Last Lap

As my time at CCLS comes to a close, I can’t help but thinking how this has definitely been the most enriching work experience I’ve had thus far. I’m feeling a wave of appreciation for both the program and the people – especially after a particular encounter reminded me of the type of work that a majority of interns are involved in.

The Jamaican consulate is located in the same building as CCLS so I decided to introduce myself to the consular upstairs. After having a conversation with him, I was curious if the consulate took interns, given my strong interest in diplomacy. He mentioned that they do not have an internship program, but they occasionally take people on in order for them to gain some experience in the field. However, the only kind of work they can do is data entry, which I guess is understandable as the focus of the consulate is passport and visa application processing.

This contrasts immensely with the work that I’ve done at CCLS and further emphasizes the range of knowledge that I’ve been exposed to in these past seven weeks. On one hand, I’ve learned an incredible amount through engaging with clients and hearing their stories and on the other hand, I’ve learned so much from filling out asylum application forms, organizing client spreadsheets, calling Latin American consulates, gathering the documents for a case filing, translating affidavits, and witnessing court hearings. It also allows me to help the people of my own country in a unique way that the Jamaican consulate would not. I remember when Brother Mike told an elderly Jamaican man who was legally blind to ask me where I’m from. His sad face immediately transformed into a huge smile with such happy eyes. After spending some time conversing about home, I assisted him in attempting to find low-income housing because he was only earning $700 a month and after paying monthly rent of $500, among other bills, he was left to live on only $100 per month. These figures were absurd and I could not imagine trying to do the same, so I felt determined to find him more affordable housing. The task proved much more difficult than I thought, as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Chapman Partnership and City of Miami Beach Homeless assistance, among multiple other organizations, all had a long waiting list that was closed and expected to re-open in a year. Although I could not find him anything that day, I will be following up with his case to ensure that this Jamaican is assigned a case manager that will help him to find low-income housing in the near future.

If possible, I would love to volunteer for this organization in my gap year before law school because the connection I feel to their mission runs deep. Today, it was amazing to hear a teenage boy speak about how he aspires to work in human rights when he gets older and to hear a woman from Honduras tell Cassandra, the lawyer, how much she loves her for helping her get a petition granted. The work here is truly inspiring. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at CCLS and I’m ready to give this last week my all.

-Emma Bunting

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Still I Belong

The intended purposes of self-declared identities are to provide clarity and community, for both self and society. I proudly claim all the parts of my identity, including as a Latina. The intricacies of my heritage can sometimes make me feel like I am less deserving of the identity than other Latinas. I am Mexican—my mother being 3rd generation Mexican-American—and African American.

I know it seems I don’t have many of the markers that communicate to other people that I am a Latina. My last name is Singleton, more reflective of the history of Black slaves taking on their owner’s last names. I didn’t grow up with the Spanish language, except words for the food and pet names that filled my childhood.  None of these qualifications presented themselves as insecurities until I came to college. Everyone at home knows my mom; they know she’s Mexican. College was a new world where most people had very narrow views of the Latina identity, and of how I was allowed to claim such an identity. Latinas were bilingual native speakers, had long wavy hair, and had mestizo features. I have none of those traits, which perplexed many people who felt that they had some right to dictate my Latina-ness. Even in Miami, where the diversity of Latinx culture is readily available at every ventanita, people often question and challenge this part of my identity.

Just this week, when I told a coworker that my mother is Mexican, he said, “I don’t believe that. Show me your birth certificate, and maybe I will.” Outside of his disappointing lack of comprehension of birth certificates for an immigration attorney, I was annoyed and hurt. The next day, when word had spread around the office, that I am indeed Mexican, I was overwhelmed with a slew of weird, awkward, and blatantly disrespectful comments and “jokes” from interns and attorneys alike. A choice few:

“I bet we can make you more Mexican before you leave.”

“I’ve never seen someone Mexican look like you.”

“Are you really Mexican-American, or do you just say that because you want to be more exotic?”

