Subway Dreams: Disability, Inclusion, and Identity in New York

Paras blog headshotPosted by John Gardner Fellow Paras Shah

Gazing intently at the sign does not yield clarity. The illuminated white letters remain tantalizingly obscure against their black background. This would not typically frustrate me. After all, since I am legally blind, I encounter the situation, and others like it, daily. At restaurants, movie theaters, and street corners, posted signs present obstacles to circumvent. Tonight, however, I am in a hurry and eager to escape a late summer rain shower. Eventually, I pull out my phone and snap a picture of the sign, “14th Street Uptown and Queens” it reads. Perfect, exactly where I want to get on the subway.

I consider my options while descending the grimy staircase. Faint smells—urine and cigarette smoke mixed with perspiration—swirl up from three levels of subterranean train platforms, an end-of-the-workday greeting. Decisively, I remove my white cane from the gym bag slung across my shoulder, carefully assemble it, and walk along with this symbol of difference, of otherness, moving from side to side in front of me. The transformation manifests instantly. People move out of my way, three commuters pause in their evening journeys to offer assistance, and two elderly women, their efforts full of good intentions, link arms and guide me toward the wrong train.

View from the 102nd Floor of the Empire State Building in New York

View from the 102nd Floor of the Empire State Building in New York

Me at the Empire State Building in New York

Me at the Empire State Building in New York

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Political Diversity’s Impact on My Life

Posted by Cal-in-Sacramento Fellow Robert Nuñez 

When we talk about wanting or recognizing the benefits of a more diverse legislature, it’s not just some minority movement, or an issue of pride in which we all want our own team to win. The diversity I have seen in the Capitol is necessary for the health of a democracy in a diverse state like California. If there was a legislature composed completely of conservative white males who understood the issues that my family and I have had to endure, and created effective solutions that allowed my family and me to thrive, then I would be proud to call them my elected officials; unfortunately, as seemingly simple as it is to empathize with a person’s struggles, it’s far more difficult to truly understand what it actually feels like, and act accordingly. I have the privilege of getting to intern for Senator Ricardo Lara, a powerful man of color, and openly part of the LGBT community, who sits on some of the most powerful committees in the legislature, including chairing the Appropriations Committee. The Senator, his staff, and many of the other persons of color I have met at the Capitol truly embody a knowledge of the struggles I have had to face; If not by logic, they have been able to understand my issues by heart, by a raw emotional humanity which ads an extra dimension to politics.

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Robert with Senator Ricardo Lara

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Carli Yoro and Gaby Bermudez along with Robert grabbing a bite to eat after work to celebrate gabby birthday. Cal-in-Sac interns bring diversity to the capitol.

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Three take-aways from the Matsui Center Fellows summer reception

Matsui fellows with Governor Jerry Brown

Matsui fellows with Governor Jerry Brown

By Ethan Rarick

You know things are going well when the Governor walks into your event unexpectedly. That happened last night, when Gov. Jerry Brown stopped by the Matsui Center reception for our summer Fellows and posed for a picture with the students.

The presence of one of Berkeley’s most famous alumni was just one of several great things about the reception, an annual event to honor the students participating in our two summer programs – Cal-in-Sacramento and our Local Government Fellows. For me, three things stood out: Continue reading

Midsummer Update From Local Government Fellow

Grecia Elenes

Grecia Elenes

Local Government Fellow, Grecia Elenes, who is working at the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, recently sent us this update:

“Internship is going well. I’ve been recently switched to another group that does the clean and enforcement here at the office. Next week I’ll be going to visit at least two different sites, a landfill site and a clean up site over by Yosemite Park, so I’m very excited for this part. Everyone has been great in giving me things to do to get a feel for what they do. I have about two weeks left here and then I believe I should be heading over to the Department of Public Health.”

Glad to hear it’s going so well, Grecia!

Washington Fellows Reflect on Their Semesters in D.C.

Our spring 2013 Washington Fellows are back from the Capital. Read about their experiences below:

Alana Baum

Major: Peace and Conflict Studies and History
Placement: OtherWords with the Institute for Policy Studies
“I want to start off by thanking the Matsui Center for making my UCDC experience possible.  The semester I spent in Washington, D.C. was unforgettable; I went to President Obama’s second inauguration, was privileged to hear two… read more.

Austin Bergstrom
Major: History
Placement: National Archives, Boeing Student Learning Center
“Since I started Cal and decided to major in history I knew I wanted to spend my last semester in Washington D.C. Thanks to the generous support of the Matsui Center, which has been an invaluable part of my undergraduate experience, I was…read more.

Meet Trinh and Tara

We asked our fall Washington Fellows why they applied for the UCDC program and what they are looking forward to in the Nation’s Capital. Here is what they had to say:

2013 fall Wash fellow Trinh Nguyen IMG_2111

Trinh Nguyen

Trinh Nguyen:
“I hope to intern for a think tank or an advocacy group and research on how lobbying affects policy making. I’ve lived on the Pacific Coast  my entire life, and am looking forward to experiencing the East Coast. I also really want to see  Obama’s motorcade cruising down the street!”



Tara Yarlagadda

Tara Yarlagadda

Tara Yarlagadda:
“My name is Tara Yarlagadda, and I am honored to be a recipient of the Fall 2013 Matsui Fellowship. I would like to give special thanks to the Matsui Center for its vital work to create a more democratically engaged nation and empower individuals to become involved in public service. I have been interested in the UCDC program since I attended an informational session during the first semester of my freshman year at Cal. I have had my heart set on being a part of the program ever since. As a Political Science and South Asian Studies double major, D.C. interests me for several reasons, not the least of which is the plethora of opportunities available to interact and network with knowledgeable professionals and similarly passionate individuals. I am excited to experience D.C. not merely as a tourist, but also as a resident by exploring its various nooks and crannies and understanding its unique culture as a melting pot of diverse peoples and visions. UCDC in particular offers such a well-structured program with much guidance and support from the staff directors, in addition to a variety of classes taught by renowned professors, that I could not pass up the opportunity to apply before I graduated from Berkeley.  I am currently in the process of applying to internships in D.C. Although I am broadly interested in international relations, area studies, and public policy, I am specifically seeking to work with either the Council on Foreign Relations, the Woodrow Wilson Center, or the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center.”


Meet our new Washington Fellows


Last week we co-hosted a reception with the Center on Civility & Democratic Engagement to honor our fall 2013 Washington Fellows. Congratulations to Trinh Nguyen and Tara Yarlagadda!

 2013 Fall Washington Fellows, Trinh Nguyen and Tara Yarlagadda

2013 Fall Washington Fellows, Trinh Nguyen and Tara Yarlagadda