It’s summer break and I just finished my first-year internship. I was saying goodbye today to one of the residents and told her that next year I’ll be moving on to a non-profit organization that serves the local Latino community.
The lady looked at me funny and replied, ‘‘Cuz you’re so Latina?’’
She was puzzled, because I’m white, oh-so-white, born and raised in Michigan, lived in rural/suburban areas my entire life.
Now, I’ve done a lot of volunteer work with Spanish-speaking immigrants, spent some time volunteering in Mexico, and I had Spanish-speaking customers at my old job, and have never once had any problem. While people usually are first very surprised, they generally seem delighted that I speak Spanish and just happy and appreciative for whatever service I’m providing.
But the internship I’ll be assigned to next year will be different than anything I’ve ever done, because it’s a grassroots advocacy organization in a major city, run for and by Latinos in that community. I will probably be doing a lot of policy, programming and community work.
I’ve been thinking about it, and I guess it’s one thing to provide a service and another thing entirely when you’re working to represent the interests of a specific group of people. I’m beginning to worry that if I work in this area people might view my race as a liability.
And by ‘‘people’’ I mean potential employers. I’m interested in leadership and professional success. I wonder, could the fact that I’m not Latina hold me back in that regard? It makes sense that interest groups generally like their leaders to be like them, but I wonder if there is an important role for me in this work? I want to help any way I can.
I mean the crux of the matter is that I definitely believe that in these kinds of organizations the people should have the power and set the agenda, so I’m not even convinced I should have any significant degree of power because it’s not my interests being serviced. At the same time, I’m not dropping $100k on a Master’s degree so that I can spend the rest of my life shuffling papers.
Any Dopers have experience working as a white minority in this kind of advocacy organization, or any kind of organization at all? Did you feel you had a meaningful role in what was happening or did people seem put off by you? Any trouble moving up within the organization? Any interpersonal issues come up? Cultural misunderstandings, etc?
Also, I know next year will be all about learning, and that I’ll be a lowly intern and all. I’m speaking about this more in the long-term, because I have a genuine passion for addressing issues faced by the Latino immigrant community and would want to make a career out of advocating for this population if feasible.