Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hailey: “Do You Feel Cuban Yet?” and Other Thoughts

“You're gonna miss this
You're gonna want this back
You're gonna wish these days
Hadn't gone by so fast.

These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you're gonna miss this.”

This country song, “You’re Gonna Miss This” by Trace Adkins comes to mind when I start to think about my time here in Miami. It has come and gone, but will truly have a special place in my heart. From hearing salsa music outside the law firm office one day while working with an attorney on a residency application for a domestic violence victim to having my daily cortadito to our weekly Publix runs, I cannot help to feel like I am actually half Cuban and that am a part of this city and culture. Being here in Miami has allowed me to really delve deep into its many different cultures and has made me even more proud of my own. At the beginning of our time here in Miami, our site coordinator, asked me if I feel Cuban yet. I can for sure say that I do now. I have figured out that I feel Cuban through the little things: the dialect, the food, Spanish everywhere you look, the slower pace of life, the music, the cigars, the elderly who remind me of Cuban grandparents, the perfume we got in a thank you good bag from Unidad, and the coffee. 

            The chill, laid–back beach attitude that is prone to some parts of Miami is quickly juxtaposed with just a quick trip over the bridge to the bustling downtown life and even more with at least an hour long bus ride to any of the little neighborhoods in Miami. It definitely has the best of both worlds, with a couple of extra things thrown in such as the amazing food I cannot get enough of and the constant Spanglish everywhere you turn. The mentality of “it’s cool to be Latino” is something that I find resonating everywhere, along with the liveliness and cultural diversity that abounds.

It makes me think though that at some times in our life, the rose-colored glasses are appropriate to see the world in and will match the outfit of the day, but at other times it is not at all. Immersing ourselves in all of the different areas of Miami, whether that be through the work that we do and/or the group outings we have, have allowed us to see all of Miami’s true colors. Can this be said especially for the immigrants, the ones whose cases I flip through, organize, and familiarize myself with on a daily basis, based on which project I have been tasked with that day? Some of the stories I have heard kill me, because they are so heartbreaking and real world problems.

Such was the case of a young Haitian girl, for whom Karina and I were preparing an asylum application. Her parents moved to the US after the earthquake and left her to live with family in the Dominican Republic, where she experienced great hardships. When her parents found out, they moved her to live with family back in Haiti, where she ended up working as a domestic servant or "restavek" in the family’s home. She had to do numerous chores, did not go to school, and was not allowed to eat until her chores were done. She became very ill and her hair started to fall out. Eventually, she escaped that terrible situation, and now faces possible removal. In an asylum application, one has to include country reports and conditions to show the adjudicator that what your client is reporting to you actually happens and that there are real problems and facts to back it up. We had to do a lot of research and find PDFs and articles to support the argument. We learned a lot along the way, which made it really difficult when we actually met the young girl in person. At sixteen she had been through so much already and was so proficient in English too. It was a really humbling experience knowing her background story and doing research to show that this horrible situation happens in Haiti frequently. This human connection is what draws me in to this type of work and to being of service. If she gets approved, which is probably likely according to the attorney, we played a small role in saving her life.

A similar instance happened when another attorney asked me to create a cover letter for a Violence Against Women (VAWA) Visa. This means that a person who was the victim of domestic violence or any other kind of abuse by a US citizen can apply for residency through a special kind of application. I was in charge of making sure all of the needed documents were accounted for and proved that the client was a victim of domestic abuse. Reviewing all of the police reports of multiple incidences of violence was really difficult and challenging. It is hard working with such a heart wrenching story and then interacting with the lady's daughters. It puts a lot of things into perspective and makes the lawyers more admirable in the way that they have to deal with such complex cases and be there for their clients.

Another highlight of my time at CLS was being in charge of making the calls for the LOPC (Legal Orientation Program for Custodians of Unaccompanied Minors) Charla. It is a group discussion given by one of the lawyers about the rights of unaccompanied minors, the options they have in getting their residency, and the process of it all. Each day this week we made around fifteen to twenty calls a day, all in Spanish, informing families and/or the minor's sponsor of the time, date, location, and other specifics about the charla. We would also text them the important information. This is a really cool opportunity because it places us right in the middle of the controversial issue surrounding unaccompanied minors that is happening right now. When we would call, some of the people would begin to tell me their whole life stories, essentially trying to convince me to take their case, but I'm not a lawyer so I can't, and/or they would tell me how they live really far away and cannot get off work. I then feel compelled to help them even more, but there is unfortunately only so much we as an organization can do.

Being here at Catholic Legal Services has taught me more about the inner workings of our legal system, and especially about immigration law, than I thought I would ever know. It is learning by doing essentially. I did not realize how much immigration law transfers over into and impacts so many other disciplines, such as in public health. If I decide to become a doctor and/or go into global health, knowing more about these issues will help to even better fully understand the person I am treating and what they are going through.

A very wise and special man once told me, and continues to tell me on a daily basis, that:

“If you do the right thing, you will never miss a thing.”

This is essentially something that I strive to live by everyday. After my eight weeks here, I can say that I was here to do service and that I did service in every sense of the word, whether that be making nametags for a conference, encouraging a high school student to apply to college, or possibly helping someone not get removed. Thank you to staff at Unidad for teaching me what it really means to be a part of the family style work atmosphere, those at Catholic Legal Services for giving me a crash course in immigration law and lifee, and to my fellow DukeEngagers for giving me someone to hang out with while here (shout out to my ladies of Apartment 1717)! ¡Hasta pronto Miami!

Con amor,

La Mexicube

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