Ser and Estar

A few weeks ago, when we spent the night at a mission on Skid Row, I noticed that the packet for the group leader said something like, Thank you for taking time to better understand the lives of those who are experiencing homelessness.

It struck me instantly for one main reason.  Usually, we say those who are homeless.  Or we call someone a homeless person.  But they very intentionally crafted a sentence that did not sound like those phrases at all.

In Spanish, there are two forms of the verb to be (Need a grammar refresher?  To be verb:  I am, you are, he/she is, ya’ll are, they are.)  So yes, two forms of to be:  ser and estar.  Broadly speaking, ser is for permanent states of being.  Soy alta.  I am tall. Soy de california. I am Californian.  Estar is for temporary states of being. Estoy perdida.  I am lost. (Although this feels a bit permanent for me at times.)  Estoy en casa.  I am at home.  Tengo hambre.  I am hungry.

Ok, so technically you don’t use estar for hunger and thirst.  But the point is, you don’t use ser either.

When it comes to poverty, we need to think in terms of estar.  Those who are experiencing homelessness; not those who are homeless.  The former is a way to say estar.  And estar is a way to say that things can and will change in the lives of those who are currently in material poverty.

We need to break away from our habitual language that implies that poor people will always ser poor.

One thought on “Ser and Estar

  1. Mer, I love this- como usaste y explicaste la diferencia entre ser y estar! Bien escrito! One of my friends who works with the homeless population in Santa Barbara has shied away altogether from defining people as “a homeless person” but instead he says my “friend without a home.” It uses person-first language and hopefully implies first and foremost you care about this person and then secondly, you describe their current (tambien temporary) state of being.

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