How a bilingual librarian meets multicultural needs for her Hartford neighborhood
This summer the Hartford Public Library Park Street branch will have events supporting the Hispanic community. It's part of a years-long effort to engage with the bilingual Frog Hollow neighborhood.
Graciela Rivera, the Park branch manager, is someone with whom anyone in her community can identify. For new immigrants, Rivera is an important connection because she uses her bilingual skills to help people find books and resources.
Rivera's mother left Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and moved to New York to look for a better future.
"I was born in the Bronx,” Rivera said. “It was really hard for my mother to be on her own. No family here in America, just trying to find a better life, like everybody else who comes to this country."
While her mother was working in the United States, Rivera was sent to her abuelita (or grandmother) in the Dominican Republic. When she was 12 years old, she moved to Hartford’s Frog Hollow community and has lived in that area ever since.
"We moved around a lot,” Rivera said. “Literature and books were like a safe haven for me. It was my way of having some consistency in my life, through the books I read, finding characters I could relate to."
Rivera said books taught her to explore different cultures and build connections with other communities, which she uses today to connect with the people in the Frog Hollow neighborhood.
"I have a huge interest in connecting with not just the Puerto Rican community, but also Latinos from Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Dominican Republic, everything,” Rivera said. “It's such a wonderful thing. The more you talk and interact with people, the more you learn about their culture."
This summer, the Park branch has a host of bilingual programming for children, families and adults. From making jewelry, digital literacy workshops in Spanish, financial literacy workshops and more.
“We are really excited about our summer learning program, as we will have a special NASA exhibit at all of the library branches,” Rivera said.
For Rivera it’s important for Hispanics to keep their cultural identity, including the Spanish language. It’s a value she learned from her grandma.
"She was a huge influence as a kid, living in the Dominican Republic,” Rivera said. “Although my mom was also around, and we would speak predominantly Spanish at home and English in school. We had a very special bond with my abuelita, and I consider her my mother in many ways."
Rivera is now married and has two children. She said her role as a mother and wife inspires her to serve the Hispanic community in Park Street. But she wants to see more change in the community.
"We need to focus more on our youth,” Rivera said. “I'm worried about them having good role models in our city and our state and finding avenues to bring them more resources and support."
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, interest in reading among U.S. children between nine and 13 years old has been declining. Rivera sees helping immigrants learn English as a way to achieve their goals.
"The American dream is for everybody. Everybody can be a part of that and reach that dream,” Rivera said. “Just stay focused and never lose hope. And you'll get there."