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Honoring My Lineage Through Advocacy

Thursday, October 19th, 2017
Paula Gomez Stordy

Paula Gomez Stordy

By: Paula Gomez Stordy, M.Ed., Consultant/Educator

Political conversations were the backdrop of my childhood and the source of passionate arguments in my family. In 1973, four years after my parents emigrated from Chile to Boston, the U.S. supported a coup that resulted in the death of socialist president Salvador Allende and positioned Augusto Pinochet as the new right-wing president, who later became widely known as a dictator. My parents held socialist views while my abuelita (grandmother) had a framed picture of the pope and Pinochet on her dining room wall and statues of the Virgin Mary on her credenza.

As a young adult, I wanted to combine my love of art and my interest in politics through a major in art history. My mother, who worked as a chambermaid in a Boston hotel from the time she arrived in the U.S until she was nine months pregnant with me, wanted me to be more pragmatic. I decided to graduate with a major in communications and a minor in French. After graduation, I took a design course in hopes of becoming a graphic designer, but that all changed when news broke about former football player O.J. Simpson of the alleged premediated murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson.

Everyone had an opinion about this case, often along racial lines. Was he framed by the L.A. Police Department, known to be brutally racist against communities of color?[1] Or was he likely to be guilty given the documented abuse he perpetrated against Nicole? I didn’t see these questions as either/or. Could both realities be present at the same time? Could institutional racism have existed within the police department, and also O.J. murdered his ex-wife?

This case moved me to action. I contacted a local domestic violence program and participated in their volunteer training. It changed my life and underscored the importance of advocacy as a tool of social justice. I became a victim witness advocate at a busy district court. I was the only bilingual employee in the district attorney’s office and one of two bilingual employees in the courthouse serving a large Latin@ population. Like many Latina advocates, I explained the system’s resources and limitations to victims and their loved ones, translated documents, collaborated with community partners who served the Latin@ community, and explained Latin@ culture to court personnel to prevent judgement and victim blaming. I remember telling court personnel that a victim did not want to go forward on the case because the threats of harm to her family in her country of origin were real.

From there, I took my experience from the courts to a local program as the latina advocate & outreach coordinator. Providing support to survivors served as self-care for me. In providing survivors with counseling, I saw the need for awareness in larger systems. I was offered a position to create a hospital-based domestic violence program, training medical staff to screen patients for abuse and gathering data to support programing and policies. On the strength of those program development skills, I applied to become a shelter director, becoming the first woman of color to hold a management position at that agency. My training, life experience, community partnerships, and the voices of survivors guided me to create a culture of inclusivity where survivors were welcomed into shelter with older male children; transgender men and women received holistic services; substance abuse and mental health treatment were as necessary as domestic violence advocacy; and undocumented families were supported and received legal and creative housing advocacy.

Many years into my advocacy work, a colleague asked me to participate in a project in Washington, DC to share my experience and commitment to addressing inequality. When I arrived there, I realized I was to serve as a grant peer reviewer. The chambermaid brought grants to my room and when she recognized my Chilean accent in Spanish, told me about the Chileans she knew, and wished me a good night. After speaking to the chambermaid, I pictured my 25-year-old mother, who at one time was undocumented, working as a chambermaid while nine months pregnant with me and now her daughter was giving feedback to the federal government on how to allocate federal funds to programs across the country. As I looked down at the pile of grants, I read “The United States Department of Justice, Office of Violence Against Women” and tears streamed down my face. I thought of all the privileges I have received from my parents’ efforts and hardships. That moment crystalized the responsibility I have to use my voice and actions to create social justice.

I continued my advocacy and used my communications background to do marketing and fundraising to support nonprofits. After my father’s death in Chile, I decided to become a consultant strengthening nonprofits with capacity building and training for profits and nonprofits on culture and inclusion. I take the legacy of my family’s hard work and values to guide and sustain my social justice work.

Paula Gomez Stordy is an adjunct professor at Merrimack College teaching Social Justice: Theory and Practice in Massachusetts and an independent contractor specializing in nonprofit fundraising, leadership development, capacity building, and diversity and inclusion training with nonprofits and for profits. She recently conducted research on The Factors that Support the Leadership of Women of Color within the Fields of Higher Education and Nonprofits. For more information, contact pgomezstordy@gmail.com.

[1] For more information on incidents of racist violence perpetrated by the LAPD three years prior of OJ’s arrest, read http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/02/08/home/rodney-report.html?mcubz=0. Additional examination of the LAPD’s racist history is also examined in this piece https://www.aei.org/publication/how-racial-p-c-corrupted-the-lapd/print/

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