Spring ’17 Student Reflection: Elvira Solyn Coronado on Proximity and the “Other”

Elvira Solyn Coronado was a student in the spring ’17 Colloquium The “Other”: Shaping the Future in the Midst of Difference. Here is a critical reflection written by Elvira, documenting the important transformation she experienced from working with Catholic Charities Kids Club.

Neutral No More

What?

After my recent visit at Kids Club, I left with a heavy heart.

I have been paired with many students throughout my time at Kids Club, but last Tuesday I experienced two students tell me a little about what it was like at home. The first student I was paired with was a student I have spoken and been with several times before. Prior to last Tuesday, I remember this student telling me how the name she had was not her real name. She changed the subject right after saying that and I did not want to force her to speak about it again. This time, while she wrote her name on her homework, she repeated the same thing she said about her name. “Did you know that ______ is not my real name. It’s my fake name,” she said. This time I asked her what her real name was and she told me. I then asked her why she had a “fake name” and that was when she looked down and looked sad. I noticed her body language and so I asked her what name she liked better and she said that she liked her real name better. After that she smiled and pointed to her homework. I felt honored that this student was able to tell me something personal about her, but I also felt somber inferring what this student meant about having a fake name. Kids Club is located in the Canal area of Marin County and is known for having a large Latino population. Many of the families living in the Canal area are undocumented immigrants. This student may have needed a fake name to come to the United States. From her body language and expression after I asked why she needed a fake name, I knew that she was not comfortable talking more about why she had one.

I have not been paired one-on-one before with the second student I met with. After we finished with her homework she asked me for the time. I told her it was already 5:10 and she gasped. She then told me that she was sad that she did not have anymore time to read. I asked her if she could read at home, and she responded that she could not because she did not have any chapter books at home. I asked her if she could borrow books from Kids Club or the library and she stated that her mother did not have a library card. She then looked at me with a sad expression and I felt affected by how she truly loved to read but could not because she did not have books at home. I then asked her what her favorite book was and she excitedly ran back into the classroom to show me a book about two best friends. While driving to Kids Club, the streets of the Canal area are crowded with people. According to the director of Kids Club, many apartments in the area house two to three families in one space. After this student explained to me how she did not have any books at home I thought about how her family possibly could not afford buying books for her to read at her leisure.

Both experiences have opened my eyes to the realities of the Canal area. The students all outwardly seem like regular kids doing homework and playing games, but they all carry stories that define the systemic inequality in our society. The first student enlightened me to the immigration story she and many other students may possibly have, while the second student made me realize the socioeconomic status that many families in the Canal have.

So What?

Marin likes to stay silent about the Canal area.

Without those two students I spoke to last Tuesday I would not have been able to see a peek of what the Canal area truly is. From reading and learning about the social inequities the population in the Canal experiences, it was humbling to hear the voices of two students confirm that everything is true. The people in the Canal area are afflicted with poverty, the achievement gap, and other issues that many have stayed silent about. The Kids Club program is a step to aiding this community’s future generations. Ronald David Glass states, “Sometimes, in unpredictable moments of history, localized changes expand rapidly into transformative leaps that reshape the era. But even these leaps rely entirely on the innumerable small steps that precede and sustain them” (338). With the implementation of this program, many students are given the opportunity to decrease the achievement gap and pursue education to help their families. The creators of Kids Club did not stay silent regarding the inequities the Canal community faces.

Now What?

This course taught me to look at the individuals who are hidden.

From having readings about criminals to undocumented immigrants, I was exposed to the pain and injustice these marginalized individuals face. I learned that we may not be able to completely understand the experiences these people have endured, but awareness is a step forward to addressing the issues in our society. At the beginning of the semester I felt as if my work at my community partner was not making a fundamental difference in the community. Glass states, “Despair leads us to wonder if perhaps we should devote ourselves to some more obtainable goal in striving to make the world a better place” (337). After many written reflections I realized that my experience with service learning was a way for me to see the inequities the community faces in proximity rather than simply reading texts about it in the classroom. I now understand that I help my students learn while they help me learn too. I learned about and experienced the Canal area and the people who live there to further prove my thoughts on immigration and poverty in the community. I was aware of some of the issues presented in this course, but this class helped me become even more angry about the injustices and inequities in our society. Those who choose neutrality on societal issues need to take this class.

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