On Friday, July 2nd, myself and other CHCI interns participated in Habitat for Humanity and helped to construct low-income housing which would provide individuals who otherwise would not be able to afford a mortgage permanent places to live. Having this asset in the families of less fortunate Northeast DC residents could provide a financial foundation for future economic growth which could eventually help to elevate the community as a whole. The experience of building a house is a useful metaphor and personifies the value of community engagement in a physically tangible way. Environmental scholars and municipal planners have often referred to the concept of place in driving community solidarity. This concept applies to both the natural and built environments. In essence, place means a personal connection with the physical location a person or community inhabits. A sense of place starts to give a community, town, city, or district, distinct characteristics which define it as compared to other places and serves as a starting point for mobilizing community action. While this concept may seem difficult grasp, it is already apparent in many instances. South Central and East Los Angeles have distinct experiences of place which are founded in the racial backgrounds of their respective communities. A strong sense of place and community identity led Concerned Citizens of South Central--a grassroots minority-led organization--to effectively halt the construction of the LANCER Incinerator--a refuse disposal facility which would have had major health and environmental impacts on South Central LA. The land acquired for the project eventually became a community farm. As young Latino leaders, we can learn from Concerned Citizens in several ways--though we do not have to wait for plans for an environmentally hazardous incinerator to be drawn to do so. First, civic involvement is necessary for individuals to develop a sense of place which binds them to their communities. Building a house, for example, is a great way to link individuals to their built environments and, in turn, their communities. Community service projects, however small, can help to develop solidarity among members of a community--which in turn will lead to greater civic engagement and a sense of a common interest in the future growth and prosperity of the whole. Second, mobilizing community action for political, social, or economic progress is strongly aided by a shared sense of place. People will be more likely to stand up for a community or place which they feel connected to in a personal way. Overall, try not to get caught in the trap of cynicism and the lure of personal gain. As young Latino leaders, the future well being of our communities depends on us and we cannot allow ourselves to be uprooted from the places of our origin by the draws of riches or power. Essentially--stay true to your roots--give back--and you can help the place that you came from grow and flourish.
In a polarized country, it is important for the courts to stay independent. During her confirmation hearing, Elena Kagan said, “The court must respect the choices made by the American people,” which is something the courts must do in the current political climate. The country is currently divided between liberals and conservatives, and it is important for Kagan to remain impartial and not just vote with her political views whenever a case comes to her – and this is what makes the judicial branch the most unique, for it is not dictated by public opinion. I believe that Kagan will exceed all expectations as a Supreme Court judge just as she has exceeded in her career. I went to briefing that discussed the effects of the nomination of Elena Kagan, and one of the panelists said that in some instances only a woman could understand certain things that happen to other women. I agree, and this is another reason why I believe she will be a great addition to the court.
In the opening decades of the 21st century, all Americans face extreme challenges--among them global security, social inequity, and environmental catastrophe. Americans of all backgrounds will need to come together and unify around common solutions in order to address these problems. When Elena Kagan mentioned that the nation's high court must respect the, "choices made by the American people," she was not referencing the choices of beltway insiders, industry heavyweights, pundits of all stripes, or Justices in flowing robes. She was not talking about solely white, black, or brown Americans--about liberal, conservative, or libertarian Americans--she was referencing ALL Americans. This means that all of the previously mentioned viewpoints, backgrounds, and political leanings must be incorporated into the national narrative. No one group has a monopoly on truth and no single viewpoint is without its flaws--we all view the world with a specific set of lenses tinted by our backgrounds and philosophies. This is where the Judiciary branch fits into the national discussion--to interpret and apply the common and statutory laws of the land while respecting and incorporating the views of ALL Americans. Despite comments to the contrary of some Senators in the ongoing Kagan confirmation hearings, if permitted to serve, Kagan will be sitting on one of the most activist courts in decades. Since the seating of Chief Justice Roberts, the majority conservative court has chosen to rule on landmark cases addressing, among other things, rights of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, the rights of business entities to spend unlimited amounts of cash in election advertising, and, most recently, the sacrosanct right of all Americans to brandish weapons for self defense regardless of their geographic location. Having another female perspective to weigh in on the many issues facing the American people--while it will not change the overall balance of the court--will take us one step closer to towards an inclusive and accessible judiciary which respects the rights and voices of ALL Americans and will interpret and apply precedent and the constitution in order to correct the social, political, and environmental inequities of our time. This is the essence of an activist court. In this turbulent time in history, judicial activism, not judicial restraint, is what is needed to help our nation steer a successful course into the future. After Kagan says what she needs to say to get through this difficult vetting process, I wish her a long and distinguished career through which she may help to address the many challenges of our time.
