One of the most striking ways you can tell that you are in the District of Columbia is when you are riding the metro and all you see are red and blue ties, shiny black leather shoes, A-line skirts, and a bunch of sleepy faces buried in spread-out sheets of that morning’s Politico or The Washington Post. This was the first thing that stuck out to me when I worked here in the fall. In Los Angeles, the metro is relatively inexpensive and mostly ridden by working class folks, while white-collar professionals usually drive their own air-conditioned cars through vast, interlaced concrete pathways to get to work.
The differences between D.C. and Los Angeles do not stop there of course. The bustling streets, graceful government buildings, and strutting people give D.C. a vibe of great, imposed importance. Everyone seems to be there for a purpose: to learn, to make connections, to professionally advance, to “make a difference” in whatever way they can. Starting my internship this week at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, it seems that the many employees I’ve met truly strive to improve the lives of the citizens who depend on HUD to fight housing discrimination. My supervisors Yvonne and Sarah are particularly inspiring, and it’s inspiring to see women of color working at such high levels of government.
During my time with HUD, I will mainly be working on increasing access to HUD documents, services, and tools for people who are not comfortable with written or spoken English. The first step is to start a working group, which would meet regularly to craft a Language Access Plan that addresses the needs of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) constituents. The President mandated this in August of 2000, but many federal departments have yet to formulate their Language Access Plan.
The daily work I do towards this goal might not feel productive or relevant, but I know that there is a greater end that I am contributing to as an intern. I was reminded of this when I attended an event titled “Elections 2016” on Wednesday at the Capitol. The Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL) was hosting the event, and this session was one of many for their themed series, “Redefining Public Service.”
The main thing that stuck out to me was when the main presenter Alton Wang of APIA Votes asked the audience: “What drives you? Your voice needs to be driven by something.” He led a participatory activity where we had to think about the people, experiences, and education that underlie our passion. I was reminded of my own community back at home, mostly people of color, immigrants, working class, and sometimes undocumented. I thought about how there were so many communities like that all over the United States, and how they needed advocates in the country’s capital, fighting for them. It was really important for me to contextualize my work as a CAUSE Leadership Academy and HUD intern: there are LEP folks who may be victims of housing discrimination but have no clue where to get help and are worried about accurately communicating their experiences. I hope that my work, on some level, pushes the needle for these communities, because I personally know what it feels to be linguistically marginalized.
I am still adjusting to all the quirks of living in D.C. as a young professional! Like making sure I remember to pack my lunch, always carrying around my business cards because I never know who I’ll bump into, and buying an umbrella after being caught unaware during a spontaneous thunderstorm (I heard those happen often during the summer here). It’s nice because this all reminds me of the fall semester that I spent in D.C. and I am able to build on my knowledge and experience of that time. I also remember how much I grew during that period, both professionally and personally, so I am excited for what the next couple of months will bring.