I cannot believe that our Duke Engage is coming to an end. I am extremely proud to be part of the inaugural class of the Miami site.
There were several reasons why I wanted to be part of a domestic program. The first is the realistic component to the program. I can see myself living in Miami one day and I now know contacts that would make my transition to this city easier. Don't get me wrong, I see the benefits of going international for Duke Engage and I definitely respect and admire students who go off to different countries and even continents to do service work. And I would like to experience that one day in the near future. But, I saw the benefits of getting to know a city in the United States that would be easy for me to melt into post-college, which is one year away for me. Miami’s intriguing warmth and rich culture was something that I felt was right for this summer.
This leads to my second reason to why I wanted to be in Miami this summer. For me shows like "Caso Cerrado," "Sabado Gigante" and "El Gordo y La Flaca" were the first introductions to the diversity of Latin@s. In southern California, Mexicans and Central Americans are quite prevalent so my idea of Spanish and Latin Americans was somewhat limited. I am sure people in the Northeast or even in South Florida don't know what legit Mexican food is. (And no, I'm not talking about hardshell tacos/Taco Bell/TexMex stuff. Do not come at me with that stuff. Please come to my house for some enchiladas, mole pozole and tacos that are tasty enough with some simple onion, cilantro and chile. I digress because I could write an entire blog on how deprived I've been of my dear Mexican food.) So, when my mom and grandma would watch these afternoon and nightly shows, I didn't understand why people in some of the shows didn't pronounce the "S" at the end of words or pronounced their "r"'s like "l"s. So, I knew there was more to understand about so Miami represented something more to me because of my curiosity in my own understanding of my identity in relation to the greater Latin American world. Sure, I'm not Carribbean or South American but our histories of colonization and forced occupation sew us together. So, it is a natural interest, encouraged by academia of course, to learn about the commonalities and differences of Latinos.
In terms of our service work, I do wish we had been at one site the entire 8 weeks. But I am extremely grateful for Catholic Charities Legal Services for allowing me to see the humanity in law. We helped with preparing court cases with the lawyers (researching country conditions etc), calling families of minors to encourage them to come to info sessions, translated for clients, visited a detention center and attended a couple court cases. Interestingly enough, I found this more impactful than working with the high school institute. What I realized from working with the high school institute is that although I really and truly want myself to like teaching and working with high school students, it is not my passion. I cared about the students we had the pleasure of meeting but I wasn’t excited to go to work everyday. Maybe it was the way the institute was organized or maybe not. This is actually quite saddening for me to learn about myself. I would like to consider myself as someone who enjoys working with the youth but I found this work to be difficult and energy draining rather than invigorating. I know some of the other DEngagers loved the high school institute, which was great. Maybe one day, I’ll find that work enlivening. I feel at times, we [I] try to craft ourselves [myself] to be people that we want to be and have passions/characteristics that we want to have and even craft these personas for people in our lives and it is hard to accept when actual life says that this isn't reality.
What I loved was the work that CCLS does and their welcoming attitude towards interns. CCLS helps many members, children and adults, of the Florida Haitian and Latin American community gain authorization to be in the United States. Many of the lawyers themselves are immigrants or are children of immigrants and the passion for what they do is very clear. Growing up in a border-town allowed me to live in constant conversations of immigration. Being raised in a home with immigrant parents, including with one that could easily be a client of CCLS for her bravery to come into the United States without authorization was definitely humbling but normal. I say normal because most of my friends at school also had immigrant parents and were living as best as they could with what they had. I thought this immigrant story was normal until Duke and its students said it wasn't normal and instead something that was sad and even a little embarrassing. I have done some immigration activism in the past but to be at a organization that specialized in advancing the lives of thousands of people was inspiring to me It has also encouraged me to seriously look at immigration law as a career path. Working for CLS refreshed my academic spirits so I am grateful for that.
With that, I am ready to leave Duke Engage but as I have expressed before in my blogs, I am not ready to leave Miami. What I mean by that is I am looking forward to graduating from the Duke undergraduate world and ready to begin a new chapter in my life. And a couple chapters may take place in Miami. When I stand on my balcony to look at the beauty of the water, ride the city bus to work, or reflect on the neighborhoods that we have had a pleasure to get to know and the people of Miami that we've met, I can't help but to love this city. Besides my home city, I've never been in a city where so many brown people live---it's cool to be Latin@ here. In one of our first reflection sessions, we spoke about spaces where being brown is seen as desirable. And I said Duke University was not. And I stand by that. So, it's so refreshing, inspirational, calming and exciting to have experienced the gentle warm hug of the 305. I would say that most big cities are ethnically and culturally diverse but Miami....Miami, baby, encompasses so much of Latin America---from the Carribbean to North and South America. And that is what I'm so attracted to. I'm attracted to Latin America and its culture and my culture and of course, myself.