“As an organization, we are continuously learning and evolving to meet the needs expressed to us by our community,” says Manager of Community Engagement Sarah Yale. “Increasingly, we are hearing from the community that more intentional outreach and engagement of the Latinx and Spanish-speaking community is needed.”
To that end, the library has named Nora Sanchez as its first Latinx Language & Culture Librarian.
‘Here is everything a library can offer’
Community members may already know Nora from her early childhood outreach and engagement role. For the past few years, she has worked with educators to select and deliver Spanish and bilingual books to local daycares and preschools, has offered bilingual storytimes, and has translated resources such as Social-Emotional Learning Kits from English to Spanish.
She’s also started programs such as Noche de Lotería (Lotería Night), which meets every month at Oak Park restaurant Tacos ’76; the monthly Latinx Author Book Cafe; and the five-years-running Spanish Conversation Hour.
In September, Nora collaborated with community partners on Oak Park’s first Hispanic Heritage Month Festival, Convivencia, led by Jackie Mota with the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.
Now in October, she is working with community members and library staff to create Día de Muertos ofrendas in the Main Library Idea Box and at Dole Branch, plus bring the Omeyocan Dance Company to perform for Día de Muertos at the Main Library on Sunday, October 30.
“Some people may not know the library is a safe space for them,” Nora says. “Community events outside the library like Convivencia and Noche de Lotería are opportunities to meet people where they are and say, here is everything a library can offer. We celebrate you, and we have resources and services and collections for you, and they’re free.”
‘There’s not just one Latino culture’
Nora has big goals for her new role, she says—”with a huge understanding that the best way to do this work is to learn from those who have come before me and done this work, bring others into this work, and invite community members to feel celebrated or having learned something cool.”
Among her many objectives she’s set for herself: Acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of Latinx and Spanish-speaking communities and bilingual programming.
“I want people to share in the many different cultures, because there’s not just one Latino culture,” she says. “It’s important to make sure the work I do is representative, knowing I can’t do it all myself. I have the responsibility to bring in other people who all have a different lens than I do.”
Other objectives include working with with an anti-racism or anti-oppression lens, which means combating colorism within the community, lifting up Afro-Latino voices, and providing opportunities where children hear their language spoken and their lives validated through engaging programming that reflect their cultural experiences.
“My cultural experience impacts my lens, hence it is important to include many other voices to share their experiences,” Nora says.