Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
August 26, 2000 - Issue 17

Library's Bookmobile Workers Complete a Circle of Human Contact
by Storm Reyes, Guest Columnist, The News Tribune

I was taught as a child that life is a circle, the sacred hoop, and as we travel the hoop, it is the journey that is of importance, not the destination. It is how we conduct ourselves when our journey touches another's that has value, rather than our arrival at that place.

Children blindly accept the wisdom of their elders. There is a peace that comes when a truth you accepted as a child is validated in the cold light of adulthood.

I am the child of farm workers. As a child, life in the fields means hard physical labor, inadequate education and the kind of despair that breeds violence and alcoholism. When I was 11, my father was employed year-round by a farm in the Puyallup Valley.

When I wasn't needed to help him, I attended school in Sumner. But I was always an outsider, and few educators wished to waste their time on a farm worker's child. We were here today and gone tomorrow, most of us mired in the misery of our parents and too drained to look beyond the present day.

But there were those people who were willing to fight for us even if we weren't capable of fighting for ourselves. The first of those I met were employees on a bookmobile operated by the Pierce County Library System.

I remember when I first saw the bookmobile parked on a road alongside a dusty field. I approached cautiously and peeked inside. All I saw were rows of books. I turned to leave, but a voice invited me in. I think I accepted that invitation because it sounded as if they had been waiting for me all day and were pleased I had finally arrived.

They asked me what I was curious about and urged me to take books home. They didn't see the grime stained into my hands when they placed those precious, clean books in them. They saw only my hunger to know about other places, other lives.

Twice a month they came, always asking me about what I read and then steering me to new discoveries. The bookmobile was my school, and soon I began to speak up in the real school building and truly hear what the educators were trying to teach me.

Between the courage of my parents and the compassion of the bookmobile workers, I left the fields at age 15 with a GED in hand and dreams to sustain me. I joined the Neighborhood Youth Corps, working during the day and attending vocational school in the evenings. I became a secretary and eventually came to work for the Pierce County Library System as an executive assistant.

Just recently, the library system was able to offer access to the Spanish Internet at its Sumner branch and the Korean Internet at its Lakewood branch. The library has been reaching out to those communities to help their members use this new resource.

Last week, the Sumner branch held an event for Sumner's English as a Second Language (ESL) class for Spanish-speaking people, most of whom are farm workers. The class came to the Sumner branch and was introduced to its materials and resources, including the Spanish Internet.

My husband is fluent in Spanish and served as an interpreter. I accompanied him, although I don't speak a comprehensible word of Spanish. While my husband and library employees attended to the parents, I stayed behind with the children. We read books about ducks and princesses and talked about pop stars, school and the universe.

I was doing with those children what had been done with me some 39 years ago. My past and present smacked right into each other, and I knew how important it was that I simply listen, pull a book off a shelf and introduce it into those eager little hands.

My husband and I had to rush out of the event to attend a good-bye celebration for a retiring member of the library's board of trustees. We were an hour late, and as I made apologies for our tardiness, I realized that I had stepped right into the future.

The retiring board member was Dr. Donald Eismann, superintendent of the Sumner School District. He had given eight years of his skills and experience to the library system, helping guide us in the upheaval caused by technological challenges/opportunities and stagnant revenue. Although leaving the board, Eismann would follow through on the work begun at the Sumner library that evening, as his guidance would influence the teachers of those very same children in whose hands I had placed books.

The past, the present and the future all come together as the journeys of so many touch for an extraordinary moment on the sacred hoop of life.

* Storm Reyes, of Puyallup Indian heritage, writes once a month as a guest columnist for this section.
The News Tribune



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