by Roberto C. Delgadillo
I first met Rafaela G. Castro during the annual week long Guadalajara International Book Fair, better known as the FIL (from its Spanish name: Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara), in early December 2000. The FIL is the most important publishing gathering in Ibero-America. Created 29 years ago by the University of Guadalajara, the FIL attracts academic, public, and school librarians and allows them to see and explore the books that form the core of major US based Spanish language library collections. The face-to-face interaction between librarians, publishers, and vendors result in better service and access to public and academic audiences. With business as one of its main goals, it is also a cultural festival in which literature plays a major role including a program where authors from all continents and languages participate, and a forum for the academic discussion of the major issues of our time. I was a part-time reference librarian assigned to the Hispanic Services Division of the Inglewood Public Library in Southern California. I was given the opportunity to attend and assist my then department head Adalin Torres, who kindly took the time to introduce me to librarians, publishers, vendors, and scholars I now consider friends and mentors. At the time I did not know Rafaela was a “luminary” among Chicana/o /Ethnic Studies Bibliographers. Her book Chicano Folklore: A Guide to the Folktales, Traditions, Rituals and Religious Practices of Mexican Americans is considered an excellent, and indispensable, starting point for scholars interested in examining terms associated with the Chicano experience, history, and customs.
I remember joining Rafaela for lunch that first time, along with UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Selector/Liaison Susana Hinojosa, after Adalin mentioned my pursuit of a doctoral degree in Latin American history. I enjoyed the many anecdotes Rafaela and Susana shared, and regret that I did not meet with them — as I should have — for the next three successive FILs. At the time, I faced several educational and professional constraints, did not envision a career in academic librarianship, and yet for reasons too numerous to detail here I also did not have what it takes to establish a career as a professor of Latin American history. Nonetheless, throughout that time, Susana and Rafaela kept in touch and strongly encouraged me to switch to academic librarianship. I credit Susana for getting me into the UC system and Rafaela for directing me to UC Davis in particular after I finished my studies in 2004.
To say I was overwhelmed when I arrived at UC Davis in November 2005 would be an understatement. By then Rafaela had retired and was pursuing other professional and personal interests and yet she always made the time to speak to me whenever I had a question — or several, as was often the case. During our phone calls and visits at subsequent FILs, Rafaela taught me invaluable lessons: she made me particularly aware of the vulnerability and necessity of creating and constantly maintaining library collections that document the experience of America’s marginal cultures. Often it is only experienced librarians, archivists, and scholars who can truly understand the significance of such collections. Rafaela taught me that all too often such collections are especially vulnerable to being undervalued. My success as a Chicana/o Studies Bibliographer is built upon Rafaela’s careful and thoughtful stewardship of her collections. Rafaela’s subject knowledge was, and remains, crucial to the delivery of effective library service, the preservation of these collections and the future viability of the library. She always reminded me that the deferral of timely selection and purchase of materials, lax security and a lapse in reliable service can quickly destroy unique resources such as Chicana/o Studies collections.
Rafaela G. Castro was born in Bakersfield, California but grew up in Arvin, a small agricultural town near Weedpatch Camp, the labor camp featured in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. When she was ten years old her family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where she lived most of her life. After spending two years in Brazil with the Peace Corps, in the mid-1960s, she returned home to start her education. Attending UC Berkeley, she received degrees in English Literature, Library Science, and Folklore.
Rafaela’s academic library career spanned over thirty years, at community college and university libraries, and in teaching courses on Ethnic Bibliography and Chicana/o Studies at UC Berkeley’s School of Library and Information Studies and Ethnic Studies Department. In between these various positions she also worked at DQ University and Adelante, Inc., a non-profit organization in Berkeley. She retired from Shields Library at the University of California, Davis in 2004.
After completing the writing of a master’s thesis she discovered the joy of writing and wrote articles for Chicana/o Studies and academic library professional journals. She also wrote entries for folklore and biographical encyclopedias. During the 1990s Rafaela wrote opinion columns on Mexican American culture for the San Francisco Chronicle, and she contributed to “Perspectives,” a public affairs commentary series, on KQED-FM.
I last saw Rafaela during a scheduled presentation at a local area bookstore for her collection of personal essays Provocaciones: Letters From the Prettiest Girl in Arvin. I was immediately struck by the number of similarities we shared in our childhood and professional lives. I smile to myself as I write these lines given that I am a Nicaraguan by birth, disabled, and male! I hesitate to discuss the book because that would require an entire essay altogether. I highly recommend it!! True to the book’s subtitle Rafaela was graceful, modest, beautiful, strong…and passionate about what she experienced after leaving Arvin.
The many lessons that Rafaela taught me came into sharp relief during the student occupation of the UC Davis University Library in January 2010. I recall thinking if Rafaela were there she would be at the library entrance to DEFEND student spaces on campus, and LEAD workshops, talks, discussion groups, and film screenings, to help PROTEST cuts to library funding, student co-ops, and public education. Instead I led students on tours of what I still consider Rafaela’s collections. I was amused at the praise I received for the collections and all the more so because the materials Rafaela gathered provide greater context for what the students were protesting at the time. During Rafaela’s career at UC Davis (1989-2004), she was instrumental in the acquisition of the Ada Sosa-Riddell Papers, the Mario Obledo Papers, the Cruz Reynoso Papers, and the Chicana/o Studies archives. According to one of our retired archivists, Rafela’s most important service to Special Collections was “her constant willingness to refer students to our collections. She directed a doctoral researcher to the Jack Forbes papers regarding the participation of Chicanos in the founding of DQU.” When I corrected the students by noting how these collections predated my arrival they left knowing the library and the legacy of Rafaela’s work created a community space they could claim as their own.
I feel honored to have known Rafaela, and will always be grateful for her mentorship. The Chicana/o Studies collections she built at the University Library continue to serve both students and the community as a whole. It is a privilege to build on her work and steward this collection for future students and researchers. Rafaela Castro, Presente!
Roberto C. Delgadillo is a Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian in Research Support Services at the UC Davis University Library.