“I know how isolating it can be when you’re in a new place and can’t speak the language,“ says Sandi. “I am an immigrant and have empathy for that experience. Like many of the patrons that I serve, I’ve had to jump many hurdles.”
A native Ecuadorian, Sandi worked as a teacher before moving to the United States after meeting her husband.
“When I first moved here, I didn’t understand English. I was afraid to ask questions. When you feel like you can’t talk to others to get the information you need, it’s hard to connect. You become isolated.”
Wanting to help the Latina women feel at home in the library, Sandi asked if they wanted to converse in Spanish; when they smiled, she began talking about what brought them to the library. Sandi asked if they wanted to come back to the library and meet as a group while their children read and play and was encouraged by their enthusiastic reaction.
Sandi created a program at Gresham Library called La Placita (“the little plaza”). The group is held in Spanish and is aimed at helping Latina women come together, discuss their interests, learn new skills and build community.
“Having the program in Spanish was critical not only to removing the feeling of isolation, but was also a way to help participants feel part of the community and welcome to use community resources,” she says.
Sandi, whose love of reading was cultivated by her father from an early age, creates lesson plans and selects books in Spanish to help spark discussion. She designed the program to accommodate multiple interests.
“The women are really driving this program! When I meet with them, and we pick the books, we study. It’s not just a book club. The readings are a point to start a discussion, a window to connecting with each other.”
The class is structured so participants can also bring their kids and a section of the room, along with another staff member, is focused on the children’s learning and play.
“For some, La Placita is like dipping their toes into the ocean of the library and then once they get comfortable, they keep coming back, exploring and finding more,” says Sandi.
During one program, they used a Gabriel García Márquez book to discuss what it means to be a beautiful woman; during others, they’ve exchanged recipes and brought in guest teachers to learn about online privacy. After several classes, participants are feeling more at home at the library, and many are now checking out their own books.
After receiving participant requests, Gresham Library is updating the youth and adult Spanish collections, re-organizing materials and adding new signage to improve access.
“It’s the little things we do that can make a big difference. When you give to the community, the community gives back to you.”
In addition to running La Placita and helping library patrons with various information and account needs, Sandi enjoys improving the Spanish collection and utilizing her creativity to create engaging library displays. A lifelong learner, she is also teaching herself to speak Russian!
La Placita is on a temporary break. To see other programming at Gresham Library, please visit multcolib.org/events.