Thursday, July 31, 2008

Last Day as a Fellow =(

Really? Is this reality? This is my last day here as a Diversity Fellow? Time has passed so quickly, and Ashley and I have accomplished so much. But it's as if we did all of that to lay the foundation for this program, and right before we can actually get into the groove of things...and build the house (metaphorically), we have to say farewell! Of course it is sad, sad to(technically) leave a job that I enjoy, but I am so happy and proud of what I have learned and accomplished.

There definitely were ups and downs throughout the course of our fellowship, and I think it is normal when going through something that is completely new. It was new for Ashley and I, new for the full-timers who have been here for years, new for the administration, and for part-timers. Man, it was just new for everyone. But it was like a relationship - you learn about the other person day by day and your differences, but in the end you learn how to interact and make it work. We had to learn that there are cultural differences within the library staff - diverse personalities, different environments, diverse upbringing, different intellects, moods, sarcasm, positions.....the list goes on..... So we quickly realized diversity goes wayyyyyy beyond the labels of ethnicity, race and gender.

Ashley and I definitely had to be "go with the flow" during our fellowship while our supervisor, Kristi, and others from the Diversity Council worked out kinks and helped solidify our positions as fellows. This experience was trial and error, and anytime we made a mistake (which was like never! Ok, just kidding...we had some misunderstandings..) we learned from them. You know? Just like with everything else in this world. Like Aaliyah, rest in peace, said "Dust yourself off and try again!"

I realized Ashley and I became very passionate about certain projects. Ashley became passionate about the oral history she was conducting with Dr. Biegel. Unfortunately, Dr. Biegel passed away this spring semester, and Ashley was heart broken because she connected with Biegel. She told me that Biegel was such an interesting person and full of wisdom. But I think Ashley appreciated the opportunity to connect and create a relationship with Biegel, during a very critical time. I know Ashley learned from that experience how important it is to connect with one another. It is important to reach out and create relationships with one another.

I became passionate about the READ poster project. I think it was a fabulous idea to help create a more friendly environment....and an environment that shows our diversity but also shows our patrons and employees who WE an institution. As librarians. As people. Now, our library can be more putting our pictures on these READ posters people will look at us, our names and positions. I am very confident that by showing our faces, it makes us more approachable. The patrons will feel like they know us. But this project has a deeper significance. I wanted to tear down the invisible wall of discrimination between part-timers, full-timers, and student workers. This is a project that brings all of us together, to participate in some fun. This project shows that we are all important.

Ashley and I became very, very, very passionate about La Lagunilla and building a library collection for the community. We spent so much time, on and off the clock, working on gathering books, working out ideas, fund raising, and the list goes on. After going to Cuernavaca, Mexico, and meeting and creating relationships with the women and children, we have more than a passion. We are a part of their community and they are a part of our lives. We will always carry them in our hearts and memories. Ashley and I have discussed the idea of starting a nonprofit so we can continue to stay connected to the colony and develop their library. We have also been discussing annual visits to the colony. It is definite that we want to remain connected to this community.

I have learned so much, about myself and about being passionate about things other than myself, by hearing the history of La Lagunilla and spending time with the women and children. Yes, I taught English to the women for four weeks, but boy did they teach me too.
They corrected me on certain Spanish words. They taught me how to be a leader. They taught me about unity. They taught me about family, humor in a Mexican culture, and how just relate and connect. All I had to do was be me and be open. I cannot explain all that I learned. To understand you will have to either A)Go to Lagunilla yourself B)Be a servant unto another! Help someone out...and you will know what I am trying to explain. The picture you see is a photo of me, Karen Whitney (IUPUI Dean of Students), and the women we taught! Not all are in this photo...the class size fluctuated everyday, but the women in this pic are the ones who were there almost everyday. :)

This fellowship was a blessing. I have experienced so much in less than one year. This position was awesome because: 1)I had meaningful projects 2)Projects I was passionate about 3)Learning experiences 3)Experience in a professional setting 4)There were opportunities to share my opinions and my voice was heard....and I was given opportunities to carry out my ideas 5)We had an awesome supervisor - Kristi Palmer. Many kudos to her. 6)Meeting awesome people within the library and receiving their support and help. Gracias a todos! (Thanks to all).

