“The True Value of Conversation” – Katie Kelsh ’20

It had been a while since I had formally participated in CBL, so arriving at Training Resources of America (TRA) for my first day a few weeks ago was a little nerve-wracking. I did not quite know what to expect walking up the stairs to TRA on my first day. However, it was in the first few minutes of meeting the ESOL teacher, Amy, and learning about what drew her to become a teacher at TRA, that I was reminded why I always enjoy time spent at CBL sites. I find joy in the conversation and connection that takes place each time I enter the doors of TRA. It was also within this reminder that I realized even though it had been a while since I drove in a Holy Cross van to my weekly site, it had not been a while since I was able to learn from and form connections with others through conversation and the sharing of stories.

Reflecting upon my year away, this value of conversation and connection certainly comes to mind when I think about my time spent in Buenos Aires, Argentina. One of the highlights of my time in Buenos Aires was simply sitting with Stella, my host mother, and my host sisters for hours at the dinner table. We discussed everything from Argentine politics and economics to Target. It was within this simple conversation and story sharing that I gained perspective and insight on what it meant to be Stella, a seventy six year old “porteña”, whose life has been incredibly different than my own. This understanding is something that would not have occurred without these conversations. These conversations helped me to set aside any expectations I had and learn an incredible amount from her about what it means to live in Argentina. Looking back upon this, it appears that CBL and its values were not too far away from us as we sat in that kitchen, a few thousand miles away from Holy Cross.

The simple act of conversation can go a long way. As CBL promotes conversation and storytelling, it allows people to learn from each other and form relationships based on mutual understanding. If I could give one piece of advice to new CBL students, it would be to set aside all expectations before arriving at your site and be willing to learn from those around you. Simply asking someone about their weekend can help start a conversation and ultimately form a relationship. It is truly through the seemingly small conversations that the greatest learning and connection can occur. This focus on connection and conversation has allowed me endless opportunities to learn and engage with others and I am so excited to continue this learning with CBL this year.

“Connecting CBL, Home, and DACA” – Dora Calva ’22

Growing up in an immigrant household, I was not aware of my parents’ citizenship status until I was nine. When my parents had a conversation with me about their citizenship status, I realized that living in a bubble would hinder me from seeing social issues. Throughout this difficult moment for my undocumented parents, my family found happiness in soccer and that became an integral part of our life.

Living with my non-English speaking parents, I had to mature quickly as my parents needed my bilingual assistance with any filing paperwork and tax documentation. Through this learning experience, I became more fluent in speaking English and Spanish. Being able to speak two languages has become a valuable life skill to have in CBL as I volunteer with Ascentria’s Unaccompanied Refugees Minors Program (URMP). Through this program, I tutor refugee minors coming from Central American countries who need additional assistance in their schoolwork. By coming to the United States, these teenagers have felt a sense of parental loss as their childhood has been marked by traumatizing events, and they are currently staying in a foster family. They have shared their stories with me and have taught me valuable lessons.

As a CBL intern in the Donelan Office, I have been more involved in the city of Worcester as well as the close-knit community at Holy Cross such as recently attending the Gathering In Solidarity with Immigrants Event. Stories from two Holy Cross students showed and proved that undocumented people are a great contribution to society. Their vulnerability to open up to the Holy Cross community made this a heart-felt moment as memories from my personal experiences started to come back.

My perspective on DACA recipients is that they do not have to prove or justify to the American population to stay in this country. They do not have to be the best in their class nor aiming to be one of the well-known careers. Each DACA student is here to bring their own hard-working resilience. A poem called “Complaint of El Rio Grande” by Richard Blanco states, “You split me in two–half of me us, the rest them. But I wasn’t meant to drown children, hear mothers’ cries, never meant to be your geography: a line, a border, a murderer.” Rio Grande, whose job is to connect and not split America and Mexico, is hurt as many emotional stories such as death or survival happen at the border. Most DACA recipients either came because their parents brought them at a younger age or are escaping from violence in their country.

Being in a predominantly white institution, it was at the College where I learned to expand my horizons through friendships and networks. By living in the current political climate as a first-generation college student and raised by immigrants, I have been able to open my horizon to understand the social problems that coexist in our society.

“Living Out my Values in my New CBL Site, Ascentria Care Alliance” – Yesenia Gutierrez ’21

This year, I have the amazing opportunity of serving at Ascentria Care Alliance as a Legal Intern. Being in this role has allowed me to feel that I am making a direct impact on the community that I am serving. With our current administration, the pathway for asylum, residency, and citizenship has been harder for individuals to attain. Being an intern at Ascentria has been challenging both professionally and emotionally, but it has allowed me to further understand the legal process of what an individual goes through when seeking a path to receive legal stay in the United States.

One of the challenges that I’ve faced while working at Ascentria is practicing self-care after a long day at the non-profit. Reading the testimonies that individuals who are seeking asylum share are hard to read or listen to, but it also gives me strength. Whenever I receive a new case to work with, I am very hopeful that everything will work out well for the individual seeking a pathway to remain in the United States.

Being part of the CBL Intern program for a second year has prepared me for the service that I now do in the organization. One of the skills that I’ve practiced and developed is the importance of creating connections and relationships with those around you. When I am at the organization I engage in conversations with those who I am working for, so I can also learn about their passions that have led them to this path of serving others who seek opportunities in the United States. When I am interpreting for a client, I create a conversation with them to ensure that everything will be okay and that this is a safe space for them. Language is a privilege in and of itself, and being at Ascentria has made me aware of that.

Growing up, my parents decided to teach me Spanish before I learned English. My dad would share with me the importance of learning both English and Spanish to create a bridge of the two identities I carry as a Mexican-American. Now, that is not to say that language is the only way of creating relationships, but I do think it gives an additional outlet that allows one to communicate with others who do not speak English. Since I was a child, I would interpret for my parents or translate documents for them. Originally, I only used this skill to serve my parents and to personally practice my bilingual capabilities. But now, I am thankful for having this skill because I can apply it in spaces where it is needed, like in Ascentria.

Many of the clients that I work with personally are younger than me. Knowing that I can speak to them and create a bridge among those who are not Spanish speakers, warms my heart because a simple life skill that my parents instilled in me, including the values that I’ve learned through the CBL program, has prepared me for this exact moment. Serving at Ascentria has been an amazing journey that I will be continuing into next semester.

Also, if you want to learn more about immigration and difficulties that individuals around the globe who come to the United States face, I recommend the documentary series titled “Living Undocumented” on Netflix. One of the testimonies that were included in the documentary still impacts me to this day.

“I want you to imagine waking up one morning, and your father is just gone. I want you to imagine going home and trying to tell everybody that everything will be okay when you aren’t even sure of that. And imagine every night trying to sleep, only to find yourself lying awake for hours because you can’t sleep. That worry will end you. And it will try to break you. You can watch a documentary and say ‘this is too bad’ but at the end of the day its just something that you are watching on tv and you can turn it off and you can go about your life.”

If how undocumented individuals are being treated is bothering you, please take the following actions:

  1. Inform yourself of what is going on with immigration policies/ the treatment of undocumented individuals through different sources .
  2. Take action by writing letters to your representatives about your worries.