The Only Difference Between Me and My Client is that I’m on This Side of the Table

By Nanci E. Luna Jiménez, CPF. I remember one of the times in my life when things felt very economically insecure. I pulled up to a stop light and made eye contact with a woman holding a sign asking for money. I still remember the thought that crossed through my mind at the moment we looked into each other’s eyes: “I could be her. I am her. The only thing that separates us is one paycheck.” That thin piece of paper is a pretty flimsy divide. There was no pity or judgment in the look we exchanged: there was recognition. In our society it’s easy to “other” people who we perceive as different from us, especially when that difference is economic. We talk about “class” as if it’s a fixed category or identity that we embody—when in fact “class” is more a temporary state that can fluctuate greatly and feels much more tenuous than any of us would dare to acknowledge. I don’t want to minimize the differences between me and the woman whose eyes I met that day. I don’t know her story but I know mine. I am English dominant. I have US Citizenship. I have relationships with people who have more economic resources than I do. I have an Ivy League education. I am also the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants of Color. I’m the descendant of enslaved Africans who were bought and sold as property. I am the descendant of indigenous people who have been exterminated (on paper) and others who have survived policies of genocide. I am a single female. I have been disabled. I was raised in poverty. All of these factors impact how I relate to money, property, and other resources as well as my perceived and real access to them. My relationship to money, both as a resource as well as an excuse for institutional oppression, classism, have been formed by this story. And my story is going to impact how I interact with and support people who sit on the other side of the table from me. The title for this blog is a quote from one of the people I was able to talk with about what some of the challenges are of designing and delivering programs that are truly impactful for communities who are currently and often have been historically shut out or marginalized for generations by US financial systems and classism. Join me at Neighborhood Partnership’s Re: Conference on Thursday October 29th at the Salem Convention Center when I share some ways to understand our stories in a larger context and framework of classism! Nanci will be leading the opening plenary of the RE:Conference on Oct. 29 as well as a session entitled: “No Recipes, Just Relationships: Looking Inward to Create More Just Programs for Oregon.” Register for the RE:Conference here