In addition to paying my rent through chocolate, I just finished my first week volunteering at ZUMIX. They’re a kids-only music community center located in East Boston. A two minute walk from the Maverick T station, ZUMIX is both a haven for kids from the local East Boston community while also accessible to those from farther locations who want to participate. On Wednesdays I help with the administrative work, which at the moment entails alphabetically sorting and archiving each member’s record. There are more than 1,000 currently active members between ages 6 and 18 at ZUMIX, camping out with thousands of non-active members in the filing cabinets. For a change of pace, I’ll be tutoring anyone who needs help in school on Thursday afternoons.
With that said, I arrived on the scene on Wednesday morning with general expectations that did not prepare me for the swarm of energetic youngin’s and passionate teachers. Luckily, all I had to do was file and observe. There is no shortage of energy here, watching this microcosm of the chaos and confusion of childhood and self-identity. I have never felt more comparatively well-adjusted on a first day of anything. On Thursday, I arrived in the afternoon excited to meet a student in need of tutoring and who the staff seemed to love. Instead of the happy kid I was expecting, he trudged in, eyes red from crying, and spoke to no one. I went back to my filing feeling helpless. I don’t know what happened, but as the hours wore on his mood lifted as he helped a staff member fix instruments and as his friends rolled in.
I should note that all of East Boston falls into some Environmental Justice category (Minority, Income, Language or some combination of the three… ) and according to this article, the Hispanic/Latino population accounts for almost 53% of East Boston’s population. Crime rates are also well above the Massachusetts’ average. Almost everything that can be translated to Spanish exists somewhere in the ZUMIX office, and I’ve already run into a few language barriers and have resolved to start learning Spanish. Yet these teachers and staff are young and energetic, obviously care about empowering their kids through music, and are full of ideas and humor. I have a feeling that my young student had much more on his plate before arriving that day, which gives me a taste of how ZUMIX’s founding mission is still active, helping under-served youth and communities in more ways than one.
Little did I know that that very night, ZUMIX would perform in “La Lengua del Poder” (The Language of Power), a youth performance collaboration celebrating the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s 20th anniversary. After enthusiastically accepting an invitation, I took a field trip to South Boston’s Villa Victoria Center for the Arts with a few staff members and a hoard of kids, arriving a mecca of not-for-profit representatives and hyped-up youths. Once all the free food was doled out, the lights dimmed and the show started. The Spoken Word Theater Troupe’s skit on powerlessness and racism gave me chills, compounded by a powerful slam poet expounding upon transgender and bisexual rights and prejudices on a very personal level. After a few other “powerful” performances by young people “freeing their voices through movement, art theater, music, and poetry”, ZUMIX’s talented band Miyagi and the Kids stormed the stage with Maroon Five and The Kinks covers, and the night descended (ascended?) into a collective high school dance party.
It’s amazing to these kids take control of their lives through the arts. The power of self-expression was celebrated at this performance in a way I haven’t recently experienced, by children who are braver than I will ever be. It’s spontaneous occasions like these that make me love strong people. Underneath the flaws or troubles that can accumulate, strong people keep that sense of self-identity and moral fortitude. The earlier this “lingua del poder” is developed, the stronger it becomes. No matter how insignificant my tasks at ZUMIX, I am excited to continue helping to channel this powerful form of self expression for good in the coming weeks.