“Oh, you don’t speak Spanish? So you’re a fake Mexican, I see.”

“I just think you’re a disappointment to your ancestors.”

I’m frustrated by their comments, but I’m more frustrated that I feel this internal need to prove myself to them. I want to be part of the Latinx community because it is my history as much as it is theirs, but what’s the point of being part of a community—an identity—that doesn’t really believe you belong to it? I’ve asked myself this question many times over the years, and am comforted by the answer I internally know. I am a Latina. Yes, there are some people who don’t fully understand that and sometimes attack it.  But there are far more people who celebrate and embrace that part of me with the support and love I deserve. So, I will continue to be who I am, loving all the parts of myself and knowing that in the face of exclusion from a few, still I belong.

-Symonne Singleton

“Hey Ma, You Lookin’ Good Today”

One part of my workday as consistent as my commute, taking a lunch break, or doing translations is catcalling. Whether it’s the honk of a car horn on my way to lunch or a conversation sparked by my appearance at the bus stop, every day, I always seem to receive some sort of unsolicited attention from the men of Miami. Naturally, the next thought would be, “How does that make you feel?”

Some women deem catcalling to be flattering. They see it as a man finding you just so attractive, that he can’t keep his opinion to himself. On the other side of the coin, some women find it to be very disrespectful and demeaning. I personally, find myself in the middle. I think that it’s flattering to know that someone finds you attractive, however the compliments and slight ego boost are definitely not worth the consequences and repercussions.

For example, I don’t like that I’ve never been to the coffee stop across from Government Center because there’s usually three men around the ventanita, and I don’t want to walk into a potentially uncomfortable situation. But on a larger scale, when men catcall women, it inherently encourages rape culture. Certain kind of comments and persistence turn a compliment from a stranger into street harassment. Street harassment is all about power, and the satisfaction that the stranger gets from disrespecting you and making you feel vulnerable and/or uncomfortable, which is the foundation of rape.

So overall, I think catcalling is okay when it’s a compliment and not harassment. But in the end, sadly, it’s not something I can control. Instead, it’s something women just have to put up with. At least on a micro scale, as one person, standing up against this type of disrespect is not worth putting yourself in danger. On a macro scale, maybe society can eventually learn to lean away from this activity, and in turn, end rape culture.

-Kim Perez

An Unlikely Intern

One of my favorite things about working at CCLS is the intern community that has formed in the conference room. There are four of us from Duke working alongside a number of other undergraduate and law student interns from different universities around the country. On any given day, there could be up to ten of us crammed around the long oblong table. The energy of the others keeps me engaged, my simple translation questions are easily answered, and I am able to collaborate freely on tasks and projects, finishing them more efficiently and thoroughly than I would be able to on my own.

The opportunity to work with the other interns not only benefits the CCLS staff, but also benefits each of us because we form connections that allow us to learn about each others’ diverse backgrounds. Earlier this week, I got to hear the story of another intern who I will call Nicole. I knew she was older than me and hadn’t taken the same path that most of the other interns had, but I had never had a long or personal conversation with her before. The conversation started off as a discussion about a Supreme Court case and turned into her sharing most of her life story with me.

Born into a military family, Nicole moved around a lot when she was younger. She had her first child when she was 14. She finished high school but didn’t return to college after winter break of her freshman year when she decided her son’s father wasn’t raising him the way she wanted him to be raised.

After recently moving to Miami, she wasn’t satisfied working as an administrative assistant She didn’t have the salary she thought she deserved, and her work didn’t inspire her. So she put in her resignation and decided to go back to school. At age 47 she is back in classes, first to finish her undergrad degree and then to pursue a law degree. Her goal is to become a lawyer and represent a disenfranchised and marginalized portion of the population in the United States– African American men. And as the mother of three, she knows firsthand the struggles they face, both in day-to-day activities and facing the legal system.

