Something I have asked myself recently is, “What is left after a client’s appointment with a compañer@ at Taller de José?” We hope clients leave with their questions answered, knowledge of pertinent resources, and perhaps a follow up appointment or accompaniment scheduled. We also aspire to develop our clients’ confidence that they can address an issue and will be supported along the way. However, the compañer@s at Taller de José are left with something different: our clients’ stories. The details and facts of a client’s case are important, but it is the stories, relationships, and unique traits of each individual that have really left their mark on me and other Taller de José staff.
I could tell you all about the facts, dates, and other pertinent information from a recent case. For example, Petra*, one of my clients, has lived and worked in Chicago since she was young, and she is now approaching retirement. She likes her job, is paid well, and has worked for the same employer for decades. Petra’s parents live in Mexico and are reaching a mature age. Her father has had two strokes and is in poor health. The only person currently taking care of her parents is one of Petra’s family members. The rest of Petra’s family cannot travel back to Mexico, leaving Petra to take care of them. As a result, Petra came to Taller de José seeking to find out whether she could receive Medicare and Social Security payments in Mexico. To answer this question, we called the general help line of the Social Security Office, the Mexican Consulate in Chicago, and a non-profit called Casa Maravilla. We learned that because she is a citizen, she could receive most of those benefits. If she moved, she would have to file other paperwork with different US agencies in Mexico. Upon leaving the meeting, Petra shared that she would travel back to see her parents and their situation and then decide whether she would need to move. These are the facts, but the lasting impression was the emotions surrounding this situation Petra conveyed to me and the relationship we built working to find Petra answers.
Even as a case’s specific details become fuzzy the emotions and relationships remain. For example, when Petra described her job, her passion for her work and respect for her company were clear. She was also sad about needing to potentially leave the job. Additionally, Petra was frustrated that her parents weren’t able to get the help and attention they need. Perhaps most striking was Petra’s level of commitment. There was no doubt that, if after travelling to Mexico and determining that her parents needed her there, Petra would move. She would do this despite losing some benefits and the decades of roots she had created in Chicago. Being able to experience these emotions is one of the blessings of serving as a compañer@. The clients I have met with have been honest and authentic, even when discussing some of the most challenging or traumatic events of their lives. Being trusted enough to have these emotions shared with me has been an unexpected privilege and honor.
Petra has not come back to Taller de José after our first meeting. I do not know the resolution to her story, even though I’d very much like to. What I do know is that when Petra was here, she opened herself up to me. I helped her direct her questions to people who knew the answers. So long as she knows that she can come back to us in the future and that we will welcome her and listen intently to the next chapter in her story that will have to be enough.
*Client name and details have been modified to protect their privacy.