Around this time two years ago, a patient came to see me for assistance. I thought it would be the usual thing, something to do with his medication, or maybe help scheduling an appointment with a specialist.
A colleague explained to me that he wasn’t here about his medical needs. He wanted to know how to register to vote.
Now, this was an exciting request. I helped Sergio (name changed) fill out his application to register to vote in D.C. It was his first time voting as a U.S. citizen.
The election of fall 2016 didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, but in the wake of that election I learned so much about myself, my country, and the resilience of my new community.
I moved to Washington, D.C. after graduating in 2016, ready to embark on a new journey, serving with Lutheran Volunteer Corps. I became a case worker at La Clínica del Pueblo, a community health center focused on serving the Latino immigrant community, working with people like Sergio. As a Spanish major, I was eager to put my Spanish skills to use.
I graduated feeling ambitious, equipped, ready to fly from the Luther nest and change the world. Then, the results of the 2016 election took me by surprise. This was not at all what I was expecting. I suddenly felt very far in over my head. I could not (and still can’t) believe the way that politicians talk about immigrants and make open threats to their health and well-being in numerous ways (e.g., separation of families at the border, ending Temporary Protected Status, and changing Public Charge, just to name a few). I found myself a few weeks into my new job, working at the intersection of immigration and health care and feeling totally overwhelmed and blindsided.
The experience I thought I had signed myself up for seemed to change on a dime overnight, but it was exactly the experience I needed. Working at La Clínica has given me the chance to wrestle with my own privilege as a white, educated, native English-speaking, U.S. citizen. Through building relationships with people like Sergio, I learned so much about the challenges that affect immigrant families, and I learned a lot about myself.
From the clients and the community, I learned about housing corruption and tenants' rights. I experienced how employers scam their employees for less than minimum wage. I heard about how hard it is to prioritize going to the doctor when you know that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been in the neighborhood, and the last thing you want to do is leave the house. I experienced firsthand how complicated and unfriendly the healthcare system can be (even if English is your native language.) It has been humbling to learn from these new teachers, hear their stories, and begin to understand their experience.
Beyond the challenges, I've witnessed the resilience of people who know what it is to be knocked down and get back up again. My immigrant neighbors in D.C. are incredibly resourceful, hard-working, strong, generous, and compassionate. They put faces to issues that I had heard of, but had not experienced before. I will never share the life experiences of many of the patients I've worked with, but the relationships we've formed have changed my life.
Studying Spanish at Luther was key to opening the door to these relationships, and possibilities. I have my alma mater to thank for making it possible for me to build relationships with people across differences.
I still work at La Clínica del Pueblo, in a new role as the Development and Communications Coordinator. Now, my job is to share the story of the work we do, and I believe with all my heart that it’s a story worth telling. I'm so proud to work for an organization that believes that healthcare is a human right, and that no one should be denied care based on their preferred language, nation of origin, race, or immigration status.
I’m also proud to say that I employ both of my majors on a daily basis (thank you Luther College English and Spanish Departments!) in the communications work that I do. When colleagues or friends ask what I studied I jokingly say, “I just read a lot, in English and Spanish,” but that has served me perfectly well so far, thank you very much.
I’m so grateful for the education I received while at Luther, but I have to say that my greatest learning came after. As a college that seeks to “embrace diversity and challenge one another to learn in community, discern our callings, and serve with distinction for the common good,” I’d like to think that Luther wouldn’t mind me saying that my greatest education has come after commencement.
Anna Jeide-Detweiler '16 is the Development and Communications Coordinator at La Clínica del Pueblo, a federally-qualified community health Center in Washington, D.C. The organization's mission is to build a healthy Latino community through culturally appropriate services, focusing on those most in need.
Anna lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband. In her free time, she enjoys cooking with friends, singing in choir, and hiking around the Shenandoah Valley with her husband.