot more people of color than I do in Foggy Bottom. I actually feel more comfortable that way because I do not feel like I am being trapped in one perspective.
The people at the LAYC are very nice. They all are so dedicated to their work and the students themselves, proving that they make respectable mentors. My orientation was basically just a walk-through of the four floors of the LAYC. It was nothing uptight, which was refreshing because I felt less pressure to fit the predictable image of “studious volunteer”. The person giving me the orientation tour, Pam, was really enthusiastic because she told me she was a student who went through the LAYC’s programs. Her energy is a great fit for the LAYC, and everyone there genuinely appreciates Pam.
My role in the organization is to be a translator in the guitar class. Every Friday, I sit in the guitar class from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm, and I basically repeat what the guitar teacher tells me to tell the students who do not understand English. Honestly, I feel kind of useless in that role because most of the students in the guitar class speak English and Spanish. Why did they need me to be a translator? Why not just get one of the bilingual students to translate? Thinking back on this, it is probably because some of the bilingual students do not always show up. Even recognizing this, I still feel weird because I feel as if some of the students perceive me as “that gringa” that does not really know anything. For example, I had to translate something for the teacher, but it had musical diction that I had never even heard of in English – let alone in Spanish – and I had to work my way around the vocabulary. The students looked at me as if I had four heads, then another one of the students translated it, and they all seemed to understand. I felt as if I failed the people who recruited me. Needless to say, I have a little ways to go to feel like I belong in that role. Time is the best solution because after a few more weeks go by, the regulars at the LAYC and guitar class will – hopefully- get accustomed to my presence.
Some questions going through my instrospective mind as I sit in the guitar class are:
- How do the students feel about my “gringa” presence in general?
- How does the staff feel about my “gringa” presence?
- Do the students think I am feeding into the White Savior Complex?
- Would the students actually like to get to know me better?
- One of the main goal of the organizations is to motivate the students to pursue higher education. What do they do for the students that have the mental capacity but not the financial capacity?