Welcome to the professional world with some nice cushioning to ease the blow! The first week of our CHCI summer experience was perfectly planned, calibrated, and executed. To facilitate our professional development, the CHCI team thought of every possible workshop to aid our transition to the real world and also the microcosm of DC. Writing workshops, etiquette training and public safety briefings assured us that our internships would begin without the little mistakes we wish didn’t happen. Which fork do I use again?! The various representatives from national organizations offered insight into how our experiences here will ensure our effectiveness as future leaders in the global community. Early morning 9am sessions, yes 9 am is early after a few weeks of summer vacation, started out with a great breakfast and an even more amazing staff. The highlight for the first week was the CHCI family. Whether it was an alumni intern/fellow who spoke to our group, or the CHCI staff, he or she always took the time to offer the wisdom of his or her experience.
Una oficina llena de sonrisas, apretones de manos y un escritorio con una computadora me dieron la bienvenida en mi primer día de trabajo en el Capitolio. Después de presentarme con todos mis compañeros en la oficina, se me instruyó en las tareas que desempeñaría en la oficina. Nada podía salir mal. Si algún error cometía, siempre podía decir “es mi primer día” y como por arte de magia, mi error desaparecía y las sonrisas regresaban. Para mi sorpresa, esa excusa sólo me sirvió un día. A la mañana siguiente me topé con una dificultad para la cual no me había preparado. El estrés, el atender llamadas de constituyentes enojados y el descifrar terminología legislativa desconocida para mí, fueron los mayores retos que enfrenté esa primer semana. Sin embargo, recordé que no estaba solo. Mis compañeros del instituto, quienes atravesaban por retos similares, me sirvieron como apoyo para aclimatarme a este nuevo ambiente. Por supuesto, los ánimos que mis seres queridos me enviaban desde casa también me ayudaron mucho. Todo ese apoyo me ayudó a ver las cosas desde otro ángulo y cambiar mi actitud ante este nuevo reto. De esa forma, ayudé como traductor en una junta con el Departamento de Agricultura con autoridades mexicanas, traduje los comunicados de prensa del congresista al español, administré tours en el Capitolio en español para constituyentes y asistí a sesiones informativas en el Congreso. Me gusta mi trabajo y las oportunidades disponibles en el Congreso.
An office full of smiles, handshakes and a desk with a computer welcomed me on my first day working on Capitol Hill. After introducing myself to the rest of the staff, my supervisor showed me what my duties would be in the office. Nothing could go wrong. If I ever made a mistake, I could always say “it’s my first day” and all the smiles would come back. Unfortunately, that excuse just worked one day. On the next day, I encountered a challenge that I wasn’t ready to face. The stress, answering phone calls of angry constituents and deciphering legislative terminology unknown for me, were the biggest challenges I faced on my first week. Nonetheless, I remembered that I wasn’t alone. My CHCI roommates, who also encountered similar challenges, supported me to acclimate to this new environment. Of course, all the good vibes from my loved ones sent me from home also helped me to see things from another angle and to change my attitude toward this new challenge. As a result, I helped as a translator in a meeting between the Department of Agriculture and Mexican authorities, I translated press releases from my congressman to Spanish, administered tours of the Capitol in Spanish to constituents and attended congressional briefings. I love my job and the opportunities available on the Hill.