I am inspired by Nicole’s motivation to do something about the unrest she felt at her job, her drive to find a career she’s passionate about, and her dedication to education at a point in life when many others might give up. Amidst the stress of trying to decide a major and the constant questioning about my future, it’s important to keep reminding myself, you’re never too old to ask, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

-Ellie Pasquale

Five Things I Wish DukeEngage Academy Taught Me

5. How to Save Money

Aside from the basic, “make a budget” or “cook instead of going out”, some advice on how to manage a healthy-ish lifestyle on a budget would have made for a great session. Tips on how to stay away from fried or greasy food everyday and help on maximizing weekly grocery runs sound like they should be common sense, but it doesn’t always come naturally.

In addition, my advisor was helpful in routinely providing opportunities for us to go do things in the city without spending a lot of money. She helped us find free days at museums and free movie screenings. Being creative and thinking outside of the box in finding inexpensive fun takes skill and strategy that could make for a great seminar.

4. How to Ethically Address the Disadvantaged

Although the Ethics of Engagement session exists, I worry that students in programs like DukeEngage, who are working with disadvantaged populations are missing the point of engagement. I’ve noticed a pattern in discussions and social media posts that build a sort of wall up between the student and the people they are working with. Terms like “these people” and “the other side” and stories told about day-to-day work routinely involve low-income individuals serving as the background to their narrative, a point of entertainment or annoyance.

Now I’m guilty of this mentality myself, and wish I noticed earlier on how easy it is to fall into the role of being  the undergrad-whose-three-classes-in-basic-public-policy-changed-the-world, and how self-concerned it really is. I wish there was a segment in which they discussed how important it is to learn the stories of the people you are helping, the paths they traveled to get to where they are today and how to maintain the compassion and understanding you arrive with.

3. Letting Go of Pressure

With Twitter, Facebook, and even this blog, there is a significant amount of pressure to have an experience that is worth sharing. Weekends are for getting pictures of yourself looking fancy on a rooftop somewhere and weekdays are for building houses, coming up with a revelation about national policy, or accomplishing some task that’ll wow everyone who looks at your LinkedIn account.

It would be great if somewhere in Academy we were assured that it is okay to have moments of inactivity or averageness, that the organizations we are supporting are bigger than us, bigger than the number of likes we get on Instagram.

2. Destigmatizing Racism

In the words of a song from the Broadway musical Avenue Q, “Everybody’s a Little Racist”, I think there is an important lesson that needs to be addressed before having students work in environments of inequality. Although there is a session that teaches how to engage in uncomfortable dialogue, I believe that a common roadblock in having these conversations is the incessant need to distance oneself from “racist” thoughts. Immediately people become offended and say things like “I’m not racist, how could I? The best man at my wedding was black. My favorite teacher in high school was black. I LOVE BoyzIIMen how could I be racist???”

…. sigh.
Saying something, ahem, racially insensitive, does not mean that you are a serial killer or evil or a villain who should be banished from society. It means that you are the product of a society that has, for years, shoved down your throat the idea that being a minority is synonymous with being inferior. It means that you are misguided about how your words can affect other people. But it also means that you are (at least a “little bit”) racist and you have an inherent bias that should be amended. Admitting misunderstanding is important in making any progress, and would come so much easier if people were less inclined to include their pride in the conversation.

1. How to build a family, not a cohort.

I don’t have any concrete ideas for this yet, and I know it’s an ambitious thought for a two-day program, but it would be amazing if there was a way to really connect the cohort members during Academy. I came into DukeEngage looking to build relationships with people that I could feel at home with for eight weeks, but I don’t know how equipped we were to make that a reality.

Maybe being in an international program makes it easier to depend and rely on your cohort members, but I wish somehow there was a way to replicate that for the programs in the US.

