I recently celebrated three years at Taller De José! Time does fly, especially when you’re accompanying, learning, and walking with clients and other compañerxs.
While I do not have an exact number in the three years that I have been at Taller De José I have seen more than 400 clients. I started off at Taller De José as the office manager. I knew all of the clients that walked into Taller De José and we built relationships, although technically they weren’t “my” clients. After transitioning to a compañera I still run into some clients and their response is, “you’re still here?” Many of our clients are used to seeing our compañerxs graduate or move to a different city once their service year is over. They often tell me that it feels good to see a familiar face at Taller De José and they will regularly fill me in on where they’re at in this point in their lives.
Because I have seen so many people at Taller De José, I often struggle with remembering their faces or stories when they call. Luckily, whenever we see clients we write short narratives or case notes that we can later use to help us remember their stories. Carmen, our new office administrator will call my extension and inform me when there is someone that would like to speak with me. She will usually give me a minute to search our database so that I can refresh my memory, especially if it’s a client that I haven’t seen in a long time. Recently, Carmen informed me that I received a phone call from Amanda Martinez*. I couldn’t speak to Amanda at that time, so I asked Carmen to schedule an appointment for me so that I could see Amanda later that day.
As I worked in my office, I started thinking about Amanda and her journey at Taller De José. Amanda came to Taller De José because she needed an interpreter for a citizenship interview. The attorney working with Amanda explained how serious the interview was and as she talked I could see Amanda shaking. During the interview conversations were prohibited and mistakes were punished, causing Amanda to be even more worried. I remember trying multiple times to calm her down but nothing would work. I brought Amanda some tea and told her that it was okay to be nervous and afraid because we’re all human and we have feelings. Amanda smiled at me and began telling me that no one had ever said that to her. Everyone in her life had always told Amanda to be strong and to hide her emotions. Amanda told me that she was grateful that I had given her the space and opportunity to express herself. During that first initial appointment we covered a lot of the interview process for citizenship. Amanda also talked about the problems that she was facing and thanked me multiple times simply because I listened. She was a grandmother who had recently lost a grandson and struggled with recurrent skin cancer. That day, our conversation ended with “see you on Thursday at 7:30 am for your interview.” A few days later, I went with Amanda to her interview; she passed her exam, and was recommended for citizenship. I thought it was the last time we would see each other, so I said good bye.
Fast forward to 2019, a year and a half since I had seen Amanda. The doorbell rang so I walked downstairs to open the door and found Amanda at the front door. I recognized Amanda immediately, but she didn’t recognize me. Amanda walked up and sat in the waiting room. When I walked up to her, I asked her if she was ready to follow me to my office. Amanda looked at me and began crying. I couldn’t understand what she was saying. She rolled up her sleeves and I could see stitches on both of her arms. I hugged her and Amanda told me that the skin cancer had returned. I didn’t know what to say so I asked her to follow me to my office. We spent about two to three minutes in silence; she stared at my bookshelf and said “There is something amazing about you, about this space, your office, it’s comforting…my sister died in a car accident last week, my family is struggling, and my cancer is back. I just needed to be here for a few minutes to be heard and see you.” Once again, I didn’t know what to say. I handed Amanda a box of tissues and I told her that if she ever needed this space, that it would be available for her to use. We talked for a few more minutes and then she told me that she had to go. As I walked her down the stairs, I told her to take care and to call me if she ever needed anything.
I think that one of the many reasons why people find Taller De José intriguing is because we accompany clients physically to the police station, their court hearings, or medical appointments. To me, Taller De José is one of a kind because we are also given the opportunity to accompany our clients emotionally. We take the time to build relationships with our clients so that even when the situation is out of our hands people know where to turn when they need to be seen. Accompaniment goes beyond the bus rides and becomes something more in the minutes of silence where someone is received.
* name changed for client confidentiality