By Jabián Gutiérrez ’08
In 2004, I came to Holy Cross on a Peter Pan bus from New York City. I was a typical New Yorker, with little patience and a bit of arrogance—especially when comparing the Big Apple to any other city. But something has changed over the last four years. When I graduate in May, I will begin my life in the “real world” here in Worcester, Mass. A series of events has turned this city into my hometown.
This is my first memory of my first visit to Holy Cross from early October of 2003: “Coney Island Hot Dogs? This isn’t Coney Island! Are they crazy? Someone needs to let them know that Coney Island is part of Brooklyn!”
This last year, I chose to live off campus, but not on Caro St., Boyden St., College St., or any of the other usual senior haunts. Instead, I moved to Benefit Street, in the Main South neighborhood, about a 10-minute drive from campus. I moved to Main South as a way to be closer to my new community. These days, as I drive down Southbridge Street and pass Coney Island Hot Dogs I remember that first impression and a time when I didn’t know a thing about Worcester. But today, this once proud New Yorker is now a very proud Worcesterite—and is looking forward to bringing my experiences and knowledge learned in the classroom out to the work I do, in the community where I live.
I am currently an aide to District 4 Worcester City Councilor Barbara Haller. I started interning for her in the winter of my junior year, and over the course of the next year of heavy community work, I immersed myself in Worcester and grew to appreciate this unique city. Although not New York City, Worcester has much to offer. It is a community on the move, and I enjoy the fact that I have an opportunity to play a role in creating its future.
What were the series of events that made me know that Worcester was my home? It started within the first month of school with SPUD (Student Programs for
Urban Development), when I served as a tutor at the Nativity School of Worcester, working with fifth-through-eighth-graders who live in low-income neighborhoods.
For two years, I tutored and became friends with many of these young men who were striving for success. After this, I spent a semester tutoring at ISLA (Innovated Services for Latino Adolescents) at Worcester State College, an afterschool program for third-through-sixth-grade English Lan-guage Learners—most of them recent immigrants from Latin America. During my sophomore and junior years, I also co-chaired the Multi-Cultural Peer Educators—a group that hosted lectures and discussions on inequality and our role in working through divergence as a means of creating genuine relationships across lines of differences.
At an event at Nativity in the fall of 2005, I met Councilor Haller and, a year later, she selected me as an intern for her. Traveling around the district with her, I learned about Worcester’s inner-city neighborhoods—and found myself working with people who were experiencing the same issues that I had experienced back home in my own low-income neighborhood. I saw what I had never seen before: a city that was smaller, less stylish, and with a more modest skyline—but all in all not very different from New York. I came to understand that the people and their problems were not very different at all. The two years that I spent working with many low-income families was a formative experience for me—as was working with my peers to deal with issues of inequality on campus. Through this experience, I came to see myself not just as a student, but as an agent of change.
Working with Councilor Haller, I became impressed with the extent to which I was able to combine our direct work with families with policy work that addresses inequalities in a more systematic way. Under her political tutelage, I learned how to work with constituents and with the city administration to tackle issues affecting low-income neighborhoods. This was the most important time in my life, when I discovered how to apply what I was learning in the classroom to the challenges found beyond the gates of Mount St. James.
Finding My New Hometown, continued>>>