Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day 17: "The Harder the Conflict, the More Glorious the Triumph" -Thomas Paine

Field trips, field trips, field trips! Those are the only words I can use to describe what today revolved around. Being that the program was so close to its end, our class decided to knock out the remainder of the field trips left on our schedule.

For morning session, it was off to Northern Philadelphia to be infused with a cultural experience that is paralleled no where else. North Philadelphia is one of the most problematic sections of Philly and is prone to high level s of poverty and violence. Like many other sections of Philadelphia that possess this characteristic, it is heavily segregated with regards to social and racial status. In order to bring this point across, we visited the "Village of Arts and Humanities". This was an area that began as a single vacant and abandoned lot, but was transformed into an art park created with and for neighborhood children. To me it seemed to represent a safe haven for children growing up in such a dangerous environment. It offered children the ability to take a variety of classes that not only educated them in different ways, but also kept them from the negative influences of the area they lived in. It was a strange juxtaposition between the Village and the rest of the surrounding neighborhood. It was remarkable to see how much time and effort had gone into constructing this marvelous and incredible sanctuary. The project had become a community-integrated and multigenerational ambition, which had endeavored to make a difference in the life of the children.
The Village of Arts and Humanities
Being that our morning session had overlapped with our lunch period and that for the day all field trips were optional, we were given the choice of either continuing onto our second trip directly or returning back to campus. Very few chose to return as we were told the upcoming session would hold one of the most memorable sessions out of the entire program. Our destination was on the opposite side of the morning session, Southern Philadelphia. Since we skipped dinner, the teaching fellows were gracious enough to buy us all pizza from a local pizzeria called "Pizzeria Pesto". We all sat down in a shaded part of the yard of South Philadelphia High School. After eating we all tuned into a brief lecture by one of our classmates, Ruby, who told us a bit about the background that encompassed the high school. She depicted it as heavily composed of minority groups who attended school in a environment full of hostilities between each other. To highlight this, she introduced a recent issue in which Asian Americans were consistently harassed by other racial groups because they were a minority. This escalated into full blown tensions between the groups that resulted in various severe injuries and chaos within the school. However, the most shocking aspect of this story, was that the school responded by trying to cover it all up. Rather than take on the responsibility of protecting students, it chose to completely forget about the entire incident. I find it unbelievable how such issues can go unchecked by authority figures. To continue our adventure in Southern Philadelphia, we proceeded to the main building of the Latino immigrant community led organization, Juntos. This group aims directly at promoting the rights of undocumented immigrants, not just in Philadelphia, but also Pennsylvania as a whole. Their belief is that "every human being has the right to a quality education and the freedom to live with dignity regardless of immigration status." To assist in emphasizing this message, five spokeswomen served as panelists to tell us about their struggles concerning documentation and the effects it has had on their lives and educational aspirations. They ranged from ages 12 to 22, which really made their struggles resonate with me in a more profound manner. Sometimes, I take for granted the fortune I have been giving of being born in the U.S. and not realizing how many wish they could have shared a similar luxury. The struggles these women recounted was impacting and truly made me reflect on my own personal identity. It made me feel outraged that a system that prides itself on freedom for all and equality regardless of race and color, can be so cruel in its treatment of those who are separated only by their legal status. I felt so upset that, undocumented students who truly desired to expand their educational experience were hindered solely on the basis of whether they posses a social security number. This reminded me of an argument that was posed earlier in the program, "American society places the value of an individual on whether they possess a social security number or not." Growing up in a predominately Hispanic community, I have seen first hand the struggles some individuals face with regards to legal status. It at times frustrates me and makes me wish for a change in the system because it is evident that their exists a systematic oppression in terms of this subject.
South Philadelphia
In the evening, we had our final RC group meeting of the program. Here, our RC told us how proud he was of us and how it was noticeable how each and every one of us had matured immensely over the course of the past three weeks. He stated that we stood before him as individuals completely different than how we had on our first day of the program. Truly I feel that as an RC group, we have developed a close relationship with each other. We act as though we are a band of brothers, rather than just a group of students that share one RC. It is remarkable to me how strangers can instantly become friends if they share commonalities with each other. To be honest, I will greatly miss my RC and RC group when my time here finally ends. I could not have asked for a better group of guys to have spent the past three weeks with.

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