(The following is a post by Nathalie Garcia, Volunteer, Hispanic Reading Room, Latin American, Caribbean, and European Division.)
This summer, I had the pleasure of volunteering in the Hispanic Reading Room through Notre Dame’s Cross Cultural Leadership Program. This internship was a long time coming. I had originally planned to spend summer 2020 interning in-person, but because of the pandemic, the Notre Dame postponed the program and later switched to a virtual experience. While I was disappointed not to be able to spend the summer in DC, this 8-week internship was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had.
My main point of contact during the course of my internship was the wonderful Dani Thurber, whose expertise as a reference librarian, in combination with her passion for educational access, served as a major source of personal empowerment. Even though we could only make contact through computer screens, she created a space in which I was comfortable, raw and honest in sharing my perspectives on our projects, and our work benefited from that openness. I have come to believe deeply in empowerment through information, which is something Dani is very passionate about sharing.
I worked with Dani on two major projects this summer. The first was the “Latinx Luminaries Web Archive” (coming soon!). The goal was to shed light on as many “luminaries” of the Latinx community as possible. I worked on a spreadsheet, documenting the website names, addresses, summaries, meaningfulness/impact, subject tags, and contact emails for those running the sites. I came across a wide range of projects and people working to help Latinos take up space in the most meaningful ways possible. Some were organizations, like the eating disorder advocacy group Nalgona Positivity Pride. Others were individuals with their own personal passion projects, like photographer Camilo Jose Vergara. Others were leaders and organizers who drew entire communities into their missions with them, like youth activist Daphne Frias.
The second project was the Afro-Latinx Bibliography, the Library’s first ever Afro-Latinx research guide. The idea to focus our energy on a guide specifically centering Afro-Latinos came from a comment I made about the lack of representation of Black Latinos in the “In the Heights” film adaptation, which came out around the same time my internship started. Dani granted me the space to discuss further why this was of such particular importance to me. I talked to her about my passion for representation, especially in literature and film, which started when I was a junior in high school and read Julia Alvarez’s “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.” That was the first time I saw Dominicans in American literature. I actually had the honor of meeting Alvarez a year later. Dani indulged me as I spoke about how much impact that experience gave worth and validity to my own story as a Dominican-American. I expressed how doubly important representation is for Black Latinxs, whose identities as both Black and Latino are often invalidated or ignored altogether. Dani met my passion with action, and proposed we take the initiative to construct the Library’s first Afro-Latinx bibliographic resource.
I have never been prouder to partake in any project. At the same time, however, this project also brought up some of the most intense feelings of imposter syndrome I have ever experienced. As a mixed-race Afro-Dominican, I would definitely describe my story with my own race and ethnicity as a journey. There were many moments when I felt I was not the person for the job. I know that having inherited more of my mom’s olive-toned tan than my dad’s light brown tint affected my place in my community, and while I am still perceived as mixed-race, my relative fairness comes with privilege. I have come to appreciate, however, that I had the opportunity to spotlight Afro-Latinidad in a way that had never been done before, and that in itself was a privilege I could not squander. I could not just sit back and wait for someone else to come along to do it eventually. The intersection of Blackness and Latinidad is rich and diverse and beautiful, and it was an honor to give voice to people who look, think, sound, and love like me, like my sisters, like my cousins and aunts and uncles, and all others who occupy the broad range of what it is to exist as Afro-Latinx.
There are still massive gaps in the stories of Afro-Latinidad. For example, I struggled to find works on Black Latinas in sports, even though these women have been dominating in their athletic disciplines for years. But, one cannot highlight what does not exist, so my hope is to continue to see and contribute to increased representation for all Latinos, especially those proudly embracing their Blackness.
My time interning with the Library of Congress was a period of growth that allowed me to pair gratifying work with meaningful reflection. I am immensely proud of the work I did, and am grateful to the Library of Congress for granting me the space to contribute to an area of work about which I care so deeply.