By Brenda Rodriguez Flores
I was born into being a Compañera; I just did not know it at the time. When I was younger my parents primarily spoke Spanish. They both immigrated to the United States for a better life, The American Dream. I remember from a small age my parents would ask me to read letters for them that I barely even understood myself and then translated what I thought it said. As I grew older, it became a routine for my siblings and me. As soon as the mail came in, my father would hand us a letter and whoever was in the living room would get to translate. As a child, I would always think “why me?” Throughout the years I found myself interpreting for my parents’ doctor’s appointments, citizenship interviews, accompanying them to various government buildings, and anywhere that I was needed.
I remember one time, about seven years ago, my father asked me to accompany him to the Daley Center to retrieve a death certificate. I remember being excited because that meant we’d be going to the food court at the Thompson Center afterward. When we first arrived at the Daley Center we took the escalator downstairs, my father was familiar with the building and he was pretty sure that the certificate would be at the vital records department. We waited in a long line and when the clerk finally called us, we were informed that she did not have the record and were sent to a different floor. We went back up the escalator, went through security, and tried going to the appropriate floor.
Now, if you have never been to the Daley Center, you would not know that it has elevator banks with only specific floors. For example, the first elevator bank goes to floors 1, 7, 10 & 12. The Daley Center has about 30 floors and you can only change elevators on floors 1 and 7.
We at the time did not know that, so we found ourselves going down to the first floor about five times. Mostly because every time that we were told to go to a specific floor that clerk would send us somewhere else. We were finally told the right floor and the clerk was able to get the microfilmed death certificate for us. As we walked out of the building I told my father that I would never go into the Daley Center again, little did I know that I’d be working for Taller de José two years later.
When I first applied for the Compañera position, I remember telling the Executive Director that I had made a promise to never go back to the Daley Center, I smiled at her and said “Well if a client really needs me to go, I will.” Little did I know that a few weeks into my new position, I’d be accompanying Rosario* to her divorce hearing. I knew Rosario* as this incredible woman with an infectious smile. When Rosario* asked me to accompany her, I couldn’t say no. On our way to the Daley Center, Rosario* and I conversed as if we were longtime friends. There was that sense of familiarity entering the building again. Although I was accompanying Rosario*, she was accompanying me back to the place to where my Taller de José journey began.
Since my experience with Rosario* being a Compañera came naturally to me, every time that a client comes in it’s like I am taking care of a friend or a relative. I was familiar with translating documents, was fluent in English and Spanish, had interpreted already in many different settings, and I was familiar with the neighborhood as well as the other non-profits. In August of this year, I will be celebrating five years at Taller De José. I am no longer afraid of the Daley Center and I use that experience to empathize with my clients because I understand from first-hand experience why these government buildings are so intimidating. In these five years, I have learned so much but it always goes back to the beginning. To this day, when I visit my dad’s house, I still grab the mail (without being asked) and translate for him. All of these years of being my dad’s Compañera are why I believe Taller De José is such a vital organization.