Six years ago I was a nervous South Texan boy setting foot on Southwestern University, scared out of my mind at the prospect of starting college. Back then all I wanted to do was study the Roman Empire, learn Latin, and become a professor. Six years later I’m working for the Latino Farmers’ Cooperative of Louisiana (LFCL) as part of my AmeriCorps VISTA service. If you’d asked me at the age of 18, who at that time was as close to right-wing as any South Texan can get, if I’d be working for a non-profit years after Southwestern, I’d probably shake my head in disbelief. Nevertheless, here I am, and I love it.
One thing I noticed from the start is that six years of being in an academic setting have wired my mind to work on a “we-all-start-off-at-an-almost-equal-footing”-mentality. It goes without saying that that mindset is a wrong one for the workplace. Nothing says “learn how to swim” in the real world more than when you realize that you have coworkers who have their act together and you’ll continue to seem like the newbie for more than the first week. (Those who know me know very well how it takes me more than thrice to teach me something.) However, my boss and coworkers are really nice people and have been more than kind to show me the ropes and share their personal experiences with the LFCL.
Moreover, my first weeks here have changed my life profoundly. Before I started working for the LFCL, I was very critical about my own family’s financial shortcomings. However, my focus on my personal problems began to shift to something more significant more than two weeks ago when we had the Banco de Comida (Food Bank) at the LFCL. During our Bancos de Comida, we clear out the office, making as much space as possible for the food that has been donated to us by Second Harvest Food Bank. Once space has been made and the food has arrived, the staff and our volunteers pack the food into individual boxes that we then distribute to people who come into the office. By the end of the day, we had distributed a little more than a thousand pounds of food to more than thirty families. Did we solve the food insecurity issue among NOLA’s Latinos? No, but at least we demonstrated that we can make the difference in our community.
On my way home after the Banco de Comida, I realized just how fortunate my brothers and I were that our parents never depended on a food bank for our food security. Seeing the need in the people coming into the office that day convinced me that I can no longer dwell on my past, trying to play out the what ifs as I have for the past year or so. Instead, I have come to the realization that I must begin to plan for a better future, one in which I can help change the socioeconomic situation of Latinos not only in New Orleans but throughout this entire country. I, for one, believe that it is the duty of every educated Latino youth to give back to his/her community and make a difference. In a way, this is our debt that we owe to our grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, who gave it their all in the fields, in the factories, in the refineries, and in strangers’ homes to make it possible for us to go to college.
My future remains to be written, and I can’t wait to write it here. ¡Chao amigos!