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Visit to New York and D.C.: Concrete Streets and Grassroots Feats

After nearly a year, Guatemala has seeped into me. I’ve become accustomed to the warmth and relaxed nature of the people and the simple meals of fresh corn tortillas, beans, and Nescafe. I delight in the friendly hellos to passersby, conversations on the bus or with someone on the street, and the bounty of smiles.

With a pending fundraiser trip to New York City, I could not help but feel anxiety at returning to the Big Apple. Having been born there, I knew the culture was radically different than Guatemala’s, demanding personal fortification to endure and thrive. The goal of my trip to NYC was to build partnerships with other nonprofits and businesses for future fundraising endeavors, and to start growing a community around Semilla Nueva in New York and D.C. For only two weeks, it was a lot to accomplish.

When first arriving to New York, I was struck by the number of glum people. On the streets, there was a pervading sense of littleness or lostness. The buzzing rush and hum of work left you with a sense of unimportance within the flurry. The buildings towered over me; on Wall Street, the sun never warmed my skull despite it being a bright and sunny day. Coming from Guatemalan time to the realm of the infamous “New York minute” was a challenge.

I am thankful for my previous mental preparation in light of this task. It helped me be ready for the rush and flow of New York and to keep my own pace within it. iPhone in hand (thank you Darren) and GoogleMaps to navigate the city, I hit the streets and subways. People were surprised to meet a US American actually living in Guatemala, and since I’ve been living and breathing this work for so long, it was easy to speak clearly and passionately. Though New York is a tough city, Semilla Nueva made strong headway. We formalized our partnership with Nuevos Horizontes (New Horizons) for our collaborative fundraising efforts in NYC. We established a strong relationship with Ahern Production Services, and built alliances with GrowNYC, the Jeannette K. Watson Foundation, and several restaurants, markets and small businesses.

The highlight of the trip wasa lovely “friend raiser” in Greenpoint Brooklyn at my aunt Noa and uncle Eric’s apartment. For food, I cooked 80 tamales, made salsa, several pots of black beans, and handmade bunches of corn tortillas. After a day-and-half of cooking, I came to fully appreciate the dedication and efficiency of Guatemala’s rural women who cook daily for their large families (often 10 to 15 mouths to feed).

In order to prepare this food, we thankfully received generous donations from C-Town Marketand Natural Frontier Market in Brooklyn. The owner/manager of C-Town, José, special ordered chips for the event and asked me to whatever else I needed. When I finished, he said “Are you sure that’s everything? Go get more if you want!” It was one of the most freely given acts of generosity I’ve experienced in my fundraising efforts. In turn, Natural Frontiers gave us several hundred dollars of produce as well as a delicious soy dessert. The manager, Migma, couldn’t have been kinder as he found ways for his store to help support our efforts.

I am happy to report that the event was a great success. Some forty people arrived with backgrounds ranging from business to acting (big ups to the Schanks for coming all the way from New Jersey!!). Attendees came out of sincere interest in our work. The evening began with wine and food as people mingled and enjoyed conversation. Proceeding, I began to give a presentation on our work using the cat’s play tower as a podium for my monitor. Soon, people’s hearts and minds became engaged, and the questions started to flow. What started as a presentation evolved into a guided conversation, exploring the strategy and importance of Semilla Nueva’s work within the context of global issues and related environmental justice problems. It was exhilarating to share our work with such a supportive and dynamic group of people, and I could tell people w really getting it.

The evening ended with new potential volunteers, several donations, full bellies, and fresh exchange of ideas.

I want to express a huge thank you to Noa and Eric for so graciously opening their apartment and lives, and to our event sponsors C-Town, Natural Frontier, and World of Flowers for making our event possible.

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