Joi Pride, a Queens junior majoring in Spanish, volunteers at the Latin American Coalition to help immigrants apply for visas, the first step in becoming a permanent U.S. resident, but that is just the tip of the iceberg of what she does with her knowledge of Spanish.
Pride began this type of volunteer work because of requirements for her own Spanish classes. Her first experience at a visa workshop at the Coalition was helping a Spanish speaking mother of two from Mexico complete the lengthy N-400 documents, the first step in applying for U.S. citizenship, without any mistakes. Pride quickly understood what a stressful and delicate process this was, and she felt the weight of making sure she made no errors that would keep the woman from winning citizenship. Pride said this classroom requirement pushed her to engage.
Pride’s interest in Spanish began in middle school, sparked by a passion for the TV show “Dora the Explorer.” As she continued her studies, she came to appreciate different Spanish speaking cultures. Eight years of Spanish classes and four years of speaking Spanish has allowed her to assist as a volunteer where accurate comprehension and translation are critical. Not only does Pride have excellent Spanish speaking skills, but according to Margaret Commins, director of international studies at Queens, “There is a goodness that radiates out of her.”
“She is open and warm, with a quiet strength that draws people to her,” said Commins. “You can tell that she cares about others sincerely, so I’m sure clients are quite comfortable with her.”
Pride said that she enjoys volunteering at the Latin American Coalition because she meets so many different types of people with smiling faces and joyful attitudes. She appreciates a positive attitude.
“We traveled together on the Guatemala mission trip last year, and when she wasn’t translating or interacting intently with our hosts, Joi would keep us laughing,’’ said Commins. But Pride said she also finds a deeper meaning in her volunteer work because for non-English speakers here, basic things like grocery shopping, applying for jobs, and filling out important paperwork can be formidable.
“It’s not an intelligence thing,” she said. “It’s a language thing. Some people come here as dentists and professors, but struggle to do their job here because of a language barrier. We need to help them.” She shared a Bible verse with a reporter, Leviticus 19:34, to illustrate her point. “’The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born,’’’ she read aloud. “’Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.’”
In response to the recent news about “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) and immigration, Pride admitted to not knowing all the details, but still found it devastating and supported the people affected. “Why can’t we let people take advantage of the opportunities that are here?” she said.
“Many are in need of this service,’’ said Dr. Liliana Wendorff, Queens Spanish professor. “Having a non-immigrant helping gives me hope that many others sympathize with the people that come from other countries. Joi is just a very kind human being.” When asked to describe Pride in one word, Dr. Wendorff responded, “Dedicated!” Pride has dedicated even more time to serving others by volunteering with the International House as a one-on-one English conversational and business level tutor, and at the Charlotte Bilingual Preschool interacting in English and Spanish with the children.
Along with her theater and international studies minors, Pride plans to use her Spanish major in whatever career she ends up pursuing whether its directing, acting, writing or translating scripts.
She said she could work anywhere in the world, especially as she learns more languages. However, her ultimate dream is to start a language school that offers an innovative, more effective and more immersive type of language learning curriculum. Wherever Pride’s future career and volunteer paths lead, she will be taking her own advice, “Do what you love!”