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Summer/Fall 2023 Issue 6

Member Spotlight

Anaïs Lugo-Guercio

“I really enjoyed empowering people to find their paths, and to find their words to get to those paths.”

Anaïs Lugo-Guercio is an Occupational Therapy student at Tufts University. A member of NSGP since 2019, Anaïs has become actively involved with the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee, facilitating the Weekly Check-ins for thirteen weeks last fall. Anaïs also co-led (with Lesley McGhee) a DEI Committee-sponsored virtual discussion group for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) in the summer of 2020 entitled Radical Release; Honoring our Legacies, Liberating ourselves from Anti-Black Racism. Anais will co-facilitate a workshop entitled Culture Box: Exploring Culture in Group Context at the 2021 NSGP Conference. In an hour-long interview, Anais spoke with Nadia Khatchadourian, NSGPeople co-editor, about her life, both personal and professional. Maddie Freeman, NSGPeople co-editor, acted as scribe. 

Nadia: What was your early life like?
Anaïs: I was born in Boston and spent my first five years there, but then we moved to a part of New Jersey that’s close to New York. It’s a pretty urban suburb. I spent time on the weekends going to New York, especially as a teenager and young twentysomething.

Nadia: Tell us about your family.
Anaïs: I was raised by a single mom but also by our village or tribe. My mom’s family, her parents, and her aunts lived in the same town. I grew up with a lot of different kinds of people -- different age groups, a lot of older individuals, a lot of chosen family from a lot of communities. It was a very multicultural space, and very matrilineal. My mom is half-Black, her father is Sicilian and Irish. I was predominantly raised in a Black household. I had Dominican and Filipino chosen family. This all really influenced me growing up.

Nadia: Where did you go to school?
Anaïs: I went to Catholic school. Being a woman of color, being mixed, and going to a very private Catholic school, there wasn’t a lot of room for me to experience authenticity. I would just regurgitate the things that I needed to. I put on a persona at school that wasn’t fully me. I felt inauthentic there. All of my friends and I were “the bad apples” because we wanted to read manga instead of the Bible in religion class. The nuns thought we were the most rebellious.

I went to undergrad at Smith College, majoring in Biology and French. It was a very interesting place. I was exposed to a lot more experiences. That’s been really helpful. It was by no means a perfect route but there was a lot of space to grow and find a lot of things. It was very different from the regimented feel of a Catholic school. I’ve been in many all-women education spaces. Currently, I’m working in a clinical research lab with mostly men; I wasn’t prepared for the patriarchy. I have a different set of rules that I think by, having been in spaces where women have a more dominant voice.

I’ve been living in Boston for most of my time out of college.

Nadia: What are some of your favorite activities?
Anaïs: I’ve been practicing yoga since I was about 13. I’ve gotten really into the Tarot recently; it’s been my big pandemic activity. Following all sorts of people, their voices, their interpretations of the Tarot -- it’s actually very helpful. To have at least the dialogue, the words -- the cycle of life.

Nadia: What have been some formative work experiences for you?
Anaïs: I worked at Bunker Hill Community College for a year as a lab technician on a team. The education model there is a really fantastic one. It’s really amazingly organized. There were about five of us as staff with twenty student lab assistants. They have a lot of need for these classes like Intro to Chemistry, Intro to Bio, five of the same classes in a day. They serve such an interesting group of people who are scientists. I was in the minority as a person who was born and raised in the United States. I heard six different languages being spoken in the hallways. There wasn’t a script I had to play. I was on this team; everyone had their own story. There wasn’t a box where people were expecting me to fill. There was no path I had to stick to.

I felt my privilege of this being my mother tongue, being a US citizen, having a 4-year degree.

People would ask, “Can you read over my resume?” My answer was always“Yes.” I really enjoyed empowering people to find their paths, and to find their words to get to those paths.

After that, I worked at Boston University as a lab technician and lab manager of a very small college. At BU, when you work there, you can take classes at a huge discount. I thought, what do I want to do? I majored in Biology: I could do health care, or a PhD track. I’m a people person. I really like engaging with people. I am very empowered by people being empowered.

OT became a really good fit. I shadowed OTs, checked out what people did, and networked. I really got to explore what was going on at BU, at that campus, in that community, and that got me on the track into OT.

I’m now a lab manager at a clinical research company. 

