A Summer of Hope: Thoughts on Working at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center

At the Esperanza, I enjoy not just working but living as a part of a community. Everything done here reflects the values of inclusion and community. One of the aspects of working at the Esperanza includes self-reliance. Since our community is predominantly working-class, many folks don’t have the privilege of paying someone for building maintenance. The interns spent a couple of weeks repainting walls after taking down an art exhibit. Everyone takes turn cleaning bathrooms or mopping before a performance, and we invite community members to help fold La Voz before mailing out the magazine.

DSC_0095 - Copy
Photo courtesy of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center. I’m on the scaffold.

As far as outside of the workplace, I already knew that San Antonio is extremely economically segregated, but my time at the Esperanza reminded me how true that is. Early on, the director and other staff members took us to different parts of town—Eastside near the Hayes Street Bride and the near Westside—to learn the history and conditions of people living them. Developers have started targeting the Westside, a predominantly Mexican/Mexican-American working-class side of town. Many cities have been hit with gentrification and displacement and San Antonio is no different.

Working in the real world back at home feels like more of a relief than working in college. Although I have to drive nearly everywhere I go (welcome to Texas), I know where I am and can often navigate without the assistance of GPS. My internship feels like a full time job, considering I spend more than forty hours a week at the Esperanza. More importantly, I feel like the work I do affects people other than those that live in a campus bubble.

One significant change is my outlook on meetings. This summer, I’ve observed city council, comprehensive planning, and housing bond committees.

Photo from The Rivard Report. That's me in the hat.
Photo from The Rivard Report. That’s me in the hat.

Many meetings I’ve attended in college revolve around planning events or discussing long-term organizing strategies. The meetings I’ve sat at (or spoken at in some cases) affect the lives of the over one million people living in San Antonio. It amazes me that policy can be decided in a simple conference room. For example, I recently attended two meetings surrounding San Antonio’s affordable housing bond. This bond had the potential to provide affordable housing and emergency repairs to families. At the meeting—in which the committee had to make draft recommendations for affordable housing—members were surprised to learn that they could not pass most of the policies for legal reasons.

Much of the work for SA Tomorrow involved reading, research, and coming up with creative solutions. One of the other interns majored in urban planning and environmental policy, so while she already had background education around sustainability, I have to read extra to understand some proposals in the works. Hopefully this extra work will pay off when studying for my environmental studies minor.  I’m also learning to take the initiative on certain projects. One of the interns and I are spearheading a social media campaign talking about water in San Antonio. This will build my social media skills, which I can transfer to campus organizing.

Anastasia Christilles, ’18

Social Justice WOW Fellow

Commission Update

The interns from the commission come from all kinds of backgrounds, some are local Rhode Islanders but there are quite a few out of staters or local students some in undergrad RI schools, and Law students. Everyone is very friendly and motivated to work.

My first few weeks were difficult, I had some struggles with my workload at the commission. There seems to be a high expectation of self sufficiency that I had conflicts with, for example Interns are responsible for reviewing cases of discrimination that are filed with the commission as they progress or reach a conclusion. This means that I can either receive a fresh new case that needs investigation or a case that has been going on for years and requires final review for closure. Whatever the case may be along the way interns are responsible for finding out what is missing in order to progress in the case and sending out those requests for information to all parties involved. We write our correspondence using few templates that are saved on USB drives and the rest comes through comes as you go through asking questions and getting exposure to legal language in your interactions with other investigators at the commission.

 

Interns also get access to what are called PDC’s, which refer to pre-determination conferences. PDC’s occur when an investigator is having difficulty reaching a recommendation as to whether or not there is sufficient evidence suggesting the legitimacy of the claims that the complainant alleges. All parties involved are invited to attend a hearing in which they can explain both sides of the story and it is the only time we get to meet the people involved in each case. I really enjoy the PDC’s because it brings each case to life and makes your work feel more validating. At the end of the PDC the commissioner usually stays for a few more minutes to give the interns law advice, for those who might be thinking of attending law school after college. There are about 10 commissioners appointed and so far I’ve met about 7. I find it interesting that some of the results of our involvement in these cases as interns will most likely never reach us seeing as they will outlive our internship stay.

 

The work can be very intimidating at first, but I noticed that the long work days provide interns with lots of practice and soon one gets used to the workload. It’s very reassuring when it comes to thinking of future work experience. For now it’s got me thinking of law school, since the majority of interns at the commission are currently enrolled in law programs.  Here’s a link to the commission website 

here’s also a link about attorney Cordona, an appointed commissioner who advised us about law school.

First Week at Centro Presente

Hi! My name is Ivonne Moreno and I am an intern at Centro Presente located in Somerville, MA. Centro Presente is a member-driven, state-wide, Latin American Immigrant organization dedicated to the self- sufficiency of the Latin American immigrant community of Massachusetts.  Centro Presente struggles for immigrant rights and for economic and social justice. Through the integration of community organizing, leadership development and basic services such as youth programs, adult education, and legal services, Centro Presente strives to give its member voice and build community power.

During this summer, I will be working in the legal department at Centro Presente, which provides legal services, educational trainings on immigrants’ rights to the Latino Community and works closely with politicians, religious groups and other community organization. This first week, we have been focusing on organizing the next educational training called “Citizenship Fair”, the main goal of which is to educate Latino immigrants that qualify for citizenship about the process of becoming a US citizen and the importance of voting.  My main responsibility has been getting in touch with immigrants who have come to the Centro and have said to be interested in becoming citizens and invite them to come to the next citizenship fair and how to sign up for the upcoming class to take the citizenship test.

One important event that has a big impact at Centro Presente has been President Obama’s announcement on June 15th giving opportunity to undocumented young people who qualify to obtain a two year permit to stay in the US legally and obtain a work permit to be able to work called deferred action. This announcement has been a joy and an achievement for the immigrant community and especially for those young people who have been in the United States since they were kids and have been unable to get jobs and go to college because of their immigrant status.  This week, we have been receiving a lot of calls from people asking about the deferred action and how they can apply if they qualify. In the weekly meeting staff, the Centro decided to do something like a forum and invite the community to give them all the information we have on the deferred action. I think it is very important to do since they are people who are trying to take advantage of this situation by asking people for money to apply for this permit when there is not even an application process and the ICE has 60 days to organize the application process.

In the weekly staff meeting, I was introduced to the people who work at the Centro Presente and the work they do. I was really impressed by the work they do and how passionate they are about fighting for the rights of the undocumented community. From this short period that I have been at Centro Presente, I feel that I will gain a deep understanding of the US immigration system as well as the many issues that undocumented people face in the United States. It has been great to also have a different working experience that I did not have the opportunity to get before.

– Ivonne Moreno ’13