Con amor y paz,

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Value of Familia (Family)

I began observing Mexican culture many years ago when I became very close to my friend Carla*, who is from Mexico City. I realized that their mother works her hardest just to have a refrigerator full of fresh food, clothes for Carla and Cristina* to wear, a safe home, etc. Their mother, Maria*, is a house cleaner and she probably cleans 10 to 15 houses a week, no joke. But Maria wasn’t a house cleaner in Mexico. She was an important assistant for the president of Mexico. For personal reasons, Maria and her two daughters moved to the U.S. and Maria’s credentials were seen as insignificant. That is how she became a house cleaner. But Maria does a fantastic job in the homes of her clients and she is very friendly with them, although her English is very poor. Somehow Maria and her clients communicate, and when Maria is lucky one of her daughters translates for her. Maria works hard and spoils her daughters – she gives them what they need and want (which is why they are spoiled). But I noticed that she spoils them because she has no one else in her life that means so much to her. If you look at their situation, they are foreigners in the U.S. with no family. The three of them only have each other, so of course Maria lives and breathes to take care of Carla and Cristina. The three of them do everything together – they go to cafes, restaurants, get-togethers, dinners, movies, shopping, etc. Anything you can think of, they do together. Carla and Cristina also help their mother clean homes when they are not at work or at school. I saw that the value of family is most important to them, especially in a foreign country.

I haven’t been babbling about family for nothing. My whole reason behind this in-depth reflection about family is because I see the family ties at La Lagunilla. I teach the women at the center, so I get to see the women walk into the center and take their child(ren) to the appropriate class, and then they meet me for class. When classes are finished, the children run over to our class area and hug their mothers and show them what they did that day. It is so cute! I also notice a family bond between the mothers. The women in my class are friends, but they treat one another like sisters sometimes. They joke around, gossip and help each other. If Agustina doesn’t know how to pronounce a word Eve will help her. This always makes me feel joy inside, because Agustina is an abuela (grandmother) and Eve is of an age to where she can be mistaken as a daughter of Agustina. I’m not sure if they are related by blood, but I don’t think it matters. These women interact with one another as if they are a family. And in a sense they are. This center is a community. These children and women that come each week are a community, a family.

*Names are changed for privacy

Con paz y amor,

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Reflexiónes de Mexico (Reflections from Mexico)

Hola! I have returned from Mexico, and I apologize for not blogging sooner. But as Ash said, we had a pretty tight schedule with many responsibilities. I'm going to follow Ashley's lead and share my reflections as well. The following is the reflection from the first week in Cuernavaca. Disfruten. (Enjoy)

I must admit, though, being here in Cuernavaca has had an effect on me. I have been observing my host family. My observations have led me to reflect on myself and my family and how we operate.

I have watched Mami Elena wake up early and prepare breakfast for her grandchildren, Carla and Rodrigo, my “sisters” and me. When I return from school the house is clean, my bed is remade (even though I make it in the morning), and food is cooking on the stove. Then she serves us la comida and watches us eat, making sure we are satisfied and full until we nearly explode. Then she cleans the kitchen along with her daughters, Norma and Gabriella. All the while, my “nephew” Rodrigo stands by the table talking and joking with us. Mami Elena makes sure we are okay before she leaves to go to her room. Mami Elena takes care of us, her two daughters and her grandchildren. Her daughter Gabriella and her two children, Carla and Rodrigo, live with Mami Elena and Norma is also living here temporarily. Mami Elena reminds me so much of my mother. I remember my mom would always have the house cleaned and food ready. And my mother’s pantry is never empty, and she is always ready to fatten you up. My mother gives and gives, and takes care of the family. Every time I visit she cooks a meal and when I leave I have a bag of various goodies that she packed. We (my brother, sisters, and I) can always go to my mother and be taken care of. Mami Elena and my mother are citadels. They are the glue in the family. These two women keep their family together. They are the super glue. Being here watching Mami Elena makes me appreciate and remember my mother. And I hope to one day be the super glue for my family.

