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Tuesday, February 24, 2009You Know Nothing About My People
I’m learning a lot from my internship. Things that I’d never been exposed to before as a student.Now that I am considered one of "them” therapists and the likes let their guard down around me and honey, let me tell you the things I’ve seen in this place have saddened me. Racism,class bias, and stereotyping the likes of which I've never seen run rampant in this place. I’ve even been the victim of it myself but when it’s directed at me I shrug it off. I actually don’t mind shattering people’s perception of who and what I am supposed to be like based on my ethnicity. My sensei by the way is one of the people whose perception of me as a Hispanic I am constantly shattering but that's for another post,a funny one.
The thing is that this is coming from professionals who’ve supposedly know better. Who've dedicated their lives to‘scuse me while I twist some of Lady Liberty’s words here… to helping the poor, the disenfranchised,and the huddled masses yearning to be something or other than dysfunctional. As students we’re obligated to take cultural awareness classes and told that we must check our prejudices at the door. I get the distinct feeling the group I work with skipped those classes.
Other than the clinical diagnosis of the clients they service they make no effort to learn about their clients or their culture. They keep themselves apart and ignorant. The result of this is that they aren’t able to connect with the minority clients. Naturally they blame the clients for this,citing it as a lack of trust. They ignore the fact that they make their clients feel way small. They talk in big words on purpose, it's an intimidation tactic. I know because they tried it with me and were stunned to find that my vocabulary was just as extensive as theirs. I don't feel the need to flaunt my education. I'm just Mia from the block and I revel in it and my clients know this which is why they seek me out and open up to me. My superiors are amazed this. I try to tell my superiors that the clients accept me because I am one of them. I know their stories; I have borne witness to them my entire life.
My superiors have never gone to bed hungry because the pantry was bare; they’ve never had to wear third or fourth hand clothing. They’ve never had to pack up their stuff up and move because they’ve had a 72 hour eviction notice taped to their door. They’ve never had to “borrow” electricity because Con Ed shut off their electricity. I may have never gone through this personally but I grew up in a neighborhood where this was a part of every day life for some. Where we were often the one who "loaned" electricty, made care packages for those who were short on food, and gave the evicted a place to sleep until they could get back on their feet. I try to educate my superiors so that they'll better understand our clients but all I get is a patronizing smile and a pat on the head. Screw them.
The other day during a group session we were talking about defining moments in our lives; moments that made us realize that we’d grown up. One of our clients shared her story with us. The young woman revealed that as a homeless teen mother she was once forced to degrade herself for a box of diapers and a couple of cans of infant formula.
Her baby’s father had abandoned her with no warning and she had no family to turn to for help. She couldn’t stay in the furnished room they’d been renting because she didn’t have the money to pay the 75.00 weekly rent. She was dead broke and not due to get paid for several more days. She tried getting a loan from her fellow employees but no one could spare the cash. She'd only been working there for a week so most likely it was a trust issue she figured. Still she counted herself as lucky because she at least had a friend who was willing to let her stay with her and take care of her infant daughter for free while she was at work. Unfortunately her friend was as broke as she was at the moment and couldn’t help her out with what the baby needed. She didn’t want to go to social services and ask for help because she'd run away from the group home she'd been in and afraid they’d put her back in the system and take her baby away from her.
She’d gone to her local bodega hoping to establish a line of credit something bodegas do for good customers. Since she’d been a steady customer, lived on the block, had a job, and a gold chain to leave as collateral she figured it wouldn’t be a problem. She met all the bodega’s requirement for credit. When she’d explain her situation to the owner of the store instructed her to get what she needed.
She only took enough items to hold the baby off until she got paid. When she was done the bodega owner took the formula and diapers from her and motioned her to come to his office in the back of the store. She figured he'd brought her back there to sign a page in the black and white marble composition notebooks that bodegeros used back then to keep track of running tabs. Instead when they got there he locked the door to his office and unzipped his fly. "You know what you have to do.” He told her and motioned for her to get on her knees in front of him. She had no choice, so she did. That’s was when she knew she’d grown up, she was all of 15 years old. “I did what I had to do for my baby. I closed my eyes and pretended it was an ice cream cone.” She said and shrugged her shoulders.
As she told her story I saw several of the women nod their head knowingly. Sadly it's all too common women bartering their bodies and pride for material gain. When they do it for drugs we can shake it off after all it's their choice but when they do it to ensure the well being of a child well that's different. That wounds to the heart. Some of the men hung their heads, anger and shame playing on their faces. I wondered if some of them had abandoned their babies or had taken advantage of woman’s desperation like the bodegero had. I looked up at my so called superiors and saw the look of horror and revulsion on their faces. To their credit they quickly wiped the looks off but I’d already seen it and it made me mad that sympathy had not been one of the looks on their faces. The girl head her head high, as well she should. She looked defiant as if daring anyone to say anything bad about her. I reached out and grabbed her hand and gave it a tight squeeze. "If I had to do it all over again I still would've gotten down on my knees." she said.
Later on alone in our office my superiors discussed the young woman’s revelation not bothering to hide thier feelings from me. They were disgusted. The things that were said weren’t pretty and do not bear repeating here. They mistakenly assumed that the young woman’s revelation would affect her negatively with the other clients in her group. That somehow her story would make them think less of her. They were judging my people by their standards. Even though it was unsaid it was obvious that in their eyes she’d gone down a notch. “How could she?” they asked. “How could she not?" I replied. "You know nothing of my people. No one will shun her. On the contrary they'll treat her with respect because she made the ultimate sacrifice for her child." Of course they didn't believe me.
When we stepped out of the office the group was sitting together having lunch. Some of the older women were around her fussing over her like mother hens. Even the men were being extra gentle with her. I could tell that the group’s behavior towards the young woman surprised my superiors. It wasn’t what they’d expected. The young woman looked up when I came into the room and beamed at me, “Come on Mia come eat with us” she called out to me. “Yeah Mia we’ve got plenty to go around get your ass over here little girl.” One of the older men added. I looked up at my superiors before walking away, “Like I said you know nothing about my people.”
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