Retired for two years after 41 years in public library service, I decided to attend RNC IV mostly to show support for an organization that has supported me for many years. After all, I had attended RNC in El Paso and Austin. How could I miss out on a 40th anniversary fiesta for REFORMA, an organization whose early founders were my early mentors and role models in the library profession? This was also an opportunity to connect with new and old Reformistas. Attending RNC IV far exceeded my expectations and I got something out of it I had not anticipated.
After the keynote address, I left the room feeling as if I had been reborn. Well, maybe re-energized is a better word. Elizabeth Martínez’ presentation allowed me to recall my past. Ms. Martínez headed an outreach program called the Way Out Project in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I worked then as clerk in a small library in East Los Angeles (http://colapublib.org/history/eastla/index.html). This project connected people with their local public library and ensured that Spanish-speaking or Latino staff were available to greet them when they returned their bolsilibro (paperback book) from the bookmobile. That was such a radical shift in policy at the time. I was one of those staff members in a small branch library and I recall asking Ms. Martínez what we would do if a patron never returned the paperback. She told me not to worry about it as paperbacks were expendable and the goal was to introduce people to the library and leave the new customers with a welcoming feeling and asense of trust.
This is when I began to feel re-energized and sense another call to action. What is now my role as a retired Chicano librarian? What can I do? How can I make a difference?
My revelation from Elizabeth Martínez’ keynote address is that our work as information professionals is not done; we are still trying to make libraries relevant and we are still trying today to connect people with libraries. As the Latino and Spanish-speaking populations grow by leaps and bounds in the United States, I can see that our work is not done especially in the area of professional recruitment. Ms. Martínez stated that we need to graduate more than 18,000 new Latino information professionals per year to meet the projected need. This was an astounding fact.
The welcome address by educator and psychologist María Guajardo, Ph.D. fully complimented Ms. Martínez’ keynote address as she presented us with tools for action. As Dr. Guajardo talked about Strength of Self, I saw the images that Ms. Martínez flashed before us against the music of “Suavecito” by Malo. This is where I come from. This was my beginning. Dr. Guajardo also talked about Strength of Voice. This is when I began to feel re-energized and sense another call to action. What is now my role as a retired Chicano librarian? What can I do? How can I make a difference? Dr. Guajardo then talked about her last tool, Strength of Vision. She told us to be aware of the CAVE people: Citizens Against Virtually Everything! They are a very small percentage. Here again, I thought of something Elizabeth Martínez had said about her friend, colleague, and mentor Joyce Sumbi who said to look for the crack in the wall when you find walls all around you. Sandra Ríos Balderrama hit the nail right on the head when she read an ode to Ms. Martínez citing themes of paz y luz. Yes, peace is important and we all need to have a bright vision of the future.
This was only the keynote address and the first full day of the conference. I left the room saying to myself, “Yo soy Joaquín. I AM a Chicano librarian. Where do I go from here? How can I still make a difference?” All of us can always do more for REFORMA. Since the conference I have volunteered to chair a committee for my local chapter. Attending RNC IV has allowed me to realize the important role we all play as Reformistas to make a difference and to work within our spheres of influence. I challenge all of you to join me in doing more and I welcome your comments and suggestions. !Qué viva REFORMA!