My desk is a mess. There are printouts of articles, research for my RGV LGBTQIA+ timeline – and all of them written by Gabriel Sanchez, someone I am hoping to meet in the future. My bullet journal is open to today’s spread, indicated what needs working on and what can possibly wait. A legal pad with pencil-written notes on the Minnie Gilbert collection vies for my attention. Raphael Bob-Waksberg short story collection, Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory waits for me to pick it up.
But my mind is distracted. Not with the subject of queer botany a friend shared with me this morning. (Though, I will admit I did fall into that rabbit hole for a while.) Not with the ruckus caused by the visiting elementary or middle school students in the library lobby.
I’m distracted because one year ago I ventured into a new job. It wasn’t easy starting in a place of uncertainty, not knowing if I could handle it or learn new tricks. Or work in my old ones.
In the year, I have assisted in founding a bring-your-own-book-club for the university community, update our holdings for digital content, research local LGBTQIA+ history, pushed for inclusion of poetry, and learn quite a bit of local history in the process.
It’s been a long journey from storytime wizard to managing our digital content. It’s a journey worth its while, and I’m glad I took the opportunity.
Chrome made a mistake. It gave me the ability to mask just how many browser tabs I have open. These color-coded tab groups have chameleoned my digital-self into a well put together person. Someone who knows what he is looking for.
At the moment, I have five browser tab groups on my work computer. They are dedicated to the “core” items I use every day to assist out visitors, the “inventory” I manage, LGBTQIA+ resources for students who may need assistance, my audio websites for entertainment purposes, and my current body of research – the queer history of the Rio Grande Valley.
In an impromptu meeting, we discussed future exhibit plans. For June, we will be celebrating Pride within our lobby gallery. And while I can’t take credit for this idea, growing an RGV LGBTQIA+ collection has been my pet project for a while now and I want to think that I inspired this move.
I tasked myself with creating a timeline poster depicting a concise history of the movement in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Building off the research I made last year while working a hybrid schedule, I am piecing together a tapestry of important dates. From the establishment of the Valley AIDS Council, the first Coming Out Day celebration, the continuing growth of the RGV Pride celebrations, and everything in between.
A few names came appearing in the articles I printed out from Neta RGV and I hope to communicate with them in the future. My shared goal is to create an oral history collection in order to document the history through those who lived it.
One display case will remain empty as a way to symbolize how much work there is ahead for the archive and library community. The idea isn’t about getting it right the first time. It’s about getting it out there and learning on the way.
I grew up with the public library just walking distance from my home. I remember my first library card, and the man who gave it to me. I’d checked out the same two books on constant rotation – dilapidated copies of King Kong and Godzilla books. Memories come rushing back, flooding my mind with the scent of the card catalog, the crack in my voice when I asked for assistance, and the moments spent looking out the window to the small atrium – if you could call it an atrium – within the children’s department. Part of me wanted to live in a library – and, in some sense, I do – or at least work within one.
When the Edinburg Public Library closed its doors, the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library opened. The library was named after a boy I knew in high school who was killed in the Iraq conflict three years prior.
The switch between libraries happened in my final year of college – I went to one library in the winter of 2006 and the other in the spring of 2007. I remember the confusion from the change, and wondered if the library card I held would still be valid. (It was.)
My days of unemployment, working odd gigs and contractual jobs, were spent hanging out at the library during poetry readings, performing my works, and borrowing books. When Jeanna got pregnant with Shaun, I knew that my days of just getting by were over.
In November 2011, I attended a job fair hosted at the library. One of the booths was for the City of Edinburg, and one of the positions was for the library. Because he was present, I asked the assistant library director – whom I met during my stint as a local poet – about the position. Of course, the job required an MLS degree, however, he did let me in on some information. One of their children’s staff members was retiring and a position would soon be open. Adding, that I should keep up with the city’s website and talk with the library director.
I’m thinking of quitting my job. And that scares me.
It scares me, because I have nothing planned out for the aftermath. There isn’t a plan b. For the last decade, my world has revolved around the library. It has become my identity.
I was Guillermo, the library aide. Guillermo, the library assistant. Guillermo, the cataloger. Guillermo, the second in command of the children’s department. Guillermo, the interim children’s supervisor. Guillermo, the senior library assistant.
Guillermo, the library/cultural arts assistant II.
If you haven’t already guessed, I work for a public library. I’ve been doing so for nearly a decade now – just one year shy this December. It had been a childhood dream – one of the many dreams, actually – to work in a library. Even in my adolescence, I often daydreamed about working there among the books.
Maybe it’s the pandemic that has me riled up. Maybe it’s that the state is opening things way too quickly. Maybe it’s the spike in cases. Maybe it’s because I’m on a time frame. The sooner we reopen [redacted], the moment my time with my son ceases. There’s a lot to unpack here.
Last month, I posted several poems about identity. Namely, Latinx/Chican@/Hispanic (whatever you want to label them) poets talking about how they’re not seen as enough. And I relate to these poems because I’ve been there, still standing there, for the better part of my life.
I guess I’m considered “white passing” because I’m three shades too pale to match the stereotype. When I speak, I don’t carry that accent. Because I’m so Americanized that even my white friend in high school was in shock when he learned my real name.
I don’t speak Spanish. It doesn’t come naturally to me. But that never meant I can’t speak Spanish. It’s a skill for survival when your grandparents only spoke one language. When your favorite food comes from Mexican restaurants. When the majority of the population around you speaks Spanish. When you have Spanish-speaking patrons who need assistance.
I may not have enough to carry a full conversation with someone, but enough to have polite conversations and point them in the correct direction.
But now, after nearly nine years working at [redacted], the ability to do my job correctly has been called into question. And once again, I’m standing here trying to prove myself to my peers. Because they didn’t understand me in the first place.
When my city put out a shelter-in-place order, a few of us were relocated to a call center. When asked if I was comfortable with answering questions in Spanish, my response was, “No.” To which I added, “Because I’m not even sure I’m comfortable with answering these questions in English. I don’t understand the order.”
There wasn’t a lot to the order, but certain things contradicted previous or later things. For instance, people were told not to go out for nonessential reasons, but can still have a party at a relative’s home so long as there is no more than 10 people and they practice social distancing. Several business were exempt, but still had to submit plans. When asked for clarification, we got contradicting answers from several different officials. They didn’t even give us a script to follow, which is something call centers are known for in order to prevent misleading and vague responses.
I’m not being singled out in anyway. Other staff with issues have to improve their skills. What gets me is that I’ve been on this job for nine years and not once have I been unable to assist a patron. And when I can’t assist them, it’s for reasons that I wouldn’t be able to assist them in English.
Yesterday, I sat in front of my supervisor and a witness and spoke to them in Spanish. My tone was angry and annoyed. And I could see the change in the demeanor of my usually perky supervisor. And I saw the expression of uncertainty in the witness. Neither of them knew I could speak Spanish. Not proficiently, but enough to assist people. Enough to do my job.
Truth is, I’m not annoyed with any of the two. They’re pawns. Doing what they’re told. I’ve worked at [redacted] longer than the two of them combined. And my speech wasn’t for them, but for the two that put them up to this. So I amended it when necessary and left things out.
Especially my final words: “Si creen que no puedo hacer mi trajabo, me voy. Esto es mi dos-semanas.”
Mind the missing accents (if any), I can speak it but writing it still befuddles me. And as my supervisor (whose first language is Spanish) stated, it confuses her too.