Nadia: Where do you go to school for OT?
Anaïs: I ended up going to Tufts. Mary Barnes was my Groups professor, and she introduced me to NSGP. I’m really happy I’m studying at a big university like Tufts. I liked that I wasn’t just in this box with other OTs. I’m able to meet people of all backgrounds, all walks of life.

The thing that resonated the most with me was my Groups course with Mary. A lot of experiences I had in my communities, I finally had the language for it. Ah, this makes sense.

I ran an after-school cooking course with high schoolers in special education in Malden. There were quite a few kids about to age out of the program and it helped them with cool functional skills. 

Also, for a few summers, I worked at a community day camp. I have a friend from Smith and their wife who’ve started “The Tiny Activist” (https://thetinyactivist.com/), which is about a decolonized, equitable, radical approach to educating children and I bounced ideas off them. It gave me the lens of not starting with the status quo. My approach is not going in and making assumptions about the communities I’m entering, not making assumptions that I know exactly what they want.

I’m not a licensed OT yet. It’s really cool to be a student again in my late 20s. All of the things I didn’t get to do as an undergrad I got to do. I wasn’t able to enjoy what the university had to offer me until I was an adult. 

At Tufts, I was in a fellowship through the office of the Dean, focused on diversity and inclusion and uniting the grad school as a community. I completed a needs assessment, looking at, “How do we unite people and get them what they want?” along with community dialogues about art pieces. I also ran a mentorship workshop. It was a multi-branched approach of how you can connect on all levels.

Nadia: Is there a specific focus within OT or populations you’d like to work with? 
Anaïs: I’m still on the exploration side. There are so many things an OT can do. I like looking at things as a system. A community and group of people can be a lot of different things. I like asking, what can help people flourish? I imagine doing a lot of group work and community work, but I’m not done training, so I’ll see.

Nadia: How long have you been a member of NSGP?
Anaïs: For two years. I joined in the summer of 2019. Mary (Barnes) introduced me. I went to the conference and went to a really cool workshop with Sasha (Watkins) about using your identity as a leader. That really spoke to me and I’ve been interested in the organization ever since.

Nadia: When did you join the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee?
Anaïs: After meeting Mary and then Sasha, they started the committee and I guess I’m one of the founding members. I’ve just learned so much from Mary and Sasha.

Nadia: What was your experience moderating the DEI Committee’s Weekly Check-Ins last year?
Anaïs: I didn’t feel like I was enough. I’m not licensed, I’m not actually a professional, so the lack of experience was nerve-racking. I’ve been handwriting journaling since I was seven years old. I literally have data and records from decades of my life. And so I realized this is something I do: I use the written word to express a narrative. Once you put your words out there, it’s very hard to take them back. It helped give me the practice of putting writing out there, even if it isn’t perfect.

The check-ins are about finding ways to connect outside of what we have in common, not making it all about me and my perspective. So I was always conscious of not trying to create a narrative that was not my own.

Nadia: What’s the first concert you ever attended?
Anaïs: When I was young, we went to Saratoga, New York for the jazz festival. We’d set up blankets and stay for the whole weekend. But in terms of my first concert, it would be India Arie.

Nadia: What’s the last book you read?

Anaïs: My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem. I read it in a book club with my family: my grandmother, aunt, mom and I. So it was intergenerational, it was all adult women who identify as Black, and it was a “group,” so I could put on some of my professionally-oriented skills to get members on task. I knew this was a book about ancestral trauma and I figured the best community to read this with was my family, my direct lineage. Also, my grandma learned to Zoom, which is an amazing gift.

Nadia: You’ve shared that you love to travel. What is it about traveling that excites you?
Anaïs: Traveling is such a cool thing for me -- actually interacting with individuals I never would’ve interacted with. Japan and Jamaica are places that when I got there, I thought, “I need more time here.” They’re really interesting places. I love plugging into the vibe and the essence of a place. The context is completely new. The last place I got to go before the pandemic was Paris with two friends. The Metro was on strike and we had to walk everywhere, so we got to literally be a part of that world.

Nadia: If you had a magic wand and could make NSGP whatever you wanted it to be, what would that look like?
Anaïs: I would definitely love for it to just have more variety -- a variety of voices, a variety of experiences. We could be amplifying voices and communities.

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