By Juan Rangel, August 7, 2014, FirstGEN Fellows, D.C. office of the National Immigration Law Center.
As this summer rapidly comes to end, I cannot but feel immensely blessed at everything that has occurred to me over the past ten weeks. I came to Washington, DC for the first time on May 31st with a combination of excitement and anxiety. I was looking forward to exploring the city that I had previously only known through television and in my political science textbooks, but I was a little uneasy of entering a community filled with accomplished individuals who are all attempting to shape American society, and perhaps even the world at large, from our nation’s capital. Now, I leave this experience with new confidence and optimism that the future is bright and that I have developed new skills to contribute when attempting to fix some of the problems facing our country.
With my passion and involvement in the issue of immigration, I was ecstatic when I first heard that I was accepted into the fellowship program and was going to be interning with the D.C. office of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). I knew of this organization through their constant appearances in immigration stories in the The New York Times and other media sources. Spending the summer with them has been highly rewarding as I have learned about political strategizing, coalition building, lobbying techniques, nonprofit organizations, and more about the immigration issue than I ever thought possible. I am extremely thankful that I had Don Lyster, Director of NILC’s DC office, as my supervisor who offered to assist me as I tried my hand at networking for the first time in this massive city. I also learned quite a bit from the other employees who have such a strong dedication toward serving low-income immigrants and from the other interns who are equally as eager to help others and absorb as much knowledge as they could.
Beyond just the internship, I also benefited so much from the weekly Friday sessions. The individuals we had the privilege of meeting opened my eyes to the possibilities that await me should I continue to pursue a career in social justice and civil rights (and after this program, I most certainly am). I did not expect that this program would play such an instrumental role in creating a large enough social net for me that I am confident I would have strong allies for me upon my return to the city hopefully after I graduate next year. Additionally, I was motivated by the large variety of experiences of our speakers and the advice they each had for us as we curiously inquired about their lives and journeys.
Relationships, however, are the things I will treasure the most as I leave this fellowship. Finding other people who are as interested and dedicated to social justice and serving underprivileged communities in this county as I am was a huge blessing beyond comparison. Simply hearing the stories of the other three fellows was such a large inspiration for me as I realized that I was not alone in trying to overcome obstacles that our society has placed before me. We got closer these past ten weeks than I ever expected and look forward to remaining in touch with them for a long time to come. I also will forever be grateful to Alejandro T. Reyes, Counsel, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who first dreamed up this program and will become an essential mentor to each individual who comes to DC each summer because of this program. I fully intend to keep in touch with these and all the other incredible people I have had the pleasure of meeting and feel immensely blessed to be able to call myself a FirstGEN alum!