April is “Diversity in Reading” month at La Casita Cultural Center in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences. All month, the center is presenting various events and activities, beginning with two book-launch parties, designed to raise awareness of and support for its bilingual library.
On Tuesday, April 5, La Casita will celebrate the publication of What I Love About Me, featuring the writing and photography of children enrolled in its Dual-Language Reading Circles program. The event, which begins at 5:30 p.m. at La Casita (109 Otisco St., Syracuse), features author readings, followed by a reception.
On Saturday, April 9, La Casita will present a multilingual open-mic night, marking the publication of another book, MUSA, at 8 p.m. in Panasci Lounge of the Schine Student Center.
Both events are free and open to the public. For more information contact Margot Clark G'94, G'88, G'82, G'80, La Casita’s librarian, at 315-443-2151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“’Diversity in Reading’ seeks to draw attention to our bilingual library, which serves thousands of people throughout Central New York,” says Tere Paniagua ’82, executive director of A&S’ Office of Cultural Engagement for the Hispanic Community. “The library is a resource for not only La Casita’s various bilingual programs, but also multiple communities that interact with us on a daily basis, including local residents and University faculty and students.”
Since opening more than three years ago, the bilingual library has amassed nearly a thousand Spanish-language books for children and adults. Paniagua says the library, in its current configuration, has capacity for 2,000 more print books. “There’s plenty of room to grow,” she says, adding that the library is currently cataloging all its materials, while developing a searchable online catalog.
The bilingual library also houses the Cultural Memory Archive, a repository of audio-visual materials; print documents; and oral history projects, including “Latinos and Baseball: In the Barrios and the Big Leagues,” which La Casita is doing in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Latino Center.
“The bilingual library serves Hispanic communities on and off campus,” Paniagua adds. “Documenting our cultural history, through the literary arts, scholarship, and publications, underscores much of what we do.”
Case in point: What I Love About Me showcases the breadth and depth of Dual-Language Reading Circles, an after-school program for students ages 4-11, offered in conjunction with the Spanish Action League.
The limited-edition book is the program’s first publication, and is supported, in part, by the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County.
“The Dual-Language Reading Circles program helps students to read, write, and speak in Spanish and English, while giving them an opportunity to flex their creative muscles,” Paniagua says. “It also provides University students with all-important mentoring and bilingual teaching experience.”
La Casita’s other book, MUSA, features multilingual poems and stories by University students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The book, as well as the corresponding open-mic night, is a co-production of La Casita; Syracuse’s Student and Residence Hall associations; and the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics in A&S.
“This is a terrific way to build community, while promoting diversity in language and culture,” says Paniagua, calling the open-mic night a “first” for La Casita. “We want everyone—poets, spoken-word artists, sing-songwriters, actors, comedians, DJs—to participate, regardless of language and expertise.”
Like the library it supports, “Diversity in Reading” is designed mostly by and for students—in this case, Adriana Jiménez Bermúdez ’17, Marinique Mora ’17, Nedda Bibliophagist Sarshar ’17, Sandra Velaochaga ’16, and Weiyi Wang G’16. All of them, under the guidance of Paniagua and Clark (who also is a librarian at Manlius Pebble Hill School), have organized the two events, as well as edited and designed the books for print and digital formats.
Paniagua says the bilingual library benefits from student expertise in other ways. She alludes to members of the Society of Multicultural Architects and Designers in the School of Architecture, who designed and built the library’s shelves in 2013, and to master’s students in the Library and Information Science program in the School of Information Studies (iSchool), who helped organize some of the library’s initial collections.
Nurganym Agzamova G’16, a subject librarian at the Centre for Preparatory Studies at Nazarbayev University (Kazakhstan), took advantage of the bilingual library while serving as a Fulbright Scholar in the iSchool. “I am so inspired by what the bilingual library does for the Syracuse community,” she writes. "‘Diversity in Reading’ is such a precious initiative. I can’t think of a better way to promote cultures and languages.”