To blend in. To stand out.

I was a little concerned about having to do some reporting and filming with my equipment this week. Not because I don’t love it, because I do, but because I didn’t want to scare anyone off. Maybe it seems strange that equipment might scare people off, but it’s actually happened to me before.

Sure, sometimes people see a camera and they immediately want to jump in front of it. But other times, especially for immigrants, people just want to blend in, off camera.

This week’s assignment led me to several interesting characters in the Heart of Chicago. Each of them took the time to share what was on their mind through a curious conversation that started with a look at my tripod and the question, “what’s that?”

* * *

First, there was Diego, who I met in a nutrition club on Cermak Road. Diego let me know right away how strongly he felt about the gang violence in the neighborhood. He asked why I thought it existed in the first place.

“Why do you think it exists?” I asked him as my reply.

Diego explained that the fault fell on the parents and the police department. He gave me several scenarios where parents might attempt to discipline their children by giving them curfews or punish them for misbehaving, but the child’s response would include a threat to call the police to report child abuse. Diego said many immigrant parents wouldn’t stop their kids from causing trouble out of fear for the police.

He added that it’s in the police department’s best interest to partner with the parents and let them know they stand by them when they want to punish their children.

Sometimes there’s a fine line between how U.S. born-and-raised parents discipline their children versus how immigrant parents discipline their children—both having their reasons to justify such.

Then there was Doña Mari (“Doña” is how you refer to an older person with respect in Mexico and other Latin American countries. It’s like “Mrs.”). She wanted to talk to me about health care. She’s been keeping up with the news because she wanted to know how it would affect her since she has diabetes.

Doña Mari works as a cook at a rehabilitation facility. She makes around $12,000 a year working six hour shifts a few times a week. She doesn’t have kids—never could—and has been separated from her husband for 10 years. She lives with her sister and her kids. She tries to take really good care of herself because she doesn’t have health insurance, she said.

But she knows she’s better off getting sick in the U.S. than getting sick in Mexico.

And finally, there was Francisco. He’s originally from Ixtlapan de Juarez, Oaxaca in Mexico. He came to the U.S. 10 years ago to look for work. Francisco works three jobs right now; he’s a handyman, he cleans windows and he sells fruit out of his truck.

Francisco loves his culture and native country, but he wishes “his own”—as he put it—would be more concerned with how their surroundings look and feel. He talked about trash on the streets and people littering in parks, and how he doesn’t want that to be the way people think of all immigrants.

“We might be from the same place, but that doesn’t mean we’re all the same way,” Francisco said.

Francisco also talked about panhandlers in Chicago. It didn’t make sense that people with more privileges in this country than him could ask him to spare some money, he said.

Sometimes he wishes he had stayed in Mexico, closer to his brother and five sisters. But Francisco really does like it here. He doesn’t plan to work three jobs forever, he said with a hopeful smile.

* * *

Maybe it was the equipment that sparked the conversation in these characters; maybe it was the need to express their thoughts and opinions to someone. But maybe, people start to open up when they realize they’re really being listened to. 

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