Never will I forget the summer of 2017. I was fortunate enough to have participated in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Congressional Internship Program. Through this program, I became one of 30 Latinx undergraduates from universities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico to intern on Capitol Hill. As CHCI interns, we received free travel to and from Washington D.C., free housing, funding for professional business attire, and a very generous stipend. Most importantly, however, I developed myself professionally and became great friends with my fellow CHCI interns, individuals whom I will cherish and support forever.
Before I delve into the specifics of my D.C. experience, I want to recognize that this experience would not have been possible without Yale. Because this university emphasizes the importance of support systems for students, I have been able to meet Latinx people who regularly mentor me. Two individuals include a Graduate Student, Yami, and Professor Maria Jordan. I met Yami during the first semester of my sophomore year. She was a Teaching Assistant for one of my lectures, titled “Introduction to Ethnicity, Race, and Migration.” We developed a great relationship not only because she is also Latinx, and could relate to my experiences, but also because we regularly met to improve my performance in the course. On the other hand, I met Professor Jordan during the same semester when I took her seminar titled “Culture and Dissonance in Golden Age Spain.” We also developed a relationship because I regularly attended her Office Hours and received course-related and general life advice from her. Both instructors were very excited to offer guidance and write letters of recommendation for me to submit with my CHCI application. I am positive that I would not have interned in Washington, D.C. without their help. For that, I am grateful.
Once in D.C., I made sure to make the most of my experience because I learned how fortunate I was to have been chosen to participate in this program. As it turns out, over 500 undergraduates apply every summer, but only 5% are accepted. In addition, CHCI invests $20,000 in every intern to provide them with this experience. There was no way that I would take this for granted or waste an opportunity that hundreds of students with my background would kill for.
Most interestingly about my summer, however, was that I learned the power that “Yale” holds in the real world. Not only was I the only Yalie in my program, but I was also the only student from an Ivy-League university. I immediately realized that my fellow interns held preconceived notions of who I was because of Yale. Although never confirmed, I would not be surprised to learn that they imagined I was wealthy, privileged, or entitled. These notions were quickly dismantled, however, as I opened up about my identity as a low-income, first-generation student with immigrant parents from Ecuador. In addition, I realized that professionals, whether in the public or private sector, also held predispositions on who I was. The difference, however, was that these individuals were incentivized, rather than discouraged, to speak to me. For one reason or another, my university encouraged them to believe that I am intelligent and that what I said mattered. This blew my mind because I had never really experienced this before. Instantly, I understood that I was becoming a representative for my community in the spaces I inhabit. Often, CHCI interns even leaned on me to speak on their behalf. In fact, I was elected Class Representative and Graduation speaker for my program, delivering a speech in Congress to members of the House of Representatives. I would be crazy to neglect the impact of Yale on this. These experiences, as a result, highlighted the privilege that Yale provides me with. It is now up to me, however, to decide what I do with it.
There is so much more I could share about my summer in D.C., but I will focus on one last thing - the people I met. First, I will acknowledge how well I clicked with my fellow interns. Most of us were first-generation college students and the children of immigrants. We shared a history of struggle, but drive towards a better future for ourselves, our families, and our (Latinx) community. I will never forget the experiences we shared. Second, I networked with professionals from a variety of fields, many of whom offered advice, support, and friendship. Linda Jewell, for example, is a Yale graduate and former U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador (!) who I met through a Yale coordinated dinner in Washington, D.C. We met for coffee and are now friends! And third, I met Latinx leaders whom I will admire forever. They not only include Members of Congress, many of whom I met in person through CHCI, but also the people who work at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute itself. They are devoted to the success of people from historically marginalized communities, which I admire. Without them, I would not be who I am today.