Volunteer Spotlight: Asian-American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian-American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month! A celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States.  From the asianpacificheritage.gov webpage: “Asian/Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).”

At SJPL we celebrate the contributions of our volunteers that have Asian and Pacific Islander heritage by sharing their stories!

Meet Alyssa Ramiscal

What our staff says:

Alyssa has been a Library Services Volunteer and Program Assistant at Alum Rock since November 2022. She started as a Homework Club Coach and has since branched out to support a coding class, preparing materials for a craft, and preparing promotional materials.  Alyssa is a patient coach and flexible volunteer who is always willing to jump in wherever she is needed.

Get to know a little about Alyssa:

My favorite book, movie, or song... I’ve been on a Little Mermaid kick. The original Little Mermaid.  I’m getting hyped up for Across the Spiderverse because I was really into it when it first came out and I’m getting back into it.  Studio Ghibli films.  I’m a fan of those too. Spirited Away was one of the first Studio Ghibli films that I watched. I rewatched Howl’s Moving Castle recently. I should probably stop there.

If I had a superpower, it would be... Oooh this is a fun question.  Shapeshifting. I was gonna say teleportation or something but shapeshifting is cool. It sounds like fun. I’d assume it’s fun.

If I weren’t volunteering, I’d be... at home probably doing something.  Maybe homework, maybe just talking with my sister. Volunteering is a good way to get volunteer hours, actually contributing to society.

What is your biggest accomplishment as a volunteer? What made you the proudest?

When I was doing homework club I my biggest accomplishment was like there were these three girls I would see every Thursday siblings I think helping them out was cool it was an accomplishment and they remembered me. Accomplishment, being appreciated.

Meet Himangi Sharma

What our staff says:

Himangi has been volunteering for the library since 2021. Once a month Himangi gets together with the other members of District 5’s Teens Reach to provide insight into how the library can better serve local teens. Himangi works with her fellow teen volunteers to recommend programs, policies, and materials that will be more interesting and relevant to the teens in her district. In between meetings she writes thoughtful reviews for the library’s catalog.

Get to know a little about Himangi:

My role model... That’s a tough one. I think, my Nana (paternal grandfather) and Dadi (paternal grandmother). They are always positive and smiling, and no matter how many times life knocks them down, they get back up. Nana was a Colonel in the military. His time in the army taught him discipline, punctuality, and bravery, all of which I strive to learn some day too. Dadi was a housewife; she was training to be a Midwife. Being a housewife is often not considered a real job, but I understand how integral my Dadi was for her family. They were both there raising me with my parents when I was little, so I got to spend a lot of time with them. I hope to be like them. Everyone in my family says that my Nana and Dadi are who I look like, so who knows? Maybe I am destined to take on their amazing personalities too!!

What is your favorite way to celebrate your culture and heritage? How would you like to see this incorporated in the Library?

I’m South Asian, specifically Indian. One of my favorite ways to celebrate my culture is Diwali. Diwali is known as the festival of lights, where we light clay lamps and have fireworks. At its heart, it is the celebration of the victory of good over evil. It’s a lot of fun, there’s great food, and parties, and everyone gets dressed up. It would be fun to have a Diwali celebration at the library. We should definitely include non Indians. Diwali is a great gateway to learning about Indian culture. If it’s done properly of course.

Meet Michael Vistan

What our staff says:

Michael was elected President of the Friends of the Dr. Roberto Cruz – Alum Rock Branch Library in 2022 and was voted Alum Rock’s Volunteer of the Year Nominee by library staff for his diligent efforts to raise funds to support the library and our local community. As the President he has made great strides in reorganizing the Friends’ resources and finding innovative new ways to approach fundraising.

Get to know a little more about Michael

My favorite book, movie, or song… Movie, Back to the Future. That’s what brings me back to my childhood. I could still watch that now. Favorite book is 4000 Leagues: Time Management for Mortals.  It was written 2 years ago and I definitely would recommend. Favorite song… you know, it’s an 80s song, "There’s Something About You". It’s by Level 42.

Do you feel like volunteering has made an impact on the community you live or the community in which you self-identify?