I told my roommate, Ashley, the other day that I am having a “walk a mile in my shoes” type of experience. I have so many friends in Indianapolis from other countries who are at IUPUI to study, and some of them live with their families, some live on their own, and others live with host families. Some of my international friends did not know how to speak English when they first arrived to the U.S. One friend who specifically comes to my mind is Kristiane. She is from Brazil and lived with a host family for four years and started to learn English when she came to the U.S. Even now, when we talk, she may not know a certain word and I will have to tell her and teach her how to pronounce it. This is how I am feeling down here. I already know how to speak broken Spanish, but actually being here in Mexico causes me to speak Spanish all the time, just like my friend has to speak English all the time in the U.S. But I have similar moments where I don’t know a word in Spanish and I have to ask a Spanish-speaker for help. It is a very humbling, exciting and a mind-opening experience. Being in Cuernavaca makes me feel so much like Kristiane – I am in a foreign country, living with a host family, studying at a school and learning an (almost) foreign language.

Spanish isn’t really foreign to me at all, because I am Puerto Rican and my parents speak Spanish. They didn’t teach my siblings or me how to speak the language, however, and that is a long story in which I won’t attempt to explain. I heard Spanish all through my childhood and I decided to learn it in high school. Ever since high school I have had Latino friends and have spoken Spanglish. The language and Latino/Hispanic culture are not foreign to me at all, and I think that is why I feel so at peace here. I truly feel at home, as if I have lived here for years or was possibly born here. The culture here mirrors the culture of my family and my family in New York, Florida and Puerto Rico. The food (which is slightly different than Puerto Rican dishes), music, lifestyle, smells, and the colors remind me all too well of my Puerto Rican heritage. It doesn’t matter if I am in Mexico, I have begun to believe that we are the same. Yes, we have distinctions such as different dialects, facial features and unique foods, but there is some type of cord that threads us together. I even feel Mexican, which would have been odd to me a few years back.

I would have laughed and denied myself a few years ago if someone told me that I was going to fall in love with Mexico. This is because there is this age-old “beef” or joke between Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. For some reason my family and my other Puerto Rican friends have made fun of Mexicans since I can remember, but I never really knew why. Also, we all would get very upset when someone would assume we were Mexicans. We would scrunch our faces up, throw our hands in the air and say things like, “What the hell are you thinking?” or “Hell no!” as if it is a disease to be Mexican. But once I befriended Carla*, who I have known from church since I was probably 10, my perceptions began to change. If someone accidentally assumed I was Mexican (which is quite often) I would not be as offended. I would politely tell them about my background and tell them that there are all types of Latinos in the United States. Carla introduced me to sopa de fidello, Paulina Rubio and Luis Miguel, and how to get down at Latino fiestas. She also taught me how to be lazy - that is what I used to call it, but now that I am in Mexico I see that everyone here just seems to take their time. Also, Carla would always talk about Mexico (and I am sure she still does). She would say, “Man, in Mexico the food is so much fresher than the food here” or “Well, in Mexico there are so many places one can go – you can never get bored.” She constantly compared Mexico to the U.S., and, frankly, it was very annoying. But dear Lord, I now know what she was saying. I find myself comparing Cuernavaca to Indianapolis almost everyday. I don’t want to leave this place!

*Name has been changed for privacy

Sinceramente (Sincerely),
Trina Otero

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More from Mexico

Here is part of one of my weekly reflections, ENJOY!

