Finding a Park in the Urban Jungle

I don’t know how it’s already my third week in Philadelphia—part of me feels like I’ve been here way longer, and part of me feels like I’ve just arrived. Either way, work is in full swing and I’m starting to feel settled in the office. Which doesn’t really matter because it’s all about to change! My main role this summer is to help facilitate three youth programs, all of which start in July (aka very soon). June is mostly about planning for those programs in our beautiful air-conditioned office, but July is going to be all about running around in the humid heat with 30 teenagers. It’s going to be awesome, but crazy busy. It still feels a little like the calm before the storm at the moment, but we’re definitely starting to scramble. In the midst of all the busyness last week, my family dropped in on an unexpected visit for my birthday. I’m glad I got to show them the streets that I  navigate every day, and I think they feeling better now that they’ve got a picture of where I am. But we’ve been talking a lot about Latinx outreach lately, and the time I spent with my family reminded me of the particular challenges that this park faces when trying to reach the Latinx community. One thing I had trouble explaining to my friends/family was how this park could be smack down in the middle of Philly. And it’s true, Independence National Historical Park doesn’t look the way people expect a park to look. There are beautiful squares and gardens scattered throughout, but the fact that INHP is a historic park means museums are at the forefront, and the lack of rampant wilderness sometimes makes it tricky to engage with communities of color, since nature can be universal in a way that history often can’t. I mean, presenting history in a way that’s engaging and relevant is always tough, but it’s going to be even more of a challenge when you’re trying to reach people who did not grow up learning that history and have experiences of immigration. It’s one thing to bring in a diverse array of school kids who are learning about the Founding Fathers in school, but it’s another thing entirely to hope that they’ll come back with parents whose histories are in a totally different country. Anyway, all this is on my mind as we head into youth program season. I won’t be here past August, but my supervisor and I are still having conversations about potential programs throughout the year to make sure that students—many of whom come from Hispanic communities—don’t make their summer visit a one-time thing. It’s a tough question that we’re not going to solve in a few weeks, but they’re not questions that had even occurred to me before this summer, so I’m glad I’m getting the chance to ponder these issues and take part in the conversations.

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