-Jessica Womack

Dinner Laughter and Fun

Earlier this week we had a group dinner, as we do every week. The difference this week was I realized how close we have all become. I remember our first meals together as a group in the Marketplace basement during DukeEngage Academy. For the most part they were quiet, and the silence was occasionally broken by seemingly forced small talk. However, last night’s dinner was the exact opposite. It was filled with joking conversations, laughter, chatter, and a much lighter atmosphere than our first group meals. I’m glad we have all gotten along together so well. I know our time spent here is something I will remember and reflect back upon during the school year. I am also feeling a bit sad because we have only spent seven weeks together. At first it seemed like a long time, but now it seems as if we have just started our journey in Miami! I think a group meal at some point during the school year is going to be necessary to meet back up!

Similarly, at work Chris, Jess, and I have become friends with the other undergraduate interns. As a group we have a wide range of interests, and vary greatly regarding what we want to do after college. I think each of us brings an interesting and unique skill set and approach to our work. A project Chris, Jess, and I all worked on was compiling information and statistics about poverty in different zip-codes in Miami-Dade County. I think what was most enjoyable about this assignment was the autonomy we were given. We were asked to find statistics and other relevant information we thought would be useful for LSGM as they look the aid the community in the future. We initially all had different approaches to completing the assignment, but the end result was a combination of our best ideas for compiling information.

We have forged bonds with each other over the summer either doing work in the field at trailer parks, or completing assignments back at the office. I also think park residents will remember us. On several occasions our conversations have gone past simply asking the residents questions, to enjoyable and meaningful conversations. I think I am also sad to have to say goodbye to the other interns because of how impactful they have been on my DukeEngage experience. They make hot days sweating at the trailer parks and difficult tasks at the office easier, and have showed me the importance of collaboration in completing group assignments. LSGM as a whole has been such a pleasure to work with! Although I was not able to do the same work the attorneys do, helping them in the process and observing their passion and desire to make Miami a better place for all its residents was equally as rewarding and fulfilling.

-JJ Finkel

Death by Pokémon

It feels like I traveled in a time machine to bring myself back in time. Pokémon? I hadn’t even heard the word spoken in year–until the new Pokémon Go app was released last week. I must say I would have never expected it to be so popular. In fact, it’s almost frightening to me.

This Pokémon craze is not helping our phone- and text-driven society. “Don’t text and drive” is a common demand that we hear on a daily basis. What’s next? “Don’t Pokémon and drive?” I believe the Pokémon Go app is only preventing people from verbally communicating with each other and further fostering people’s faces being stuck in their phone all day.

Pokémon Go players have been aimlessly traveling around with little to no regard of their surroundings, as they are stuck staring at their phone screens. This has caused many safety issues and various accidents. For example, a girl was recently hit by a car while she was crossing the street, because she was so engrossed in playing Pokémon Go. There have been several other accidents and injuries caused by this game. Additionally, institutions such as the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Arlington National Cemetery, both in Washington, DC, have requested to remove the Pokémon Go game from their property.  These sites feel it is disrespectful and inappropriate to play these types games at solemn places. Walking around University of Miami’s campus, it is easy to tell who is involved in the game. I find it humorous! Crowds of people clustered in certain areas of campus. What are they doing? Pokémon hunting, of course.

Luckily, the Pokémon revolution has not taken over our cohort. Our cohort has been able to continue to effectively communicate with each other, and find fun activities to do in Miami other than go hunting for different Pokémon characters. However, the Pokémon topic has been a prevalent conversation topic during this past week at my work sites. My schedule this summer has been more versatile than most – in addition to working at Legal Services of Greater Miami, I have had the opportunity to work with databases for a law professor at the University of Miami on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At UM this past week, many of my coworkers began talking to me about the Pokémon app, and asked me if I was involved in the craze. One woman told me she had seen at first hand someone driving while using the app on their phone! This was extremely surprising and frightening to me.

Where will the line be drawn? I’m sure the game is fun and entertaining, but it is our society that often gets carried away and overly immersed in technology. The obsession is real. It worries me that people are willing to sacrifice their safety in order to capture certain types of Pokémon characters.

-Jessica Roth