LLS Homepage Spotlight

Notes from Edith Muñoz: Semester in D.C., Part 1

3/2/2018  8:00 am

February 1

As many students are a few weeks into their semester, I am barely packing my bags for a 12 week internship. My name is Edith Muñoz. I’m 20 years old from West Chicago,IL with a double major in Latina/o Studies & Political Science and a minor in Spanish and the next few months I’ll be in Washington D.C. Through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute program I will be getting hands-on experience on what it’s like to work on the Hill. I will be interning for Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who serves as the Representative for the Illinois 4th Congressional district. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you have probably seen him on television advocating for immigration reform or post-hurricane efforts in Puerto Rico. In other words, I have grown to see Gutierrez as a role model for the Latino community since he empowers the community a seguir adelante in a time where it seems a lot are pin-pointing to our community to the root of the United States problems. I’m not sure what to expect out of the internship, but I do hope it will ground my thoughts about my future. If you come from a low-income household you know that living somewhere expensive like DC seems impossible. But the program helps relieve some of that monetary burden we feel. I do see my majors playing a role as the backbone of my experience in DC. The program itself is meant to empower and prepare our next generation of Latinos so not only will my cohorts and I share similar backgrounds, but we’ll have the same mentality going in. Overall, I think different topics we’ve discussed, read about, watched documentaries on, will be put into action during my internship. For example, I will be able to get more insight of what exactly are the updates with DACA. I think something else I see coming into play is how different the roles of Latinos in politics, specifically for Latinas as myself, compare to white cishetero men. I do feel as a women of color a lot of time we are discredited for the work we can do. But I am curious to see how my experience goes. Obviously, my Political Science major takes up most of the role. I’ll be surrounded by nothing but politics in living and breathing the Capitol Hill. Even on the topics I am passionate about I will be moving to a more conservative area and that means dealing with individuals who don’t share the same viewpoints I do. I will be honest that I am only aware of the topics that interest me and think that this internship will serve me well in educating me in all other topics that are going on. I do hope with my experience it drives me to a similar field. I do hope to work with immigration law in the future and hope that this internship confirms my passion and interest in having more Latino representation in this field.

February 15

Champaign to D.C.

It’s almost the end of my second week here at D.C. but the end of my first full week of work. The first week consisted of the typical orientation agenda-going over do’s and don'ts, signing waivers, listening to speakers,etc. Although it was a very long week, a lot of the speakers and information we received truly helped in the work area because most interns are thrown into their office with no expectations while we were prepared by knowing how to write memos, letters, etc.

Something I wasn’t aware of or prepared for was the environment in our congressional office. Every office is truly unique and different. Some interns get a lot of work. Some don’t. Some are remembered as intern number 7 while other offices are small-staffed. Some offices require you to be dressed business professional at all times. In some its casual unless we are in session. I think what I have found the most important, as I reflect over my first week, is the overall environment in your office. That specifically refers to the way that the staff interacts with one another, the way the congressman or woman interacts with their staff and especially you. Some of my friends have had bad interactions with their boss, meanwhile I truly love my office and look forward to work. I’d take these 8-9 hour shifts over my Dunkin’ Donuts ones any day. Although I am new and the workload is currently light, I still enjoy doing the simplest tasks, such as answering the phone. You’d be surprised how many people call to seek help from my congressman. That only lets you know how well he’s respected. Of course, there are the angry callers that just call to tell my boss that he is a “wetback” and should be go “back to Mexico”. Not only does that show you how uneducated the average person is by clumping all Latinos to be Mexican, but people don’t have a filter when it comes to attacking POCs. It truly depends on what is going on in the news that determines the reason for phone calls. Currently it’s either about getting the congressman to pass a bill about gun control, to oppose HR 620 which would affect all those who are disabled in the work spaces, or about getting a clean Dream Act.

It’s barely been a week, but I can definitely feel like D.C. might be the place for me. Well, maybe not the price and the overall competitive atmosphere, but this is a city of networking on steroids. Everyone knows someone that is interested or works in your field of interest. A quick coffee with someone may lead you to your next job. I have my fingers-crossed that it will be the same case for me.

March 2

Just like that, I have been a month in D.C. and it truly feels like I’ve been here longer. It truly feels like my cohort is living in a dream because working as a paid intern on The Hill is so difficult to work out. There are two other interns who work in my office who either have had to find scholarships to pay for their expenses or whose parents cover it. As I spend more time on The Hill I have begun to reflect on the opportunity the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) has truly given Latinos that many may not get. One of our coordinators had told us that the cohort is representing the 1% at the time. All of our are expenses are paid, we’re working for Congress, and we are trying to reaffirm our passion for change.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t have been here and I’m sure a lot of my friends wouldn’t have either if it wasn’t for D.C. Coming from a low-income family, this opportunity is truly a privilege that only those who have the money can be sent out here and afford an unpaid internship. Even then, I look around and I don’t see many people like me. The number of Latinos who work on the Hill is so small, so everyone knows everyone here. Programs like CHCI and the Congressional Black Caucus are trying to mold leaders and place them in roles that society doesn’t see us in. It gives us confidence and reminds us that we truly belong here.

Before you are placed in your office, you have an orientation week coordinated by CHCI that truly prepares you for the mentality and workload needed to get the most out of the internship. Unfortunately, a lot of interns just get thrown into their offices not knowing how to write a memo, for example. So it truly is nice being prepared and not having a feeling in your gut that you are a waste of space. CHCI has also made me realize that interns are the backbone of D.C.. Depending on the office you are in it will determine whether your workload will consist of answering phones or working on long-term stuff for the office.

Other than the more visible pluses of CHCI, it truly gives you a great support system. Specifically, I really cherish my cohort. Not only are they aware of the general Latino struggle, but it is so empowering and beautiful seeing all of us strive here. I truly do wish them all the best in their future endeavors and see nothing but big things for them. CHCI also gives you various opportunities to network–with alumni, sponsors, big agencies–to help you put your foot in the door for the future.

Overall, I am truly honored to be here to represent my town, my school and my community and would definitely advise any Latino who is interested in seeing what life on The Hill is like to apply to the CHCI Internship Program https://chci.org/programs/congressional-internship-program/.