As mentioned previously, I volunteer at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of DC. When I first visited the LAYC, I did not know whether I belonged or not. I personally did not feel out of place because growing up, most of the people I chose to surround myself with were either Black or Latino; however, I was too worried about whether I was infiltrating a safe space. Because this community organization aims to support the youth of minority communities, namely young latino youth, I felt like an intruder. I have had to take a step back and assess the White Savior Complex that I might be perpetuating. I had to ask myself, “Why would these youth want your help when you come from the community that has kept them contained to social marginalization?” This has led me to remain in a headspace of, “Speak only when spoken to [or when told to translate]”.
This has led me to remain in a headspace of, “Speak only when spoken to [or when told to translate]”. I recall from my earlier blog that I thought “time is the best solution” and that after a few weeks go by, the students would hopefully have become more accustomed to my presence. Honestly, I think these students are accustomed to my presence, but I think they do question my role. This is where I have become my greatest obstacle: because I am so worried about not perpetuating the White Savior Complex, I do not interact as much as I should, which in turn leads to the students not being as receptive to me, which then causes everyone to feel a looming presence of awkwardness. The last session I went to (March 31st, 2017), I did not say anything at all. Part of me was relieved because I did not have to stress over whether the students would judge my Spanish or not. (Being completely fluent in a language other than your native one still comes with not being confident at all times because not only do you feel the immense pressure of proving people that you are fluent, but you feel like the native speakers will pick apart every syllable of your spoken word.) On the other hand, I still felt really useless. Why did I come all the way here to not do anything? I know I demonstrated my dedication by showing up, but overall, I have just created so much anxiety for myself with my own perception of my “gringa” presence. After all of this is said and done, I then think to myself, “You speak Spanish fluently with no accent. Maybe this changes their perception of your character. Give them and yourself the benefit of the doubt.” (One can see how I overthink myself into some pretty dragged out situations…)
I still have not asked any of the staff or students how they feel about my “gringa” presence. Again, this is my fault because I just try to get in and get out. In these last few weeks of volunteering, I have a goal to ask the staff more about their views on diversity, inclusion, safe space, and how they perceive me. Maybe I can finally get some clarity and peace within myself for five seconds.
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?
“Youth” is a recurring theme on the Latin American Youth Center’s social media posts-for obvious reasons. The LAYC is the safe haven for the youth to showcase their talents and to prepare to make the changes to progress towards a more democratic government in the United States. I conclude this from an article on the website called, “Inauguration Day at LAYC is to ‘Dream about a Better World'”. This article caught my attention specifically because I empathize with how this specific marginalized community would be further marginalized under the Trump regime. This article was a description of the fact that the LAYC would be open on Inauguration Day. “While the LAYC’s staff has decided to host this space, the program during the day will be held by youth in LAYC programs…We look forward to building our youth’s voices and their critical thinking skills about the days to come.” Seeing this in the article reminds me that there are still non-profit organization not only doing the work for the attention and reputation.
In my opinion, the LAYC fits into Ryder’s Matrix on in “For the People” and “By the People”. Considering “For the People”, this event on Inauguration Day was a collectivist effort to provide a comfortable space for a marginalized community on a traumatic day in U.S. history. The students and staff wanted to ensure that the threatened and scared families would be emotionally taken care of. Regarding “By the People”, the students running the program hosted an open mic from 1:00 pm until 2:00 pm with spoken word. Usually through spoken word, the speaker activates the emotional reasoning of the audience. After analyzing these two aspects, I would place the LAYC in the front left of Ryder’s Matrix. I can also relate the LAYC’s style of programming to the George Lakoff reading, categorizing it as the “Nurturing Parent” style of political discourse rather than the “Strict Father”. Operating with the acceptance of diverse mindsets, the discipline at the LAYC is based on mutual respect and emotional reliance. There is an empathetic way of going about caring for the community, not believing that these kids would be inherently naughty and deserving of punishment.
Personally, I can relate to the “Nurturing Parent” approach more, as I grew up under the “Strict Father” approach, which ended up straining my relationships with my nuclear family. I appreciate how this organization uplifts the voices of the students rather than overshadowing or hindering their voices and allows the students to forge their own paths to their future and the future of our global society, providing the resources for those lacking sufficient support but showing a profound amount of potential. I am proud to be volunteering at an organization that operates the way the LAYC does, embracing love as the foundation of empowerment.
Absorbing the options of EngageDC on the handout provided in class, I flipped back and forth through the pages over and over again. This was a whole semester-long commitment to volunteer somewhere; I wanted to choose wisely so that I would not regret my decision. I did not want to be a tutor. I have been an active tutor for kids whose first language is Spanish through my high school’s chapter of the National Spanish Honors Society, and tutoring just is not my style. When I go in with the goal of tutoring, I usually end up having given the student a life lesson instead of helping him or her with a necessary homework assignment. This may have been useless academically to the student, but they appreciated how I was able to connect with them on a deeper-than-homework level. It also showed me that I have the capacity and talent to bond one-on-one with students. Seeing “Social Media Intern” made me think I would be able to form close relationships with students from different backgrounds than myself but actually accomplish my assignments. Upon seeing that it was through the Latin American Youth Center, I got excited because I would be able to out my language skills to use.
The position there that I kept getting drawn to was “Social Media Intern”. I love to work with photography-honestly, if I was not majoring in International Affairs, I would be studying photojournalism-, so I finally stopped flipping through the pages and noted that the hours were very limited. However, being that the organization was the Latin American Youth Center, I thought to myself, “Eh. Still apply for this one. They might work with you more since you can speak Spanish fluently.” After meeting with the site operations manager, this turned out to be accurate. Unfortunately, I will not be the Social Media Intern because my schedule was too difficult to function with that position. Nevertheless, something better was in store for me, and they needed me more somewhere else when I happened to be free. I get to go on Friday afternoons to the music classes and simply be a translator for the music teachers. This may sound very boring to the average Joe, but I want to become a certified translator to make extra money in university, and this could help legitimize that aspiration. Also, I will be the only bilingual volunteer there, so I can be the bridge of trust between the students and the teacher, and that makes me feel like I am truly an important part of the process.
The element from the LAYC’s website that kept my interest the most was the picture on the home page. It features five students of minority backgrounds. Knowing that I will be working with students of different origins than myself motivates me more because I know I will be able to learn just as much from them as they will from me. These students also looked genuinely happy with themselves, and currently, I am at a point in my life where I am dedicating my thought process to optimism and happiness only, so being surrounded by their peace of mind would really benefit me as well. I think what this service learning project will bring to me is a more profound understanding of my mantra, “Unidad En Diversidad”.