By: Magaly Garcia
Magaly is from Santa Nella, CA and graduated in 2015 from Saint Mary’s College of California with a degree in psychology. This year she is working as an immigration paralegal at CARECEN (Central American Resource Center) in Washington, DC.
I never even imagined this possibility - that everyone I would meet on my first day of work, at my first job after college would all know how to correctly pronounce my first name. This is really big okay?! All my life on the first day of school I knew my teachers would get to my name and struggle to pronounce it, some were nearly successful but most were not even close. This never happens outside of my family or when introducing myself to other Latinos. In most settings I have gotten comments about my name like “oh, how interesting”, “that’s really unique”, and even “Woah do you have a nickname?”, but here at CARECEN no one batted an eye. On Day One I knew this place was special.
I was very nervous about becoming an Immigration Paralegal…on the other side of the country…where I only knew 3 people…where I heard there weren’t many Mexicans. For starters I had no experience with immigration law; I mean some of my family members and friends are immigrants but I never helped them do any paperwork. I was excited to leave my safety of California, yet I knew it would be a challenge being so far away. Going away for college was the first time I realized how important identifying as Mexican was to me and coming to D.C. wasn’t going to change my pride, even if it was going to be a little tougher to show it. It was a lot of adjusting at first: living in a city, working a 9-5, trying to find authentic Mexican food but I’ve survived.
I didn’t know a lot when I first started working here, but I’ve learned so much with the support of co-workers and even clients themselves. Living here and working as an Immigration Paralegal for the past two and a half months has almost seemed effortless. I’ve found Community outside of our house in Petworth, this one in Columbia Heights. It’s amazing to hear about all of my co-workers different backgrounds, how they learned Spanish, what they call different foods in their countries, and what brought them here. Lunch time is always a highlight of the day when people from different departments come together after a busy day, and give each other porras (cheers) that they can finish off the day strong! The clients that we see every day also bring a different perspective to who some Republican candidates seem the think immigrants are: not all are Mexican, or dark skinned, or uneducated. Some have struggled a lot, but others come to find a different lifestyle here in the United States, the land of opportunity, right? Immigrants are just people, but some like to think that undocumented makes them otherwise.
In the time I’ve been here I’ve gone to two marches about family detention, raising awareness and demanding change to the injustices immigrants face when detained and imprisoned. Sometimes I leave work feeling really down because I couldn’t help a client with something that wasn’t in my control; perhaps that happens to anyone that works directly with people. However, most days clients are very appreciative, they’re caring, and patient. I’ve had a couple clients bring me homemade food or give me a little something (like a piece of gum or a pen from their job). On my second week a man told me how great it was that I was helping “nuestra gente”, our people. I thought I would feel a bit isolated since most Latinos here are from Central America, but I haven’t. My coworkers and clients have made me feel a little closer to home.
When I first decided to join Loretto Volunteers some people, including some of my own family members were skeptical. “Why are you wasting a year of your life on the other side of the country to get paid so little?” “Why would you want to live with strangers?” I didn’t really have a concrete answer to any of that. I reassured everyone it would be a real job where I would get good skills and get to live somewhere new and exciting. I have definitely learned SO much and done a lot of exciting things like going to see the Pope and getting a tour of the White House! But above everything I’ve felt useful. I feel like my purpose after college is ALL of this: “working for justice and acting for peace”. I guess you could say doing a year as a Loretto Volunteer was my calling. Sometimes its tough being a Latina volunteer (there aren’t many of us), so it’s not as easy to relate to other Volunteers worldwide. I wish more of us could see the worth of doing a program like this. I hope others feel welcomed as I have and have their names pronounced correctly as well!
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.