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.