Celia Perez

Assertive librarian

| May / June 2004

She's a librarian who wears glasses and sometimes even succeeds in domesticating her wild mane into a bun. But there's no mistaking Celia Perez for the stereotypical Marian the Librarian. The owner of a quirky, probing intellect, Perez is the author of the aptly named personal zine I Dreamed I Was Assertive, which chronicles her not-so-secret attempts to, well, take control of her life.

'Why are we so afraid to speak up?' she asks -- whether it's confronting tough cops at an antiwar demonstration or simply asking someone on the subway to move his or her bag so she can sit down. Because Perez is so disarmingly honest about the costs of risk-taking, readers are compelled to cheer her on, whether she's attempting to learn soccer on a coed team with her husband (and breaking her arm) or getting up the nerve to quit her job at the prestigious University of Chicago (where she was the only Latina professional at her library facility).

Now Perez works at Harold Washington College in Chicago's loop, where many students are like she was: the first in their struggling immigrant families to attend college. 'I wanted to work in a field where I was giving back to a community that is similar to where I came from,' says this daughter of a Cuban father and a Mexican mother.

Although books were a luxury in Perez's family (she remembers her father occasionally bringing home volumes he had bought at the Salvation Army), they proved pivotal in launching her into the life she now knows. 'Being a librarian is a pretty powerful position to be in,' she writes in I.D.I.W.A #4. 'Knowledge is power, and people are under the impression that you've got lots of it.'

And so Perez lives out her dream of assertiveness through words, sometimes reading Utne magazine at the reference desk and going home nights to self-publish her zine. 'Who do you think you are, writing about yourself and giving it to other people as if it matters?' she asks in a typical bout of self-questioning.

'I'm definitely not the voice of my people,' she allows, 'but I'd like to think that, as a Latina and someone who's grown up poor, I'm exposing people to a point of view and history that maybe they haven't been exposed to before.'

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