This Advent season, we are reminded to “receive the stranger,” to welcome “the other” into our hearts and homes. As a part of her community’s Advent reflection Posada, Amate House Volunteer Carla León shared these thoughts about her work at Taller de José:
At Taller de José, most of our clients are marginalized members of society— the “others” of society. The majority of clients are Hispanic, mainly Mexican immigrants, who speak very little or no English at all. Here I work with clients who need financial assistance, counseling, legal help, detox, and the list can go on and on. I meet strangers, new people, EVERY DAY! I walk along side with them when I accompany them to court, hospitals, immigration interviews, the social security office, just to name a few. Yet I don’t think of them as strangers because I can relate; we have gone through similar situations, and my parents have had the same struggles. I think this is why I truly enjoy working at Taller.
Working at Taller de José has taught me so much in only FOUR months! I’ve noticed that even when clients are at their lowest point they manage to still have a smile on their face, and manage to crack jokes. They have hope. For some clients, it seems like their situation doesn’t faze them. I’ve had clients I simply can’t help because they need money to pay their rent and the agencies we refer them to have no funding. Some need utility assistance but they can’t be helped because they’re undocumented and don’t have a social security number. The responses I get when I tell them “I’m sorry, but we can’t help” or “I’ll call you if I know of anything” are amazing: “Yo sabre como le hago”– “I’ll figure it out somehow,” or, “Dios aprieta, pero no aorca”– “God gives you a little squeeze, but He won’t choke you”. The faith of the clients I work with is so strong, it makes their situation seem like something normal.
Working here makes me feel like I’m right at home. Life has given me a unique experience, and it’s been a privilege to work at Taller de Jose. Now that I am back in the “barrio, the hood” I have the chance to work with what society labels as the Others—the people of color. So how have I received the stranger? I simply treat them as people; it’s hard not to see my grandmother, grandfather, my mom, dad, my sisters and brother, and even my nieces and nephews in front of me when I work with my clients. Sometimes it feels like déjà vu. I treat clients as I would like others to treat the members in my family. As I would like the case worker at the public aid office to treat my mother; as I would like the judge to treat my father. That’s how I welcome the Other, how I receive the stranger.