I'd never met Chi-Chi before I photographed her. I found out about her from a past subject of the project and also that she worked with Tennessee immigrants and refugees. I'd be lying if I said that had no pull in my decision to ask her to take part in 104. It did.
I went into my shoot with her with zero expectations and full curiosity. The person that I found was completely charming, funny, full of love and light and also with a few tells to some strength and attitude that I suspected that I didn't want to be on the wrong side of.
Officially, Chi-Chi works for the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition as the education coordinator. Her mother is from Honduras, and visiting there often has been a part of her life since childhood. Between that, traveling and living abroad elsewhere in the world and the big heart that she has it's no wonder that she fights for the rights of others. She knows that they need someone on their side that truly understands and feels what they are experiencing. I can assure you, her work with TIRRC is much more than a job!
For the record, I personally truly believe in the work that Chi-Chi is doing with the coalition. I believe that the issue of refugees and immigration has been made out, by some, to be something that is to be seen as a black and white issue, and it's just not. You cannot treat human beings and their life as if they're a number, dollar or piece of paper. You cannot live in a country that was founded on the rights and beliefs of all people, claim so in the very fabric of its existence and not welcome those who wish for such a life. Sure, there are problems to work through but that is the burden that we have chosen to bare as a beacon of a free and democratic world.
Knowing that people like Chi-Chi are out there, not only doing hard work and fighting but doing so with such hearts as we could all aspire to... what a hope that gives! What an example she, and those like her set for us all!
Her answers to the project questions, I think without her knowing or intending, all have a relation to one another and certainly speak to the person that she is and the work that she does. Please, read on down to see what she had to say.
Thank you so much for all you do, Chi-Chi, for who you are and for your heart! Keep doing you!
Love Aimlessly, My Friends
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
I’ve very passionate about the work that I get to do every single day. It’s very hard, but I get to go to work and work directly with people. Essentially what I’m trying to get them to do is embrace their value and their voice. To use their voice and share their stories. I want them to realize how much power they have and how wanted they are in the community. Getting to do that every day is really magical and powerful.
Trying to counteract the narrative that we’re hearing a lot about immigrants and refugees and what “bad” they could bring, or why they may not be wanted here… Every day I get to see the value that they bring here and I love it! I love fighting for that and advocating and being a part of that movement. It’s really important!
Social justice has always been really important to me, and I get to fight for it every day.
Being connected is very important to me too. Be it my family, friends or the community that I’m working with here in Nashville… there are a lot of fighters and people that are working very hard. They’re passionate and motivated and I’m surrounded by that. It’s really great! Also, my community of friends and family that are just rocks and are wonderful people who I learn from every day.
(followup question) I’m guessing that dong your work in a red state provides some pretty specific challenges?
It does. The things that we see a lot in our office are that we have to play defense a lot, because our state legislature and state itself are very conservative. Nashville is this little blue island. We have a mayor that is on-board with a lot of things and the vision we have for the city. We still have to play a lot of defense.
What’s ended up happening is that now Nationally we’re having to play defense. I think we’re good at it here in Nashville because we’ve had to do it for so long. Now we just have to do it in a larger way.
This past December we hosted a conference called the National Immigrant Integration Conference. It was the first time that it was going to be held in the south and it’s the largest immigration conference in the country. When it was announced in New York that it was going to be held in Nashville people kind of laughed. “What does Nashville know about this kind of work?”
Once everything happened… the election and all that followed and we ended up on a national stage we were able to show what we’re really doing in Tennessee and some of the strategies that we’re using to counteract what we’re seeing. People were really impressed and were able to take it back to their communities.
So yeah… there are a lot of challenges.
To date, what is the greatest lesson you’ve learned?
I feel like people must have a million different answers to that one! One thing that I keep coming back to is a lesson I learned as a kid. My dad is a professor, and when I was 10 I was having this conversation with a friend of mine at home. She said something I didn’t agree with and my response was to say “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Later, my dad pulled me aside and said “Don’t ever tell someone that they don’t know what they’re talking about. If you think that they don’t know what they’re talking about find a better way to express your opinion of give them a reason to think about it a little differently.”
Thinking further into that he was also saying to never be condescending. Never think that you’re better than anyone else. Value what others have to say and think about what their intention or motives are. Why are they saying what they are saying? Where are they coming from? Do your part to listen. Really listen and respectfully engage in a dialog that may turn into something really positive rather than “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
To hear that at such a young age has really carried though and I think is a lesson that I still am working on. Especially in light of what’s currently going on. It’s easy for me to think “That person is just this way. That person is this way and that way.” And just blow it off. It makes it easy to just be angry about it, contradict it or fight it… and where is that going to get you in the end?
In my role as an educator, I would never tell a student that they don’t know what they’re talking about so why would I do that in any other human interactions? It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, family member or the cashier at Kroger. Thinking that someone is less than… I don’t want to be that person. It takes some work, but I like that my father telling me that had an impact on me so young. I think that it’s helped to shape my interactions with people and especially those that I don’t necessarily agree with.
What is love?
I’m probably the wrong person to ask because I love everything except for injustice and olives! I’m very free and open with the love that I have to give. Sometimes even to a fault. My friends kind of make fun of me sometimes because I fall in love every single time I turn around. It could be with a person, an idea… anything.
I try to think about what that means. Why is that? I really do love people a lot! If I get hurt… if I get my heart broken I will just wake up and do it all again tomorrow. I’m not one to guard my heart. I’m not one to guard my feelings or the love that I have to give to somebody, even if I don’t recive anything back. For me, I think it’s because I do see the good in people. I pay the most attention to the good and try to nurture it. I want to see that and I want to see it grow. I respond to that in people. I think that’s why I love so much. It’s loving the good in people and the good that someone has to show you.
I can’t decide how I think that sounds. …If it sounds too cheesy or… I dont’ know. that’s they way it is for me.
About Chi-Chi : Education Coordinator for the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition. Traveler, big smile, big heart!
From Nashville, TN
Lives in Nashville, TN