East Palo Alto, CA, is a city with its own personality. When I first relocated from San Diego, I found it very difficult to understand the culture and experienced some culture shock. East Palo Alto challenged me to find joy in the little things, and I’m learning to be thankful for that education.
Recently, I was in a local grocery store, Mi Pueblo, and I met a cashier named Tanya. We had a few conversations over the course of a couple weeks when I would come to shop. I really appreciated her warm and open conversation. Some time went by, and I started to notice Tanya wasn’t around much anymore. I wondered if she got a new job, moved or if she was sick. Sadly, those thoughts about her absence at work had to stay thoughts, because I had no way of figuring out where to find answers. Until a few days ago when I was driving home from Mi Pueblo. I was leaving the parking lot, and before I turned at the stop sign, I heard my name coming from a house on the corner of Clarke Ave. It was Tanya. I got out of my car and she asked me, “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in Mi Pueblo in a while.” I thought to myself, “I was just thinking the same thing about you!”
Tanya is a 23-year-old, African-American woman. As we began to catch up, she shared that she would have noticed me at grocery store if we were there at the same time, because she predominately serves Hispanics. So when she sees an African-American, she remembers them. The conversation quickly led to her sharing about her life, her son, her family, and catching up on what she has been doing. She invited me into her house to meet her son and siblings, and we exchanged phone numbers. In hindsight, I can see that she was genuinely excited to see me, because later on, she mentioned that she has been looking for a friend. I think when she saw me in Mi Pueblo she was thought to herself, “Hmm…maybe we can be friends.”
From my experience working with youth in East Palo Alto, I understand that most of the community aren’t used to people exhibiting trust, loyalty, or genuine friendship. I keep that knowledge in my mind as I interact with the community. Tanya pressed a little for my phone number and asked what I did in my free time. I could sense that she was really seeking friendship. She asked if there are certain times that I don’t answer my phone, to which I replied, “Outside of work times, there’s not a time that I don’t answer my phone or respond to a text.” I told her she can test that idea by texting me at 5 o’clock in the morning, and see if I'll respond. She told me she would test it, and she did! That small act of responding to her text was my way of showing her that not everyone is disloyal or dishonest.
When I moved to East Palo Alto from San Diego, I didn’t realize how much selfishness I had hidden inside me. It’s taken a lot of spontaneous interactions with people like Tanya to take me out of my comfort zone, and show me that it’s one thing to claim ‘relocation, reconciliation, and social justice,’ then it is to actually take those concepts and actively apply them to my life. It’s the little things that make a big difference. Little things like my interaction with Tanya.