May 5, 2009

Post #5: Talking Community

Sometimes I feel like I'm just starting on this journey of "community work" because of my "rebirth" as a working who actually has more direct contact with community members than I ever did in the past. But I realize when I think about the years and different hats I've worn, that rather than complain about "those old-timers" I'd better be careful that I don't become one of them.

It's weird to be in a setting where I'm both one of the oldest people at my office, and yet still one of the greenest in this line of work. There's the odd combination of respect for the barrel of years that I sometimes dip into to inform what I'm saying or where I'm coming from, and my personal acknowledgement that I don't really know much when it comes to actually practicing law.

But you know, actually working with community folks definitely humbles a guy like me. I'm realizing how little I know, and how much of what we do as "Asian Americanists" is still theoretical and privileged if it's not connected to regular folk, even if we're not on the ivory tower spouting theories. I realize that because the everyday stories and the ways that people connect to one another, and actually to us, is amazing.

Sometimes I forget that I speak a different language from my group client because we have a rhythm with the interpreter and we connect in some fundamental way. I mean, with that group, they refer to me as their lawyer and get really happy when they see me now. Then there's someone else who was at a general presentation I made to who referred to me as "the foreigner" in Chinese when speaking with a co-worker of mine. The difference is just context.

But it's humbling, and it's rewarding even on the tough days, because you feel that link both to the individuals and the many stories that paved the way for their own, and yours. But it's not a point to get on others' cases about if they aren't doing this - it's partially our role to find ways to make these stories get out there and are heard by more people. Maybe these stories of "community" can build community in their own right.

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