Last February 20th, in celebration of Black History Month, the DC Afro-Latino Caucus, Trabajadores Unidos de Washington, DC and the Humanities Truck organized the panel DC Afro-Latinos in Action. The event took place at American University. The panelists were activist and educator Rosalyn Lake, from Seed School of Washington; Howard University professor of Spanish Aisha Cort, and American University Cultural Anthropology professor Arvenita Washington Cherry. The moderator was long time national activist Roland Roebuck. Within the audience, we were pleased to welcome DC community activists, officials from the DC government, students, and AU staff and faculty.
Manuel Méndez, director of the DC Afro-Latino Caucus, a Humanities Truck community partner, proposed the panel to support the mission of the Caucus, which is to bring visibility to the DC Afro-Latino community and to share experiences. The panelists shared their knowledge and experience of the Afro-Latino community as it pertains to issues of representation, activism, and the overall presence of Afro-Latinos in the city. They enlightened the audience with their personal stories and professional knowledge that shed light on their achievements and commitment to the DC community in general and the DC Afro-Latinos in particular.
At the end of the panel, many members of the audience approached the panelists to ask more questions, to ask for their contact information, to share stories. A group of students of the course on Latino Migration, Identity and Labor, conducted interviews with participants and members of the audience to later produce short podcasts for the Caucus (listen below!). Panelists were effective at starting the conversation beyond themselves. At this event we also had the opportunity of having Nancy Shia‘s photo exhibition portraying both Afro-Latinidad and Afro-Latinos’ activism in the late 1970s and 1980s in Mt Pleasant and Adams Morgan in DC. Following the panel, attendees viewed the exhibit which served as a conversation starter while attendees enjoyed snacks. An interesting conversation took place in the back of the room as the panel ended where two AU Afro-Egyptian students suggested more conversations of this nature and to work towards ways to connect with other Afro students at AU. This event highlighted both the cause of the Caucus in DC but also how this issue relates to student experiences at AU, raising awareness among the diverse audience.
This event was sponsored by the Humanities Truck, Trabajadores Unidos de Washington, DC, the World Languages and Cultures Department, and organized by Manuel Méndez, director of the DC Afro-Latino Caucus and Ludy Grandas, Humanities Truck fellow.
The corner, once more
A few days later, on February 26th, we took the Humanities Truck to the corner of the Home Depot for the third time. Half of the students of my Latino Labor, Migration and Identity met us there. We featured the same photo exhibit displayed before. We arrived early in the morning with coffee, bread and pastries for everybody. The day laborers gathered around the Truck to share breakfast with each other and with students. Some day laborers are more shy than others, and the issue of trust and comfort are important to how willing they are to talk and meet new faces at the corner, but they all welcome us into their community. This visit was important because it gave Trabajadores Unidos of Washington, DC— the day laborer organization that works with these day laborers— the opportunity to welcome Rosa Reyes, the new director of the organization who is replacing Arturo Griffiths, the beloved founder of TUWDC. Reyes expressed looking forward to figuring out how the Humanities Truck could continue to be involved with this community.
My students were happy to interact with several day laborers who were willing to speak with them and to share their experiences. We know that the day laborers’ work is important, and that their stories are heard, and I am pleased to see how they express feeling validated and acknowledged by having students present to witness and honor their struggles and success. Two day laborers shared their artistic skills by singing couplets reminiscent of a lost love or their homeland. My students learned that one of the artists is a famous saxophonist in the District. The corner is not their first choice. They are sometimes artists but, when times are hard, there is always the corner where they find not only work but community and support.
This short visit to the corner helped us consolidate a bit further our relationship both with the organization and the day laborers themselves. We had planned two more visits to the corner but the coronavirus put a halt on most of our work with this community partner. As the pandemic has taken hold of the area, my students— alongside day laborers and the organization— continued to collaborate. My students did research and created leaflets with crucial information where the day laborers could find assistance during the crisis.