“Elisa, would you, la chica, and Anthony like to go on a socially-distant walk with me?” I asked.
“Sure!” she replied, “At what time?”
“What about after work? Around 6 pm.”
“Awesome, see you there.”
Elisa, her daughter “la chica”, Anthony, and I developed a tradition last year of walking around Four Mile Run Park behind Casa Chirilagua. It started one day in the fall of 2020 when we thought it would be a great idea to take these walks around the park. Over time, this has given us the opportunity to have very inspiring conversations. Sometimes we talk about the funny things that happen during the week and sometimes we talk about the deep things in life. Elisa and her family are from Guatemala. She is a strong woman that speaks softly. We both walk with short, but firm, steps, have short races with the kids, and enjoy our time.
When I think about how I have been creating roots in the community, my mind takes me to the beginning when I moved to Northern Virginia four years ago. At that time, I often wondered where my place was and how would I find a place where I belong. In such a diverse place where people of different walks of life converge, I was both amazed and at the same time scared of this amazing city.
As time passed and I started working at Casa Chirilagua, I noticed that, as a Mexican, connecting with my fellow Central Americans (now friends) was also a challenge. They had different accents, phrases, and walks of life that I struggled to understand. I noticed that even though we were all Latinos, there was something deep I needed to learn.
Often when we enter new spaces and new relationships, we enter with the perspective of what we know because what we know is safe, and as humans we like to be safe. Consequently, we start connecting with people that look like us and that have similar walks of life to us because we know it’s “okay.” But sometimes being safe does not allow us to challenge our comfort zone and expand our horizons. Sometimes being safe doesn’t allow us to become rooted in the community we’ve chosen and connect with others in the way Jesus calls us to connect.
Throughout my time at Casa, I have learned to approach the community with the intention of connecting and staying authentic. I don’t need to try to fit in, but instead I need to understand where the other person is coming from and meet them in the middle. I want to avoid imposing my point of view and, instead, hear the other person’s ideas. In a vulnerable community like Chirilagua, inclusion requires bonds and spaces where these bonds can be made. At Casa, we are intentional in creating spaces where bonds can be made; spaces that are safe and culturally relevant. I think of our annual Christmas celebrations, where the community is both invited and integral in making the event happen, especially when it comes to the food menu!
I invite you today to meditate on what it means to be rooted and think about the ways you connect and are rooted in your community. Will you join me in asking ourselves these questions: What are the biggest challenges to being rooted? How can we better connect where we are? What are the resources available to each of us?
May you discover deep and meaningful ways to connect and be rooted within your community as my fellow teammates and I at Casa continue to discover.
– Liz Wang, Community Development Director
*Some names have been changed for privacy.