Homelands – In Nicaragua, and In America
Claudia Narvaez-Meza (MSW ‘07) and the Narratives of Struggling Families
Homelands: Women’s Journeys Across Race, Place and Time (Seal Press, 2006) is a collection of 28 stories by women describing what “homeland” means in the context of immigration, war, or exile. Claudia Narvaez-Meza’s powerful chapter, “Sowing for Lineage,” explores her Nicaraguan origins, her mother’s struggle for survival as a factory worker in Brooklyn, and the impacts of growing up poor in urban America.
Narvaez-Meza, who graduated this year with her MSW from NYU’s Silver School of Work, sees the experiences of her family’s past as the seeds of her work in social justice. She is passionate about it, having done work in grass-roots organizing during her undergraduate years at Hunter College, and she earned her MSW within the context of realizing social justice for disenfranchised women and children. “Social work embraces all the ideals – social justice, activism, idealism, faith, courage, and the ability to make a difference in the lives of others,” Narvaez-Meza said.
In Homelands, the Nicaraguan family Claudia describes is held together by women who manage to make due with little and take hardship in stride, finding solace in their deep-rooted Catholic faith. In her graduate field placement, she worked with low-income Spanish-speaking children and families, of Hispanic and of African-American origins, and particularly focused on efforts aimed at reuniting at-risk families. “That has been the most rewarding aspect of my work – allowing the healing to begin, helping families get back together,” she said.
This aspect of her work is being carried forward after graduation; Narvaez-Meza is doing post-graduate training at the Ackerman Institute for the Family in Manhattan, and working in a new program at the forensic psychiatry unit at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. The program is designed to help families in which women incarcerated at Riker’s Island will be provided family therapy together with relatives, including children and caregivers, in Elmhurst Hospital. Narvaez-Meza noted that the women and families will be served by a team including herself, a psychiatrist, and a psychologist. Her initial caseload will be eight to ten families, she said.
Narvaez-Meza said that she felt that her professors at the Silver School of Social Work “were instrumental” in developing her strengths and talents as a social worker, and helped her focus all the assets she possessed – including her talent as a writer – to help struggling women and children. Having grown up in poverty herself, “it’s more than empathy. I really do understand what they’re going through,” she said. "Like many that have suffered the traumas that afflict a wandering tribe such as loss, despair, exploitation, servitude, brutality, violence, or displacement, our stories help give credence to the potency of lineage. My mother had been at the helm of this awakening when she told me that a woman alone is not necessarily disempowered, but in silence she will be." Prior to her enrollment at NYU, she worked as a domestic violence crisis counselor for New York's LGBT and Latino communities. Additionally, Narvaez-Meza completed a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry at Brooklyn College.