I ventured off US 75, in the vicinity of those unique, copper-tinted office towers and home-of-Versace-in-Dallas North Park Mall, toward an area I did not know existed in our city. Or didn’t want to know.
Donned in my navy blue Wendy Davis Texas tee, I went to pick up my packet of likely pro-Wendy voters yesterday around 4:30 p.m. After having participated in walks in the gayborhood and even a mostly Spanish-speaking section of our neighborhood, I didn’t give a second thought to walking in a different section of Dallas.
The field director asked if I minded doing apartments (they can be a bit difficult to get into and navigate) and I enthusiastically accepted. “Sure—I’ll do whatever for this campaign.
Once I got to the first set of apartments, I realized I was not in Oak Lawn anymore. People were just beginning to arrive home from work and children from school. Latino children. As I navigated the complex, I was viewed with suspicion as if the looks inferred, “What is this white man and his bright-colored shoes doing here.”
Undaunted—ok, a little daunted—I moved forward.
Someone finally answered a door. First it was a young girl; when I told her the names of the voters I was looking for, she smiled and closed the door. She sent out a rather large, intimidating, shirtless, tattooed man who heard what I was doing and closed the door. I almost left the flyer and bolted, but finally the woman of the house emerged and stood there listening to my spiel with rapt attention and promised she would go vote.
Ok. Well, that wasn’t too bad—I had reached a voter and it felt good.
I went to the other side of the complex where children (all Hispanic) were playing with a watergun in a courtyard that had a smattering of grass remaining. They looked at me curiously and I think with some humor as I tried to figure out the numbering system and which set of stairs would take me where I was trying to go.
I left there and moved down the street and it got worse. I am not proud to admit that in the broad daylight, I did not feel comfortable where I was. I was stunned by the conditions in some of these places. One building had this long dark corridor and I thought, “Who lives here? Who has to live here?” I did not want to know what that smell was. And as I knocked on the door at the farthest end of the hallway, I felt as though I were in the scene of a horror movie. I did not want to knock on that door; I wanted to run back to my car.
I continued. The next complex just floored me. The sign outside boasted “luxury 1 and 2 bedroom suites.” What I saw inside looked like something out of a live report from Afghanistan. About 10 children were gathered in the area–not an adult in sight. The facades of these residences was run down—paint chipped, doors marred—and I couldn’t imagine living there. The children watched me for a minute before one asked who I was looking for. I made my way around the place, made no contacts, and upon leaving, a little girl of about 5 smiled and said, “See you later mister.”
It would get worse.
We’re not advised to go into anywhere there’s a locked gate or an apartment that has a gated entrance for residents only. It was with no small amount of relief that I was able to mark the last few of these “inaccessible.”
There was one more to go and looking at it, I knew this one was rough. But, as fate would have it, both entrance gates were open so I took that as an OK for me to go in. I parked. I got out of my car and looked around me, trying to figure out the numbering system of the 15 mostly two-story buildings. I looked at the list; five names. Just five.
And I checked off all five as “inaccessible.”
I got back in my car and started it. And I sat there.
But I told myself: “I have to go. I cannot let my fear and my distrust and my whiteness prevent me from reaching out to the Other.”
Clipboard in hand, I navigated through this complex. I felt just as out of place and awkward as the uppity lawyer who was trying to interview the plaintiffs in Hinkley in Erin Brockovich.
If I thought the outside of the units lacked appeal, it got worse once I walked inside. I felt as though I had been dropped into the Cuauhtémoc, Mexico orphanage my family and I had worked at as a part of our church mission. Except I was in Dallas, Texas. Four minutes from North Park mall and Louis Vuitton.
Latino boys playing in a courtyard, bare of grass. Three boys squatted over a bare patch of earth playing with a single marble. Groups of children playing chase. Groups of women standing and talking. Day laborers coming home after work. Laughter and community. But also poverty and hopelessness. The conditions of this place—it was awful. And as I went up each floor, out of the daylight and into each dark hallway looking for #357 (I mean, who lives like this? No lights in the ceilings of these places?), my anxiety turned into determination and my fear gave way to anger.
Who lives here? Do these politicians know about this? Do my friends? My church? Yes, yes, we can work and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We can fight to educate ourselves. We can recover from bad choices. But who cares about these people?! I thought angrily to myself, “I bet Greg Abbott’s people aren’t down in these neighborhoods. In fact, he doesn’t even care about people like these.”
But quickly, and rather fortunately, my anger yielded to purpose; there were, in fact, voters here. And I must—we must—reach them. They can’t be allowed to become disenfranchised, as if their vote—their tiny voice—doesn’t count. As new friend and influencer Lindsey Clark would tell me, “If we can get them to vote, even once, we have forever changed the electorate.”
As it turned out, #357 wasn’t home; her neighbor—an older Hispanic day laborer who seemed curious why I was there told me she was African-American, had 4 kids, and wouldn’t be. I smiled, thanked him, and made my way back to my car. My friends were gathering for dinner later at an upscale pub that most of the residents of this area could never afford much less be welcomed into.
I felt ashamed that I have isolated myself like I have.
I felt embarrassed that I had been fearful.
And even though I believe (to an extent) I have earned what I have, I know that, even including making several poor choices in life, I had an edge because I am white and I am privileged.
And then I stumbled across something I most certainly did not expect: a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, hidden in the overgrown shrubbery.
In this place—somewhere between squalor and marginalization—was a place of prayer; it was beautiful. So, I prayed.
I prayed for these elected officials. The one I was walking for, the ones on the other side of the ballot, the ones we elect—that they will think of these people when they act.
I prayed for the soul of both parties, but particularly the one whose actions overtly indicate they don’t care about immigrants or the poor, who won’t budge educating their children, who won’t do right by the working class laborers who are doing our dirty work, paying local and state taxes, and getting squat for it.
I prayed for the church I attend and for my friends that we become more compassionate.
I prayed for myself asking forgiveness for my attitude and for almost skipping the place where these people lived. That I overcome my bias, my fear, and that I use my privilege to lift others up.
I thanked Our Lady of Guadalupe for her protection and the hope she offered the inhabitants of this place.
For the protection and hope she offered me in this brief moment.
I exited the complex and saw the setting sun glint off the copper towers. I made my way back to the campaign office, back to my life of privilege.
Forever grateful. And changed.
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