Casa de los Amigos, Mexico City
Jhoneidy Javier '19 interviewed by Lev Greenstein '20
I got to sit down with Jhoneidy Javier, a junior at Haverford majoring in comparative literature, while we were both interning at Casa de los Amigos in Mexico City last summer. It was a crisp, gentle evening and we dove into what it meant to be in the city, far from our homes in the states, talking about global citizenship.
As a child of two immigrants from the Dominican Republic, the experience of global citizenship has always been close to home for him. Although many of his studies examined the complexities of community across international fields on an abstract level, it was never just a concept in his mind. As he put it, “I’m not simply doing what I do academically in relation to global citizenship with a general idea of what it is. It’s very real, very real for me.” His understanding of global citizenship and the way it affects personal conceptions of identity and group membership is definitely informed by his own Spanish-speaking, black Caribbean identity and its interpretability in different contexts.
He recounted, “In the US, color is the marker, period. It’s been hard to fully recognize and acknowledge those two different ideas of race [Dominican vs. American], and knowing that it all relates to white supremacy, but also knowing that it’s very nuanced, and the way to combat racism in the DR is very different to how you can do it in the US is complicated. And I used to get very angry with my parents in terms of like, acknowledge that you’re black, not india or something else; you are black. And it wouldn’t always quite go through. Likewise, it took me throughout high school to figure out that in an American context, I am black, and there’s a certain history and a certain culture that I’m thrown into because of that.
“I remember an early moment of realization in middle school, when I was about ten or eleven years old. It was very weird. I was looking at a photo of my grandpa and was just in awe of how dark he was. I found myself mouthing the words, ‘my grandpa is black… I’m black’, and I had never said that before. I had never really articulated that idea, because the general consensus in the US is that if you speak Spanish, you’re Spanish or Latino. But it’s just a gross generalization of an entire region, and it’s complicated even more because it’s not just a continent, but also islands like the Caribbean, that are black. And I remember going up to one of the after-school coordinators after having realized what I did, just really excited, and said, ‘I’m black, I’m black!’ and she laughed, and said, ‘Oh, no your not, you’re Hispanic!’ I tried to explain, saying, ‘No, but my grandfather, my skin, I’m black!’ and she said again, ‘No, you’re Hispanic.’ And I remember just being very confused in that moment. I was presented with my first conscious blink of how these strict categories exist in US culture, and how Latino is supposed to look a certain way, and black is supposed to look a certain way. People are forced into such defined circles, yet in the Dominican context, things are just so much more complicated. You can’t create these standardized blocks, because it’s impossible.”
His interaction with his own identity and its relationality in different contexts kept him very self-aware and cognizant of community that transcended limiting categorizations, along with community that didn’t. Arriving in Mexico City and entering the community of La Casa proved to be a space without such strict categories and limitations.
Jhoneidy spoke of what it was like to be there, saying, “This past summer here in Mexico, landing and having that first shock of, oh my god, I’m actually in Mexico, is this a good idea, was quite something. But I really feel in communion, and in community, with the folks of la Casa and with the city in a way that I didn’t see coming. I found community here, and once you find community, that’s the moment when your own agency in an environment begins to grow.”
Speaking to the moment he really began to feel that he was a part of something in this new community, he says “I felt that shift on my birthday, and honestly, I found it so surprising! I’m not that celebratory of a person, and this was only a week or two after we had gotten there, but somehow, people found out that I was turning 20, and folks in la Casa made this huge poster for me, and started celebrating and taking photos, and I really found myself celebrating my birthday harder that day than I had in the last probably five or six years! Somehow, I was in this warm community in a foreign country, with people whose names I had barely memorized, feeling confident and comfortable and much less afraid of the cultural difference we had all come there with.”
La Casa truly creates a sense of unity beyond boundaries, and this helps in the work they do. Welcoming in an international community of volunteers, refugees, migrants, and city dwellers, la Casa has a vested interest in creating a space of collectivity, sharing, and peace. It can be hard though. The organization works with many vulnerable populations, and as interns working on its behalf, we interacted with many folks in painful circumstances. Jhoneidy remembers a specific encounter and what he took from it:
“There was this one time I was at reception and a recent deportee came asking for help. He wasn't really telling me specifically what help he wanted, but I saw him, and I saw someone who'd lost everything, and I looked at him in the eyes and it just got me thinking like, ‘I don't know how it feels to be you right now, but I know you're hurting and I will do everything I can to help you. I know you will be hurting tomorrow and I know you'll be hurting the week after, years after maybe, but nonetheless, I will do what I can now, in this moment, and I will treat you like a human being.’ I guess seeing that pain, being overwhelmed by that pain just sort of threw me and opened me up to this new idea of doing activism for the humanization of others in the now rather than solving some massive problem. Because a single protest and a single individual just can't solve everything, but they can help.”
Considering the future, I asked Jhoneidy what he might take away from his experience working at Casa de los Amigos in Mexico City.
“I think firstly it's going to be a couple months of reflection. The experiences I've had here have been really diverse. But what I want to bring out of this is a reminder to myself that even though these problems are big, they're accessible through these interactions with individual people. Sincere interactions. Knowing that a lot is happening and wanting to do something about it is important, but recognizing the humanity of those you’re trying to serve is vital. Remembering that you could have coffee with this person, you could talk with this person, you could be within the full range of community with the full range of who this human being is, that’s pretty key to accessing these issues in a real, positive way.”
After the conversation, having thought through global citizenship, identity, and service work, we really just took a second to appreciate our place in it all, and listened to the crickets and evening sounds of Mexico City settling in for the night. What a gift.