Con amor,


The La Lagunilla library project has been near and dear to my heart for the better part of a year now, and I still believe that the project is important to the people of La Lagunilla and to my own professional development. But, this week I truly had to question why I have never dedicated myself so completely to a service project as much as I have dedicated myself to this project. Though this is a complicated question that I am sure I will have to reflect upon more, the answer I came up with this week is this: sometimes when it comes to my own community and culture I am disinterested and complacent.

Since I have been in Cuernavaca I have complained about not having enough time to see the sites, or truly immerse myself in the culture. But this week I truly thought about that. How much of my own hometown have I really seen? I am guilty of calling Indiana a boring place to live, but how many times have I really focused my energy on experiencing interesting things that Indianapolis has to offer? Perhaps one of the reasons I have a problem adjusting to the Mexican culture is because I do not really appreciate culture as much as I thought that I did.

As I prepare to return to Indianapolis and IUPUI I have been thinking a lot about how the experience here can influence my personal and educational life. I came here expecting to learn a lot about ways to serve the growing Latino population in Indianapolis, and I have learned a lot. But, unexpectedly, I have also realized that it is really important for me to appreciate my own culture and share this culture with others.

When I return to Indianapolis I hope that I can approach my daily activities with as much desire and passion that I have approached this program with. I hope that educating teens in Indianapolis will be as important to me as educating the kids at La Lagunilla has been to me while I have been here. Though I have been frustrated with my inabilities in certain areas since I have been in Cuernavaca, once the dust from the frustration settled I always wanted to push myself to do better and learn as much as I could.

I hope that this drive will follow me to Indianapolis, and though I think I will be happy being back in a place where I know the customs and the language a lot better, I never want to be complacent about what I have to offer to or what I have to learn from my own environment again.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Hola from Mexico,

It has been a long time since I have blogged!!! Trina and I are in Mexico as week speak and our schedule is jammed packed with stuff to do. But, we are having a great time. I don't have a lot of time but I wanted to blog. As part of our participation in the "To Mexico with Love Program" we are required to write reflections each week that we are here. Since we don't have much downtime I am going to post part of my first reflection for you all to read. I hope you enjoy hearing about our experiences...

Con Amor,


Reflection 1

The one experience that stood out to me the most in the first week here was when we went to visit the service sites for the first time. I remembered that in our pre-departure meetings we talked a lot about some of the poverty that we might see here in Mexico. I expected that I would see many people that I would consider less fortunate than I am. Though I grew up in the inner city, and I knew many people that most would consider poor, before I came to Mexico I thought that the kind of poverty I would see in Mexico would be vast and depressing.

Though I knew that the area around Ideal was going to be pretty nice, I was sure that when I went to visit La Lagunilla I would see some of the poverty we talked about in our meetings. But, I was completely surprised at what I saw when we first visited La Lagunilla. Though I expected the people of Mexico to be a lot different from my family and I, when I went to La Lagunilla I was surprised to see how similar the women there were to the women in my family.

The women of La Lagunilla embodied something my mother used to say to me when I was a little girl. Whenever I was upset because I could not get some toy or name brand shoe that my friends had I would say to my mother, “I hate being poor!” My mother would just turn toward me and say, “You will never know what poor is because you have someone people who love you so much.” At the time I did not understand what she was saying, but as I grew up I began to understand how love is a force that can overcome any physical limitations. From the brightly painted walls, to the welcoming smiles of the women, La Lagunilla is a place filled with warmth and love.

When I looked at the women of La Lagunilla for the first time I realized how much the strength of the human spirit is something that transcends culture, race, and economic status. When I listened to the elder of the group tell the history of the colony of La Lagunilla the feeling I felt was not amazement, but pride. She told us how the women had to rally against the government in order to protect their neighborhood and their culture. She also told us how the women came together to build the community center so that they could have a place where they could help one another with, childrearing and professional skills.

