Written by Joshua Moreno //
From location to actual tasks, there is nothing justice-inclined about my day job. On the eleventh floor, I can see young blondes on yachts the size of my apartment and towers ascend into clouds. My priorities are dictated by revenue and executives in London or vacationing in Cape Cod. I’m at two screens for eight hours and convene conference calls with suits. Still, just west of the Loop where the river bends there is a different flow—one of resources— to the Southwest Side of Chicago, specifically Little Village. Corporate funds and the suits behind them have come together with individuals and organizations that strive for the betterment of their communities. Little Village is no charity case; it is a stronghold for community and collaboration—for progress. Although I work in a capacity that is not directly advocating for social justice or philanthropic causes, I’ve found that there is more than one way to do advocacy. In doing so, I believe you will find communities working for a greater good have more to give you than you think.
“Los escritos conocidos como Los Documentos Federalistas res..respalday..respaldaron la, la—“
Luis chuckles at me; my poor Spanish makes him skeptical of how much help I can actually provide.
“Por cuanto has trabajado aquí?”
“He estado ayudando aquí ya como dos anos.”
He nods in approval, content with the two years of volunteering under my belt. During our mock interview of the one hundred (100) potential Civic Questions asked during a citizenship test, he helped me with my Spanish and I helped him prepare to demonstrate his loyalty to a country now—and for a long time—his home. My roots are in California; being the child of a Guadalajaren and a Chuy from Tijuana, my broken Spanish fits the “American” after my hyphenated identity. So, when I consider the fact that I, an American Citizen, can’t answer questions expected of an American Citizen, I’m reminded of some of the silly things required of me where I sought assistance: trigonometry or writing cursive. Those things are trivial, this interview for Luis is a crucial component of his path to citizenship. If these questions were asked of me, I’d be content to obtain a 50%. With just thirty minutes of my free time, I prepare Luis for consummating his citizenship in a place he has long called home, and I’m reminded of my own. For the average white collar worker, philanthropy is not synonymous with what to do in one’s free time. To some volunteering or monetary donations are the assignments of select zealots, but here I am doing something as minor as asking some questions. With just thirty minutes of my free time, I prepare Luis for consummating his citizenship in a place he has long called home, and I’m reminded of my own.
Located just southwest of the more renowned—renovated, some might say—Pilsen, Little Village is one of the densest neighborhoods in Chicago. 26th Street touts the second highest grossing block just after the Magnificent Mile, the latter being the home to Hyatts and trademarked tinted blue. At the same time, it also is a neighborhood where roughly 49% percent of residents hold a high school diploma, half of the national average. The average household income is forty percent less than the rest of Illinois. It’s here in Little Village that the intersection of my background, my community and those causes I care about meet. On any given sunny Saturday, birds and mufflers sing different songs in tandem with the cool whisper of wind. Since this is Chicago, the wind comes more in the form of a shout. On the Southwest Side, I walk along a bustling California Street, divided by serene pavements, grass and trees—uncommon gifts in the bustling urban Chicago context. This is Maria Suacedo Scholastic Academy. This is 26th street. This is Little Village, depending on your map—this is home or the hood. My method of advocacy involves connecting nonprofits of this neighborhood with charitable giving arms at companies and giving my time to do the mundane and the sometimes glamorous tasks, with the belief that all of the foregoing are truly meaningful.
I’ve found now halfway through my twenties that many people my age don’t have ten year plans, are exactly where they want to be or know where they want to be. Of these people, I do commonly hear of a specific cause or idea that motivates them—excites them. The reality of rent and electric bills so soon after graduation creates an impetus against contributing to these causes or ideas. How does one choose the lower–paying non-profit job in lieu of the corporate cash? How does one even contribute to something like educational attainment? Advocacy. Advocacy, I think, can occur outside the 9-5, during it, or even because of it. There are better questions to ask: does my company contribute monetarily to the charitable organizations of its employees? Do I have Saturdays, or other time, to spare to volunteer at local non-profits? Have I considered the plight of people with similar or dissimilar backgrounds than my own? If the answer is yes, then I anticipate you’re prepared to begin your own method of advocacy.
Joshua Moreno is a California-born Mexican-American who now resides in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. He works as a Paralegal at a international market research firm and spends his time finding the best happy hour in Chicago, advocating for his communities and reading.