Interview with Jaime Sanchez. May 29, 2015.
EFH: Jaime, thank you so much for being with me today! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
JS: Sure. So I was born and raised in Fresno, California, which is in California’s Central Valley. It’s a kind of rural area. Both of my parents are Mexican immigrants, doing everything from farm work to factory work. I grew up in a pretty humble, low-income home, so I’m a first generation American and also the first person in my family to go to college. It’s been interesting, a culture shock, and a learning experience coming to the University of Chicago. But I’ve had a really great time over the past four years. I’m graduating this year. I majored in history and comparative race and ethnic studies, and I really enjoyed my studies here.
EFH: And you were recently a recipient of the Duel Richardson Award because you’ve been working with the Neighborhood Schools Program since your first year. Can you tell me a little bit about what you’ve been doing with us?
JS: In the winter of my first year, I started working at a local aldermanic office for the 20th Ward, which encompasses many different neighborhoods, but particularly our immediate south neighborhood of Hyde Park, which is the Woodlawn community. I was a little first year who wanted some experience in local government, and the Neighborhood Schools Program really helped facilitate that experience. I did everything from faxes to writing letters to constituents, to working in community events, and so it was a really great experience, and I was lucky to have that through NSP.
But more importantly, after my first year, I started working at the Office of Civic Engagement, which is NSP’s parent office. I’ve been working there for the past three years, since the summer of 2012. There I do all sorts of things as a Special Projects Assistant, so I work on community development projects, student engagement (including work with the Student Advisory Committee for the Office of Civic Engagement), with the Civic Leadership Academy, and all sorts of other research work and event planning.
EFH: What’s been the most interesting or meaningful project for you that you’ve worked on with OCE?
JS: I think my first project with OCE in the first summer of my internship was one of the more meaningful ones. I got to sort of pick my first project and so I decided to do an investigative look into the Latino community in Chicago to find ways that the University, and specifically the Office of Civic Engagement, could work with this demographic. And not only was it a really eye-opening experience for me because I get to learn about the Latino community in a city that I wasn’t really from, but also I feel like I got to start the conversation about meaningful engagement with the Latino community that really had not been had at the University administrative level until then.
EFH: And I know that very recently the Office of Civic Engagement has kind of turned its eye toward students—they want students to know who they are and they want to get more students involved in the community. Why is that?
JS: I think that the student body has always had a negative perception of University-community relations, where the University’s presence in our hyper-local community in the mid-South side is seen as encroaching, negative, harmful, and something that shouldn’t be happening. I think over the past several years that relationship has changed and there are many new positive projects in our community, but the student body doesn’t really know about that. And so I think the Office of Civic Engagement really wants to work with students and engage with students because there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the work that the University is doing in the community. And in order to improve community-University relations, I think the student body itself needs to understand the projects going on in order to more effectively live in the community and take part in this community.
EFH: And for students who are coming from all around the country to the University of Chicago, why is it important for them to engage with their community here and what do they get out of it?
JS: I think when I was a first year, I didn’t really engage too much with the community, whether it was Hyde Park or Woodlawn. I worked there but I didn’t really get out there as much; I was focused on my studies. Over time, I really started visiting more neighborhoods. I spent a lot of time in Little Village and Pilsen, which are Mexican-American communities. Not for an assignment, not for work, but just to be part of the daily life in these areas. And after these four years of living in Chicago, I really think that Chicago has become a really important part of my life, a really important part of my personal development, and I would think that I’ve become a part of Chicago society, part of a bigger community. Just this year I switched my voter registration to Chicago, which I had never done before. I only voted in my home state, but eventually I felt a real sense of belonging and a real sense of responsibility to people in Chicago. And I think NSP really helps people realize that we’re not just part of the University community - we’re part of a bigger community and it’s really nice to be part of a community when you’re going to spend a good chunk of your youth here. Four years is a long time.
EFH: Yeah, I think that’s right. And I know that your background is in history. Do you think that your academic training has informed your interest in community work, and if so in what ways?
JS: So, I study racial and political history. My thesis project was on Chicago politics in the 1980’s and one thing that I learned after talking with people who have lived in Chicago, who lived during the time of my research project, is that there’s a great deal of pride in Chicago, a great deal of pride about history, about community, about neighborhoods—about even, you know, the block you live on. There’s a lot of history everywhere, and history’s made every day in Chicago. I think that lesson has made me appreciate the work that I do so much more and has made me careful about the way that I see things, the way that I see problems, because for an outsider it’s very easy to make judgements on a lot of the things that are happening in the city, but without taking into consideration a very complicated history, you know, we aren’t as well-prepared to make these kind of judgements. And I think whenever we go out into the community and do work, whether it’s tutoring kids in a school through NSP, working in a government office, working at a nonprofit, it’s really important to have this kind of history in the back of your mind to remind you not only of how to work within the community but also to realize how important and meaningful your work can be to fixing really broken relationships.
EFH: Okay great, and you’re about to graduate. You’ve been working with OCE for three years with the same people. What is it going to be like to say goodbye?
JS: I think it’s going to be really sad. You know, I’ve really grown very close to all the staff members. I’ll give you an example: Miss Lisa is the executive assistant to the senior associate vice president for civic engagement. Miss Lisa has donned the title of my “school mom”, so she in many ways lectures me about getting more sleep or getting more exercise, or eating healthy, or eating just enough, and gives me plenty of hugs, and you know, really has become not only a mentor but almost like a family member. And I think that’s how I think of OCE, as a kind of on-campus family with aunts and uncles and, you know, moms and grandparents, that really care about me—and the staff at NSP as well, Emily and Shaz and Brandi, being such an important part of my life here at UChicago. I think it’s one of the things that I’m most thankful for, because if it wasn’t for their love and support, I don’t know if I would have made it out alive.
EFH: We love you so much! Thank you, Jaime.
Jaime Sanchez is a fourth-year in the College, studying history and comparative race and ethnic studies. He has been an intern with the Office of Civic Engagement since June 2012. This year, he was a recipient of the Duel Richardson Award for 4 Years of Service for this work at OCE and the 20th Ward.
Emily Fortune Hancock is the operations manager at the University of Chicago. She met Jaime three years ago, when they were both interns at the Office of Civic Engagement in the summer of 2012.