Yeah, I think so. I know so. Now seeing the volunteering efforts that take place here, that serve not just the youth but the unhoused, people at risk. This library’s mission is different from other libraries that I’m familiar with through my work with the foundation it’s clear that only certain libraries face the difficulties of the challenged communities around it. Other libraries are challenged with ensuring there’s enough resources for youth, adolescents, but what makes this library different is the fact that it not only supports those things, but the more economically challenged individuals. That’s something it takes a special group to help solve.

Meet Mahika Khosla

What our staff says:

Mahika is leading an in-person program at Bascom Library called Astro Revolution: Intro to Astronomy for Children. This program is helping teach complex scientific topics to young learners. Mahika is helping open up young minds in the community to the wonders of science. Bascom Library is a richer and more engaging place in our community because of her efforts.

Get to know a little about Mahika:

As a child… I was really curious and liked to learn new things. I got hurt a lot. I tried a bunch of different things, and I was a bit troublesome.

Libraries are… a place for people to come together and meet people who have similar interests, and also to find their passion by reading books and expressing creativity.

Do you feel like your experiences and contributions are recognized?

Yeah, because astronomy isn’t really taught to young ages, and that was kind of my whole goal, to bring in a new topic that many people don’t think of. It was cool to see little kids get excited about something they haven’t really thought of before.

Meet Venkat Raju Gandikota

What our staff says:

Venkat has been a volunteer with the East San Jose Carnegie branch since 2016. His contributions at our location have included providing computer help to patrons as a tech mentor and reading to children. As it did with many other things, the COVID pandemic disrupted Venkat’s plans to volunteer for the library, but with persistence and dedication, he has started a virtual Reading to Children program that kids can now enjoy by Zoom on Saturday mornings. Because of his enthusiasm and dedication to providing important services to library customers of all ages, he was named East San Jose Carnegie branch’s 2023 Volunteer of the Year.

Get to know a little about Vankat:

Are there any community needs you have noticed that are not currently addressed by library resources?

I think that San Jose Public Library does a fantastic job addressing community needs, and it’s nice that some locations are now open on Sundays too. The library has so many programs like computer help, homework club, tutoring, and more. Perhaps the library could do a regular survey to ask what community members would like to see from the library, in addition to what they are already doing. Now that some programs are offered virtually, it is a good option to be able to record them when there are not copyright concerns, so people who may not be able to join them live are able to join them later.

Are there any other things you can think of that the library could do to be more welcoming to people of your background or to all backgrounds?

I don’t know if it’s a feasible idea or not, but it would be good to have a way for customers to know where to find someone from their own culture or speaks their language. For example, at home I speak Telugu, and I am also fluent in Hindi and English. Each library could have a list of volunteers and the languages they speak.

Meet Ashley Rajiv Mathad

What our staff says:

Ashley Mathad has been a Tech Help volunteer at Educational Park Branch for over a month and has already been such a great help to our patrons, especially seniors who have difficulties keeping up with technology. Ashley has been assisting customers with opening email accounts, connecting to wi-fi, using Chromebooks and laptops, utilizing Zoom, and helping them navigate SJPL’s website and access resources. She offers her services in English and Hindi. Ashley is engaged, patient, and always looking for ways to meet customers where they are at.

Get to know a little about Ashley:

As a child... Books were my best friends and my favorite pastime. I was encouraged to read a lot of books. That’s why I chose to volunteer to volunteer at the library.

My first job... I was a tutor for a lot of students in my garage. I did a lot of tutoring for kids and teenagers on subjects such as math, science, and computer science. I really loved it.

Do you feel like volunteering has made an impact on the community you live or the community in which you self-identify?

Yes, I do feel that it is making an impact and that there is a lot more that I can do on my end. I do feel like I’m able to make an impact even if it’s just helping out one person. That is enough for me.

What is your favorite way to celebrate your culture and heritage? How would you like to see this incorporated in the Library?

My favorite way to celebrate is to let other people know what my culture is about and the various things we celebrate in our culture through festivals that highlight its significance and what it stands for. I would like to see this incorporated by having more events and celebrations of my culture, such as Holi (festival of color) and Diwali (festival of light), around the libraries in the city similar to Chinese New Year. The more events, the more people will know.

