Christina likes Chicago for its weather, for its jazz, for its Latinx neighborhoods. She likes it for the CTA, for the literature, for the brownstones. But a list, however long, could never quite capture what the city means to her. She feels at home here, in large part, because of Chicago's diversity. She said, “Chicago has so many different populations. It just seems like there is a wider variety of scenes going on here.”
She’s a native of Miami and grew up in its close-knit Little Havana neighborhood. Christina’s parents are political refugees, her mother having immigrated from Nicaragua, her father from Cuba, and from an early age, she was ingrained with a strong sense of community. But she felt an urge to explore other parts of the country and to understand issues beyond those of her neighborhood, which eventually lead her to UChicago.
At the University, she’s been able to expand her understanding of community issues through a variety of volunteering opportunities, clubs, and internships, as well as through Chicago Studies programming. She has made it a point to find ways to connect her classwork in sociology and creative writing to real issues in the city. To this end, she’s involved in The Gate’s Cook County Jail Writing Workshop, a program which runs writing and journalism workshops for incarcerated people via the Institute of Politics’ student-run journal, The Gate. The Gate Workshops are a way for her to bring together two of her major interests—writing and community engagement—in a nuanced, meaningful way.
This is part of a larger effort Cano has made to forge her own path as a student on a pre-law track, potentially interested in working with refugees. One of the most exciting opportunities she’s found has been through Craig Futterman, one of the Resident Masters of International House and Stony Island, who Christina met through friends who lived in the dorm. They've gotten to know each other quite well, and after a while, Futterman connected her to a civil rights lawyer working on police brutality and police shooting cases, whom she currently interns for. This is in addition to her on-campus research job with Professor Robert Vargas, who runs the Violence, Law, and Politics Lab for the University’s sociology department and whose current research focuses on the history of crime in Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans.
Yet with all of these great opportunities, Christina also wanted a backbone around which to organize her coursework, RSOs, and jobs. For this, she turned to the Chicago Studies Certificate, a program in its pilot year which allows students to connect their coursework with direct service, reflection, pre-professional modules, and a capstone. In the track she’s carving out for herself, she wants to focus more on the issues than on the technical skills associated with being a lawyer. She said, “As a pre-law student who has a pretty strong idea of the kind of work. . . that I want to be doing, primarily in helping people in Chicago,” and continued on to say, “I wanted to really focus on learning right now, while I’m at this institution, about the issues that I’m interested in, really learning and trying to engage with the communities and issues that I want to take up.”
The Capstone Project component of Chicago Studies has been especially helpful in this pursuit because it’s offered a way to connect what she’s learned at UChicago as a student to a larger, potentially outward-looking project. This summer, she’ll continue to work with Dr. Vargas and is interested in using the research—and research skills—she gains from her work in her capstone. While her project is still crystallizing, Cano has mulled over a few possible options, including using data from Dr. Vargas’s lab to organize a community-based project perhaps in Woodlawn or Bronzeville.
With the Capstone and the Certificate, Christina said, “The stuff I’m doing . . . can be coalesced into a more refined set and list of skills.” She knows that she wants to work in public service, and the Certificate has provided her a tangible goal to work toward, one that gives her both the freedom to pursue her interests in law, serving refugee populations, and working in Chicago neighborhoods, as well provides her the structure to direct her interests and further develop them.
In looking to the future, Christina was firm in wanting to remain in the city, saying, “Chicago has the issues and people that I want to work with.” And of course, the city can always use a set of hands, a mind, and a will set on helping it grow to be more equitable for all.
January 25, 2018