A hush falls over the chamber as Chairman Frank knocks his gavel against the table. “The conference will now reconvene,” he says. Sitting a few feet away, I nervously glance towards the TV cameras which, by the request of the conferees, are covering the Conference Committee on Financial Reform. The House and Senate chairs of the Banking and Financial services committees are in conference to debate final points on Wall Street reform. On the docket tonight, the contentious Volker Rule—which would limit banks and other financial companies from betting with either Fed or taxpayer dollars on risky derivatives trading. The House’s version of the bill banned derivatives trading for financial institutions with their own assets—a move which the Senate disagrees with because they believe that it would drive derivatives trading overseas, away from the watchful eyes of US regulators. A few minutes later, Chairman Frank calls yet another recess, stating that the House needs time to review the Senate’s counter-offer on language for the legislation. Staffers hustle about, quiet side conversations fill the air, and I can’t help but eavesdrop. It is a privilege to even be in this room—especially as conference committees are only convened about once every ten years. Flavio pounds away on his Blackberry, flurries of emails flying between him, staffers in the room, and unseen collaborators who are scrambling to reach a consensus on language before the official counting of votes. Around 6:45pm, I pack up and meet Flavio in the hallway and tell him that I am going home. I am exhausted from running back and forth from the House to Senate sides all day for the committee. Although I should have stayed longer—the conference ran well into the wee hours of the morning—I can still say that I was there. I was a fly on the wall in the committee which determined how Wall Street will do business and hopefully stave off another collapse of global financial markets in the future.
Working on Capitol Hill is amazing! My first two days were a little slow. I learned to handle the phone and constituents, and I also learned how to sort the mail. However, I started going to hearings the third day and it has been amazing. I’ve been attending hearings on racial profiling, the immigration system, cyber-security, cyber-bullying, press freedom in the Americas, the future of the U.S. Post Office, and also about pollination. I love to learn new things, so I feel like I have hit jackpot. In addition, I am starting to see a lot of Members of Congress that I see on TV and also Members of Congress that have done a lot of good for the American people. My boss, Congressman Ed Pastor from Arizona, is simply amazing. I have also met Congressmen Grijalva, Stupak, and Rangel. I have seen Kucinich, Pelosi, Reid, and Hoyer. I just need to meet Congressman Gutierrez, and I will be a happy man. The people in my office are amazing, including my supervisor, who really wants me to learn as much as I can. The toughest challenge I have had so far are the angry constituent callers. I have to be courteous no matter how outrageous or insulting the callers’ comments are. Also, getting lost in the sub-basement is inevitable…why don’t they have maps? Finally, I love writing down the constituents' messages or comments to the congressman, because he actually reads them. This may seem like the easiest task in the world; however, it's very important to Congressman Pastor, and I feel extremely proud every time I write these messages down.
The main highlight of this week for me was getting to know the staff in my office. The first week, I felt like I did not belong and people barely spoke to me which made me feel a little uncomfortable. I knew that I had to make it my goal to get to know the staff bettter. When this week began, I started to make conversation with my follow staffers. It also helps that the World Cup is going on because the games helps to clear the tension of work. I enjoy going to briefings because I have the opportunity to see presentions about differnt issues. I am having a great time.
"Oh I'm so sorry, I thought you were Kate!"
Orientation week was intense. Clearly, the ropes course was what stood out to me the most. There was an activity where we were latched on to a rope. Then, we had to pull that latch to break ourselves free from the rope, which would then send us swinging back and forth at a fairly high altitude. I cannot describe it any clearer, but I can only describe how scared I was. Guess what, I was volunteered to go first! I had no idea what to expect…our instructor, Chad, told me what to do, but he never told me what was going to happen. I knew it was going to be scary though. However, I purposely put on a macho act so that I wouldn’t scare the others…because they all look up to me. Just kidding! I was scared and it showed! One last thing that struck me the most happened after our first reception. We walked across the capitol building and through the park area during the evening. There weren’t any tourists, and everything looked beautiful and serene. As we walked through the park area, we saw fireflies. The weather was perfect and I felt like staying there forever.