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On Learning to Articulate and Act on Truths | Sarai Jimenez

October 30, 2013

Sarai is currently a 4th year at Pomona College. She is a coordinator for LINC(Learning in Collaboration), and the Rooftop Garden Mentoring Program.

I sit on my favorite green, squishy couch, and have my Pandora playlist on as I look through LINC and Rooftop emails. It’s another regular day of office hours in the Draper Center.

Reflecting back on who I was my first year as a coordinator, I was in a very different place mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. For starters, my Pandora playlist was probably playing Alicia Keys or John Legend; now I listen to Lila Downs, the Nashville Soundtrack, or the Solo Classical Guitar stations. Everything at the Center was so new and there were so many ideas I wanted to incorporate into my programs. I was determined to fully immerse myself in my coordinator experience and learn more about community work and who I was as a leader. I had a vision rooted in passions that I did not know were so deeply connected to my past, and I looked towards a bright, successful future that I did not fully understand was based on both privilege and under-privilege.  

I came to new and complex understandings of myself and some of these topics through the work itself. For example, through my Rooftop Garden work with students from a local environmental club, I had to grapple with the fact that although I claimed my experiences were inextricably linked to low income under-served Latino immigrants and their children, I was also actively working to "improve" my life by increasing my chances of upward social mobility through the only way available to me—education. This was a privilege—one that I worked hard to obtain— but nonetheless one that I knew students from very similar situations did not have access to. Was I buying into a system that proclaimed "hard work” and "playing by the rules" guarantees success, without critically analyzing who is left out of this equation? This was part of larger questions on my identity as a US born daughter of Mexican immigrants, although at the time I described myself differently and was very focused on my mother's Italian background, but that's another story. 

I was frustrated by my experience as an Alternabreak coordinator and my inability to "meet people where they were at." I was so angry at some of the students who I felt saw the trip as a vacation. I had a particularly uncomfortable discussion with a white upper class woman who basically gave me and 2 other Pomona women of color a lecture on how all of the "doors were open" to women of color in the corporate world and we were destined to succeed. Basically what she (and what "post-racial" America) was saying was that we all had equal opportunities, which I knew was false, both from my Draper work and life experiences. If there was equal opportunities for all we would not have non-profits and community centers like Draper. Who benefits from the capitalist, sexist, racist, heteronormative American institutions (governmental and nongovernmental) that structure our lives? This experience was a big challenge as a coordinator and one that I could not have anticipated. But then, I did not know how to communicate my truths yet. 

I learned to articulate my truths through my close friendships with other coordinators, through classes, my home life(I'm from Socal), my research in the Dominican Republic, my study abroad in Italy, and my summer thesis research in Mexico, among other experiences. I approach my work from a very different place than I did 2 years ago, but it is all part of a learning process that I am glad for and hope to continue far beyond my time at Pomona.

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