Social work major Javier Cruz ’19 is jump-starting his career as a community activist and advocate for Puerto Rican rights as an intern with local nonprofit Nueva Esperanza.
Social Work for Social Justice
Social work was a natural career choice for Javier Cruz ’19. Blending activism and community outreach, it was the ideal major for him to help marginalized groups achieve equality, all from a grassroots level.
Entering his senior year, Javier is advocating for Puerto Rican rights through his internship at Nueva Esperanza (“New Hope”), a nonprofit based in Holyoke, MA.
“I really wanted to do my internship here because that’s my passion my whole life — to help my people,” he said. “I want to help people get a fair chance.”
Working with the community outreach team, Javier will be hitting the streets, going from door to door with one goal in mind: building rapport with the tenants of Nueva Esperanza’s affordable housing properties.
Finding a mentor in Nelson Rafael Ramon, the executive director of Nueva Esperanza, had its benefits, too. In addition to networking with a well-known community leader, Javier has the opportunity to see first hand how local politics, urban development, and social justice affect the Puerto Rican population of Holyoke.
Diversity Leadership Council
When it comes to sparking discussions about diversity, multiculturalism, and justice on campus, Javier is bringing things back to the basics. As president of the Diversity Leadership Council this year, his main goal is to get students talking.
“We’re making it more social,” he explained. “We’re asking, ‘what makes you, you?’ A lot of freshmen have gravitated toward that.”
At events like Diversi-tea, the Elms community is invited to discuss serious issues affecting our world in a low-key setting.
“As a generation, we tend to just react and rarely analyze the situation,” Javier said. “That’s all we know. It’s all in how we react to things. We need to take a moment, focus on the essence of the message, and then break it down to form our own opinions.”
Striving for Equality
Javier can still remember the moment that he started getting more involved in community activism. Hurricane Maria had devastated Puerto Rico in fall 2017, and Carmen Yulín Cruz, the current mayor of San Juan, came to Mount Holyoke College for a Q&A session the following spring.
“I had two uncles that passed away,” Javier recalled. “People were asking hard questions.
“We regrouped after the whole thing and had a discussion outside. I said my opinion, and Alaina and Xiomara said, ‘maybe you should run.’”
Fast forward to fall 2018, where Javier and his fellow DLC board members are working to raise awareness of inequalities related to race, ethnicity, gender identity, and socioeconomic status. From his perspective as a social work major and Fontbonne scholar, this cause goes hand in hand with the mission of the college, Javier said.
“If you look at the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph, they were literally social workers,” he said. “The SSJs built this college — why? For women that were marginalized.”
For students new to cultural criticism, Javier recommends starting with looking at individual identity and strife, and then widening your perspective from there.
“I’m always looking at the individual. What makes an individual unique?” he asked.
“If people don’t understand, they’re not going to treat you in the same way. Justice is striving for that equality.”