A few weeks ago my supervisor Diego proposed an idea to me, he said that my team at TECHO didn’t really know what poverty in America was like and he asked if I would be able to prepare and give a presentation explaining what it was like. I said sure because even though I thought I knew a lot about poverty in America I knew it would be nice to have a concrete answer whenever people asked me how it was different from here. After doing a lot of research and reflecting on some of the courses I’ve taken at Berkeley such as Robert Reich’s Wealth and Poverty class, I put together a presentation.
Of course, I wanted to give my speech in Spanish so I wrote out my presentation and was nervously prepared to present the information to the group, speaking in front of people isn’t my favorite thing to do. I gave the presentation on the 5th but in honor of America’s independence day, July 4th I brought in typical American treats, Starbursts and Snickers.
My presentation discussed the situation of the homeless and how they are housed because this is what I see as the most representative of poverty in America. I then decided to talk about the housing system for the poor such as affordable housing, since that is what TECHO works with. A teenage girl living in a campamento once asked me, in a group setting, if there are campamentos (communities composed of shacks where many families live in close proximity) in the US and I said no, not like the ones here and she simply replied to the group, “I want to live in America.” Her comment made me wonder if it is really always as great as it may sound.
In my presentation I then went into the economic conditions in America today and what happened with the “Occupy Movement” because we were protesting the fact that our country has become extremely economically divided leaving a lot more people in the middle and lower class with much less. Below is a video I showed the team about the difference between what American’s think and what the actual distribution of wealth is in America. This topic seemed interesting to me because not only was it current but it related a lot to Chile and their similar problem of an economically unequal country.
After I gave my presentation I asked if there were any questions and we were all given a chance to discuss further some of the similarities and differences about the poor in Chile and the poor in America. It was very interesting to discuss things like what poverty looks like and where is it prevalent in our respective countries, for example here the poor live on the outskirts of the city and in the US a lot of the poor live in big cities and the upper class live in suburbs. I brought up in my presentation the racial factor that is in the US with a heavily weighted African American and Hispanic population making up the people living in poverty. We also discussed the interesting cultural difference of the families here, that work with TECHO, and their approach to providing housing that always results in the ownership of a home where in America most programs are about renting a place to live such as an apartment. The housing system in the US is very complex but as far as I’m concerned, only those with a considerable amount of money are able to afford to buy their homes.
Our systems, representations and approaches to alleviating poverty are very similar but also very different in many ways. Giving this presentation was informative for me as well as the team because I was able to share what I have seen and learned about both in my home country and here in Chile.