Like at La Lagunilla, in my family it is the women who run the show. The women in my family have always shared childrearing responsibilities, and helped each other advance in their careers. I think I felt pride when I heard the story of La Lagunilla because, quite unexpectedly, I felt a connection with these women. Before going to La Lagunilla I saw myself as helping a group of less fortunate people gain access to information and skills that I had. After the first visit to La Lagunilla, I began to see myself as part of their community and see this service opportunity as a chance to exchange ideas and join a cross-cultural community of women.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Did you miss me?

I hope that no one remembers what I said in my first blog of this year. For those of you all who haven’t read that far back, let me just say that I broke my resolution. Though I am not proud of my lack of blogging in the past month I do have to say that I am really excited about the things that Trina and I are accomplishing through the fellowship. We are finishing our final push for the Mexico trip and we are also working on several projects independently.

I am sorry though, that in this time of happiness and excitement, I have to report some sad news. As many of you may have read, I am working on an oral history project for the Special Collections and Archives at the library. I did not get an opportunity to write about Dr. Angenieta Biegel, the wonderful woman I chose for the project.

Dr. Biegel was Professor Emerita at the IUMC and was a member of the IUPUI family. She was one of the first women to receive many great medical distinctions and honors through the university. Sadly Dr. Biegel passed away April 11, 2008. I only had the opportunity to meet with her three times, but my life was truly enriched with her presence. She was kind, extremely hospitable, and feisty. She also had a wealth of information and knowledge and I only wished I had the opportunity to get to know her better.

Though I did not get to finish the oral history of Dr. Angenieta Biegel, I did tape record one session with her. In her honor, once the editing and transcription are completed, that interview will be housed in the Special Collections and Archives at IUPUI.

If I have not learned anything else in my time as a diversity fellow, I have learned this, people are precious gifts. I think that what the fellowship does (through helping us understand and embrace diversity) is to try to help the fellows and those around us remember that we are not just in this profession to serve demographics, or statistics, but the library is a place that serves people. We should never take the opportunity to engage in conversation with or assist someone for granted.

Carrying on as always,


Friday, March 21, 2008

Diversity Seminar at the School of Journalism

It's me again....I briefly attended the Mary I. Benedict Critical Issues Seminar at the School of Journalism today. I just found out this is an annual gig the school does for high school students involved in journalism, photography and the yearbook. The guest speaker was Mercedes Lynn De Uriarte, University of Texas at Austin's associate professor of the school of journalism. Today the seminar was about diversity! And boy, it was a juicy seminar because Ms. De Uriarte, and the other facilitators, mentioned that diversity goes beyond skin color, origin of birth and language. The seminar had a strong focus on intellectual diversity and how these high school students could break out of the monotonous mold of journalistic writing. IUPUI journalism faculty and Ms. De Uriarte encouraged the students to reflect on their school newspaper and pin-point what was lacking....and where was the diversity? Did the paper reflect their school? Are these students digging deep enough to capture diverse stories for the paper? Are these students stepping out of their comfort zones in order to interview a diverse person or seek a diverse issue?

This seminar was a great eye-opener for me. Diversity has become an important idea. A goal. An issue. A fear. A gem. A realization.

The facilitators wanted the students to critical think, and as a visitor at the event, I too began to think. This whole event reminds me of the many conversations I have with Ash about diversity, and how there is a stereotype ABOUT diversity - that it is just about race, ethnicity and religion. Race, ethnicity and religion are some of the many facets OF diversity....or maybe even a sub-sub-category. Let's think about it.

On another note, this seminar got my noodle in motion (my brain guys!). Do our library collections reflect the university as a whole? Do we have a diverse collection? I can say that while working on the most recent display case I had some trouble finding information on some Black poets when I searched the UL collections. So why does our library lack here? How can this be improved?

Also, does our library environment welcome all diversity? Do the library tools such as the computers, chairs, rooms, phones, printers, books, etc. (anything you can think of) target and satisfy our diverse patrons and users? Let's think about it.

Does our library organize diverse events? Does our library organize events for diverse groups or reasons? Let's think about it.

Just some food for thought,