People of Chelsea: Emily Menjivar – 15 Years Old

By Darlene DeVita

(The following is one in a series of sneak peeks at the upcoming People of Chelsea additions by Photographer Darlene DeVita. The new work will ultimately appear on the fence of the Chelsea Public Library (CPL) this fall in a collaboration between the People of Chelsea project and the CPL.)

I’m a student at Chelsea High, and I lived here all my life. My mom immigrated from El Salvador in her 20s. She moved here for a better future for my brother, and then she had me! Her journey was smooth, but it was hard adapting to American culture. She didn’t immediately have papers, so she had to do jobs like cleaning.  She’s a resident now, thank God. I don’t know where my father is. He left when I was around seven. 

What is my day like in Chelsea? I do online classes, have my meals throughout the day. I’m a vegetarian. I have an hour to do homework, and then I have to go to work at RIOT.  Then after RIOT I do some more homework and then end up sleeping! 

The RIOT team is part of La Colaborativa. I’ve been with them since I was 14. I applied to the summer internship, and I was in the RIOT active group. We focus on door-knocking and housing issues. In RIOT, we try to fight social issues that might be happening, whether it’s a case in Chelsea or a particular case that is happening in the world. Now we’re focusing on the vocational schools to change their policy on how kids from middle school can get into vocational school instead of having a policy that you have to have perfect grades and attendance

I want to be a lawyer. And I want to go to Harvard, why not?!  I want to help people who can’t get a lawyer or don’t want to seek help because they don’t have documentation or don’t have the money for it. I want them to have a fighting chance, to get the justice that they deserve. I realized I wanted to be a lawyer when my mom would go out to work, and she would leave my sister and me with my aunt to babysit, and we’d watch Law and Order.  I grew up watching that show. I wanted to be the woman in the court saying, ‘Why did you do this?’.   

I was always grateful my mom worked so hard, so me and my sister could always have what we needed. It was hard not to always have her around when I won an award or anything, but her work did pay off.  With my mom’s hard work in America, my brother had a chance to go to university. 

I feel like things are going well in Chelsea, but I think there is more that can be done. I’m glad that people realize that many people don’t have the choice of always paying rent on time because the jobs they get don’t even pay them minimum wage. And with the whole COVID thing you can see that housing is a problem. When people don’t have their jobs, how are they going to pay rent? Where is the money they need for food?  The way people deal with not having a place to live is to either couch surf or sleep on a porch and rent that out in summer or a really small room with five people, and they’d still be charging them $1000. That is the housing crisis going on in Chelsea. There might not be people on the streets, but it’s there. A shelter would be very good; they’d have somewhere to go. I’m not sure why there isn’t a shelter here. It’s something that La Colaborativa has been fighting for. We need to change laws with rent, rent control, and things like that. It’s hard for a family or a single mother like my mom. She gets paid the same pay for the same job year after year, and her rent rises up and up. 

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