Meet Anna Le

What our staff says:

Anna has been a volunteer at Edenvale since 2021 as a Teen Book Reviewer and as a member of our Virtual Teens Reach meetings. Since then, she has branched out to other volunteer opportunities such as Homework Club Coach and volunteering for our 2023 Gira de Libro stop at Edenvale. She is ambitious and organized with her time and doesn’t cease to jump at an opportunity to make a positive impact on her community.

Get to know a little about Anna:

Libraries are... Amazing. I spent most of my childhood at the Edenvale Branch Library.

My favorite book, movie, or song... Taylor Swift is my favorite artist and my favorite song from her is “Gold Rush.” Favorite Movie is the Amazing Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man). Favorite Book is the Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

Are there any community needs you have noticed that are not currently address by Library programs or resources?

The library addresses many things such as being a place for wi-fi access, a place to work, and a place to get help with homework. I would like to see the library address more mental help resources.

What is your favorite way to celebrate your culture and heritage? How would you like to see this incorporated in the Library?

Every year after New Years we have a Tet, it is a Chinese-Vietnamese celebration. We go to the temple and celebrate with Lion Dances and mooncakes. People dress in Ao dai, traditional Vietnamese clothing. I would like to see more celebrations like these in the library since there are a lot of Vietnamese people in the community who would also like to see this, especially children.

Meet Catherine Tong

What our staff says:

Catherine founded the Speech and Debate: Global Citizenship program in Fall 2019 in the King Library Children's Room. We had our very first semester in Spring 2020. In the fall, Catherine will be returning to teach students in Speech & Debate and help manage volunteers! Catherine continues to update curricula to ensure the topics and information are current. Each semester we see growth and changes in the students that take Speech & Debate. And, they keep returning for a new iteration of the series. And, now we’ve witnessed several Speech & Debate students taking Reading Comprehension through a Social Justice Lens.

Get to know a little about Catherine:

My fondest memory... is going to the 2022 American Libraries Association conference with Bridget and Tiffany in Washington, D.C. Everyone was so nice, it was a real honor to present on a global stage with some of the best people I know, and I got so many galleys and met some of my favorite authors who even signed my books!

Do you feel like volunteering has made an impact on the community you live or the community in which you self-identify?

Yes, definitely. It was wonderful to really feel like I can make an impact on my local community by being an ally, and also for talking about my own community in the program. For example, with the rise of violence against Asians in the US, I incorporated that into the program. We also focused a semester on anti-Asian sentiment, discrimination, hate crimes, scapegoating, xenophobia, and more.

Do you feel like you belong in the volunteer core? Is there anything to do to make the Library more welcoming?

I definitely feel like I belong! The students, volunteers, and Bridget and Tiffany are very mindful of my pronouns.

Meet Jo Ann Okabe-Kubo

What our staff says:

Jo Ann Okabe-Kubo has been a member of the West Valley Branch Library’s Friends group since December 2019. The Friends of the Library are a group of volunteers who raise money for the library by managing book donations. They sort and organize book donations, maintain the Friends’ “Book Nook” in the library, and run bimonthly book sales. Many of the library’s performers and other programs would be impossible without the financial support provided by the Friends.

Jo Ann has been one of the most dedicated and committed members of our West Valley Friends group. When the Friends are planning a book sale, she puts in extra time to help prepare for the sale. Jo Ann also brings a friendly, positive attitude to the library every time she is here. We are so glad she is part of the West Valley Branch family!

Get to know a little about Jo Ann:

My role model... was my eldest maternal aunt, who bore the responsibility as “the bridge“ between my immigrant grandparents and their American born children with strength, courage and style (as a seamstress)!

Libraries are... a haven for me when we were the only non-White kids in our schools and were pelted with stones, mocked with kids pulling their eyes “slanted” and taunting [us with racist slurs]; the Library was always a safe place where we could depend on the Librarian to defend us and chastise any racist behavior. Books were reliably our first friends wherever we moved.

Do you feel like volunteering has made an impact on the community you live or the community in which you self-identify?

Yes, I feel that volunteering with the Friends has the positive impact of fundraising that support the community with programming outside of the Library’s budget. When our Friends group had received a large donation of Japanese language books, I made the suggestion to reach out to the San Jose Japantown Senior Center, Yu-Ai Kai, to see if they would be interested in the books, and they appreciated the donations.