I left graduate school in 1995 and moved to the Southwest. I took a group of students to Mexico for the summer and at the end I had it set up that I was going to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico to be with the young woman I was dating. We had tried being apart a little bit, but it didn’t taste very well so I decided to pack up and follow her. I went to the police academy and became a police office there. I worked as a police officer for the University of New Mexico for about three years. I don’t know that I would say that I enjoyed it – I saw it as a job – but I thought it was a great responsibility. I was a different kind of cop and there were a lot of people that were very taken by me. For example, there was a fig tree in the middle of campus and I would go and patrol there in my unit, wearing my uniform. All the kids from the neighborhood would come and I would climb the tree, pick bright figs and then sit down with the them and eat. Then every time they saw me they’d say, “There is the guy who picks the figs!” It didn’t fit with the profile of a police officer. Another time I stopped this woman who was zooming down to campus and went through the stoplight. It was March 8th. When I pulled her over she said, “So you know, I got my registration in the back here. Don’t you go pulling out your gun thinking I’m getting out my shotgun or something.” I explained why I stopped her and then I went back and her driving record was good. I said, “I’m just going to give you a verbal warning for this. And by the way, Happy International Women’s Day.” And her demeanor changed completely, as if she were all buffed up, or hyped up, and I pulled a plug. I would do things like that that would take people completely aback.
I also took people aback in New Mexico with my appearance and my accent. Because it was the Southwest, people recognized my physique as some sort of Hispanic. Then I spoke. My accent was nothing like they were accustomed to for a person with my looks. I don’t have a Southwest Chicano accent. Inevitably the first question that would come out of people’s mouths, even before they asked about my name, was “where are you from?”
That happened in the Southwest, but I’ve noticed there are some general trends with people’s reactions to my accents. I’ve realized that sometimes I will say something to people and they will ask me to repeat myself even before I have finished my sentence. In the Upper Valley, I once experienced something that I thought may have been due to my accent. There was a recall for my vehicle – I had to take my vehicle to the dealer to change something – and when I called the dealer I was told that I needed to make an appointment and come back in a couple of weeks because they were all tied up. A coworker of mine at Safety & Security, who had to do the same thing, called in a half an hour later and was told, “Oh you don’t need an appointment, you just show up.” I thought that was extremely interesting. I just got in my car and showed up. They did it, no appointment. Because of that I was forced to have thoughts about it. Another thing I’ve found with my accent is that because I speak with an accent, people believe that I think and write with an accent. For that reason, I’ve had to prove myself in writing in the different jobs that I have held. I have worked in places in which any memos that I wrote were very closely examined. I would get it back with a comma or a typo saying, “Correct this!” and then the vice-president of the company would write these memos that they were horrors! One day we both put out memos and mine was sent back with a minor correction and the vice-president’s was approved. I went through his with red pen; it was covered. I took both memos to the vice-president and asked why he did this. He didn’t even realize that he was doing it. It was not ill intended. After that, no one, especially the vice-president, would write a thing that was not approved by me. But I had to prove that I should be a reviewer of memos, which forced me to be a better, more mindful and careful writer than I think I otherwise would have been.
In 1998, once my girlfriend finished school at the University of New Mexico she got accepted into social work school at Columbia in New York. We decided to pack up and move. For me it was a homecoming with my brother, mom, and cousins. I got a job as an officer / investigator for a non-profit organization called The Vera Institute of Justice. They used to work with immigrants. It was an interesting project. We would interview people in detention centers and if they met our qualifications, we asked the immigration services to release them under our supervision. The only thing that they have to promise us was that they would show up in court for their immigration hearings and ultimately abide by the hearing decision. My job was to visit them where they were staying or, in many people’s cases, to locate them. A lot of them, once we took them out, went into hiding. We demonstrated that it could work. Because of the change of laws of ’97 there were a number of people that were put in detention and deportation proceedings and they had strong ties in the community. It was in their best interest to remain in this country legally. Some of the people we worked with were seeking asylum or were picked up in work enforcement actions (raids). It was a mixed bag of participants. Someone would call me and say, for example, a Nigerian arrived last night, got picked up at JFK, and is in detention right now. He is seeking asylum. He has a name of a relative, a partial address, and a phone number that is disconnected. I would take that information and I would find that person, wherever they were in the country. If they were in the tri-state area of New York, which was for the most part the case, then I would visit the relative and explain the program – they would have to serve as a guarantor for the asylum-seeker and house them, feed them, and help them go to court. The other part of my job was to visit the people in supervision once a month. If they disappeared I had to find them again and I would have to turn them over to the immigration service, because that’s the only way that they would release somebody else in detention in the future. I worked at Vera for two years, from 1998-2000.
After that I worked at New York University in the Public Safety Department as the senior training manager. I was there from 2000-2007. After nine years of being in New York, I was not happy. I was overwhelmed at work and in life in general. I needed to get out of NYU and I needed to get out of New York City. It was literally eating me alive. New York City tends to take a toll on people and I needed to make a drastic change, particularly in the job front. I was working too much and it go to the point that I did not want my name associated with the job that was being produced. I knew that it was time to go, and I went.
I sent in an application to the Safety & Security Department at Dartmouth College. I never really thought that they would even call me. I was very excited after my phone interview. I remember thinking, “Wow, there is something happening up there and I have to check it out.” I didn’t even look it up in a map until I had to come up here for an in-person interview. They ended up hiring me, and I am so glad that they did and that I decided to accept. I am so happy here. That was 2007, so by the end of this month, March, 2011, it will be my fourth year here.
I am currently the associate director of Safety and Security. There is a 90 percent difference between my experiences at NYU and at Dartmouth in the sense that, at Dartmouth, the student population is about 5,500 and at NYU the student population is about 55,000. Whereas the staff in the Department of Public Safety at NYU is around 350 uniformed personnel, at Dartmouth it’s about 10 percent of that, or 35 uniformed personnel. Hanover is a small rural town, and New York City is the most bustling city in the world.
At the personal level, working at Dartmouth has given a feeling of relaxation that I did not have in New York. My job at NYU was pretty much a 24-hour job. I was not able to detach myself from my work, whereas here there is a clearer definition as to who is doing what, when, so that not everyone has to jump in the same boat at different points in time. I’m still extremely busy here, as I tell those people who say, “You must be really bored at Dartmouth.” One can drown in the ocean or in a glass of water – it all depends how close the water is to your nose. If you are dealing with a hundred things, you’ll drown, or if you’re dealing with one thing you could also be drowning. It all depends. While I am not quite fumbling my thumbs over here, I do have more freedom to be able to take weekends off and not have to worry about work. This has been extremely helpful for me in maintaining living relationships.
Being at Dartmouth has also given me much more time and space to engage myself creatively. In New York, the way that I was able to produce creatively was by writing in the subway – that was my refuge. Every once in awhile I could escape to a park to look at a sunset or go to a museum, but the simple experience of riding the subway was the inspiration of a number of poems that I wrote, some published in my book Amor de ciudad grande [Photo]. Within the time I spent in the subway on the way to work I would read or I would write. I would observe. Observing people in the subway in New York City is an amazing experience. It was a space that I claimed for myself as a creative space, which is interesting because there’s so much happening, with no privacy and no comfort while you’re squished next to someone trying to make little notes. But it was the space that I had. In Hanover I have been able to put more time, more at ease, into my writing – publishing, transferring, and typing it since I tend to write by hand first. I have also been able to be creative here in Hanover in other ways here. I love carpentry work and I’ve been able to explore that to a certain degree. I’ve recently built a Japanese arch and bridge in my backyard. I’ve also played around with film and video.