Friday, May 26, 2017

A few years ago, I volunteered as a child advocate for an unaccompanied minor, which means that for a year, I worked with a 16-year-old girl from Honduras as she waited for the chance of asylum. Once a week, I would drive an hour to a Southside detention facility and play foosball with her as we got to know each other. Slowly, I began to learn her story, looking for ways to make sure her voice was heard amidst all of the bureaucracy she was enveloped in.

Most days, I walked into the facility, not knowing what type of mood she'd be in, which was understandable, as weeks turned into months and soon the trauma of spending eight months in a detention center melded with all of the trauma she had prior. She was able to leave eventually, though her story doesn't have a nice and neat ending. She had no family in Chicago so once she was transferred out, she was on her way to meet with distant relatives and for her parting gift, I put a translated copy of Sandra Cisneros' A House on Mango Street in between a few copies of People en EspaƱol, hoping that Sandra could help guide her even if I was nervous to see her go. 

It's been years, and I often wonder where she is now. I wonder if she had to go back to Honduras or if she found safety, though I know there were complications on both sides of the border.

After that year, I decided not to continue on as an advocate, mostly because I assumed that I wouldn't be in Chicago much longer (ha) but also because I came to realize that my skill set is not that of a social worker or a teacher, as much as I try. I'm much better working behind a computer, helping organizations communicate to the public, making them relevant, marketing them so they look nice and neat.

But once Trump was elected, I searched for a place to join, to put myself to work, and soon found myself at Sierra Club meetings every month. There are occasional meetings when I get frustrated, as we chug through slow, unproductive conversations about what issues we should tackle next. But I suppose that's what happens when you get people together who have never met before, with more excitement than they know what to do with but little enthusiasm for slow progress.

It's one thing to wax poetic about the changes you would like to see but it is another thing to head to a Sierra Club meeting with well-intentioned people that may or may not make much progress an hour later. It is another thing to try and help a girl as she makes her way through our legal system. It is another thing entirely to do collective work.

Of course it's not all frustrating, but it's no Instagrammable success story either. Because of the nature of group work, I have a propensity, like many, to find comfort in transforming my home into a place that reflects what I'd like to see in this world. I create a small little oasis in my one-bedroom apartment with thrifted goods and green cleaning products and reusables in a city where public transport is accessible. It is wonderful to have this control but it is also the easiest, most satisfactory step. There is a frustration -- but also a hope -- that comes with doing more.

It's hard for the cynic in me to say this but hopefully by the time I'm old, I will have seen something bigger, structures overturn, sitting in a home powered by the sun, thanking the 26-year-old me. Until then, I'll be making my way past the Trump Tower toward a small conference room on the 15th floor of a downtown office building, chugging through discussion of a small, community solar project.


Celia said...

Quiet, unglamorous, slow: the work of making a better world. Grateful you're at it.

Jules said...

You are a bad ass! Love you. TXT.

Margaret Sack said...

Amazing! Poignant musings from my Sally girl!