Experiences of LIPS Students as Surveyors for The Somerville Gentrification Project

Throughout the month of March, our LIPS students participated as surveyors in the Somerville Gentrification Project. The project is run by Laurie Goldman, a lecturer in the Urban and Environmental Policy (UEP) department at Tufts University. The project is a collaborative effort with organizations in Somerville and it attempts to capture the experiences of residents dealing with gentrification. Our students participated in a preliminary training on the survey which you can read more about here.
 
After about a month and a half of surveying at various events, including our adult English classes, two LIPS students reported to have had great experiences and to have learned a lot. For example, Kenia, a LIPS student who lives in Somerville, found that “residents realize that they are being impacted by gentrification, but they feel like they can’t have a say in what happens because they feel powerless or like no one cares about what happens to them.” She continued to describe how “many of the residents...aren’t able to enjoy the nice restaurants, cafes, shops, green space, etc., that gentrification brings because they have to work constantly in order to be able to stay in the city. They either do not have enough money or time to fully enjoy these spaces.”

Edson, a LIPS student who moved to Somerville from Brazil a little more than a year ago, shared how interviewing residents helped him understand the full extent of the financial difficulties that residents (many of whom are new immigrants) face. In comparing the weekly income of residents he interviewed with the price of their rent, Edson found that, “they don’t get much even if they are married and they have their partners to work too. They have children and they have to pay bills.” These realities were at the forefront of the interviews the LIPS students conducted. Edson notes that it was often hard to keep moving through the survey because he felt sad in learning about the hardships of the residents. However, he later noted that he learned a lot about staying on topic throughout the survey experience since he often had to redirect conversation back to the questions on the survey. 

When asked about his experience with the actual survey, Edson noted that some of the wording and vocabulary was difficult for residents to understand. This is where Edson’s experience as an interpreter came in handy as he had to practice how to rephrase specific words and sentences so that the people he surveyed would understand. However, he noted that the experience was also different from interpreting in that in the survey he got to “talk and understand more about their [the residents] lives...could see their experiences and what the story is behind them.” 
 
When asked if his experience surveying and interpreting with LIPS has changed his future interests Edson responded, “before I wanted to be an airplane pilot or a chef but now I totally changed because I really like interpretation and what we do and how we do it. For me doing something with my first language and keeping practice and keeping contact with the culture is really good.”
 
Similarly, Kenia stated, “during the process of interviewing I realized that as an American citizen and as a fluent English speaker, I am the voice for those in the community who feel like they have no voice. I am a bridge; I have the potential to bring together different kinds of people who otherwise don't understand where the other is coming from. I gained more appreciation for being part of two different cultures. I learned that I am interested in creating some type of change to improve the lives of others.”
 
Overall, both LIPS students enjoyed the surveying experience as it allowed them to connect to their language and culture while playing an important role in the community. They agreed that the project should be expanded in order to collect the experiences of even more residents.