Making a difference one Día at a time
by Sarah Binns, MCL volunteer
On Saturday, April 20, Midland Library will host its annual Día de los Niños y Día de los Libros (Children’s Day and Book Day) with books, food, performances, and crafts for the young and young at heart. Día de los Niños, traditionally held on April 30 in many Latin American countries, was introduced broadly to the US in the late 90s by author and bilingual literacy advocate Pat Mora. Libraries across the country adopted the program after it was sponsored by the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC). This year, Midland Library’s event has been organized almost solely by two passionate volunteer patrons with personal experience of the tradition: Claudia Ramirez-Cisneros and Francisca Ixtepán. Both Claudia and Francisca grew up in Mexico celebrating Día: “It was something special, our parents gave us presents,” says Francisca. But life has not always been full of gifts for either woman, both of whom now live with their families in Portland.
“My mom and brother came here first,” Claudia explains. “I was only eleven when they left. We didn’t have phones, so my mom sent letters saying how much she missed me.” Claudia volunteered teaching youth at her church “to help me get through the loneliness” without her family. This ignited a lifelong interest in helping others, which Claudia carried with her when she joined her family in Portland at age fifteen.
Francisca moved to Portland as an adult and found the transition to a new country and culture challenging. “Sometimes, when people didn’t understand me, I’d give up,” she says. “Many women in our community step back because they are afraid. It is necessary as immigrants to learn to speak English in this country and to advocate for our kids at school or speak to people at the store, when we aren’t able to find people who could help us.” Francisca found help from the welcoming bilingual library staff during a class conducted as part of the library’s community outreach. Inspired by her boss, who she considers a great friend, and by the need to help her child who was being bullied at school, Francisca decided to go back to school, learn English and pursue a career.
Francisca and Claudia met in classes at Mt. Hood Community College and have since become very active volunteers at the library and in the Latinx community in Portland. Ana Ruiz Morillo, MCL’s Spanish Outreach Coordinator, shared, “For the past five years, Francisca has been volunteering at the MCL Día celebrations. Last year she invited Claudia to join her and later on both took on the challenge to plan and conduct the 2018 Latino Author event with children’s author René Colato Laínez at the Midland Library. These dedicated volunteers put so many hours to plan, promote, and conduct this event, that at the end, all they wanted to do was express their appreciation for all the mentorship they received from library staff.”
Again this year Claudia and Francisca have devoted months of planning to Midland Library’s 2019 Día, which will be a multifaceted, bilingual celebration of Latinx culture: There will be decorations inspired by the Academy Award-winning, Day of the Dead-themed film Coco and dance performances, including “la danza de los viejitos,” or “dance of the old gentlemen,” traditionally from the Mexican state of Michoacán. And, thanks to the support from The Library Foundation, every child in attendance will receive a free book.
Claudia and Francisca’s planning awes the library staff, with their ability to rally the community and create such a vibrant cultural exchange. “We are learning from the leadership of Claudia and Francisca,” says Ruiz Morillo. “We are becoming better at what we do because of their contributions." We hope to see you on April 20 at Midland Library. Whether you bring your children or your inner child, it’s sure to be a wonderful time, thanks to Claudia and Francisca.