La Lingua del Poder

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.

I have attained chocolate nirvana

When I was 16-years-old, I gave a sermon at my Episcopalian church. I practiced and practiced and in the end gave a very convincing talk about the pros and cons of “following the flock”. Somehow, I also mentioned that it might be cool to try Buddhism. I’m not sure I won points with the conservative old ladies in the congregation, but I felt pretty great. Now, well into my 20’s and emerging from the liberal arts collegiate years that praise existentialism and humanism, I’m remembering religion.

I understand that no practicing Buddhist would equate a new job at a chocolate store with the attainment of nirvana, especially since chocolate undoubtedly gets in the way of overcoming desire. I have in fact been in a continuous state of chocolate desire since I hid a gallon container of candy under my bed when I was eight. While my container is no longer gallon-sized, this still means that I am very far from achieving nirvana in the strictest of senses. I just wanted to make that clear.

Yet working at L. A. Burdick definitely is the attainment of some sort of sensational climax.  And as my new 2013 Christmas gift present to myself reminds me, happiness has not decreased from being shared. 

thousands-of-candles-buddha-motivational

So, perhaps it’s just a mini nirvana, but working for something I love (or just like… a lot) will always keep me going. And since I work with three music masters students, four of five music/art therapy students, a couple of artists, a scientist, and other young twenty-somethings just trying to figure it all out, I’m grateful to at least be with others who are in the same boat, each taking charge and figuring things out in different ways with individual goals. People will come and people will go… it’s all just one big life analogy! SAMSARA!