Rafaela Castro


Rafaela was born in Bakersfield, California to Dolores and Martin Castro. She grew up in Arvin and later 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 the University of California, Berkeley, she received degrees in English Literature, Library Science, and Folklore.

Rafaela's academic library career spans over thirty years at community college and university libraries. She retired from Shields Library at the University of California, Davis .

She has written articles for Chicano Studies and academic library professional journals . She's also written 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 II Perspectives 11  public  affairs commentary  series, on KQED-FM.

She is the author of Dictionary of Chicano Folklore and Provocaciones, Letters from the Prettiest Girl in Arvin. Her latest book, Cantina Confidential.

Rafaela is the mother of two daughters, Solange and Laura, and the wife of John Gamboa.

With all our collective memories of Rafaela we could not recreate her easy smile or her bright, uninhibited laugh. It is far too mild to say she was a fantastic woman, both careful and adventurous, social and independent, hardworking and enthusiastic about life. She will always be a part of us.

(Copied from her funeral pamphlet.)

Remarks at Celebration of Life

Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, Kensington, California, July 5, 20015

Remarks delivered by Richard Chabran

John, Solange, Laura, familia, and friends

Greetings, it is wonderful to be here today celebrating Rafaela's life.

I first meet Rafaela in the mid 1970’s when I was working as a librarian at the Chicano Studies Library at the University of California.  I remember her calling to make an appointment to meet.  It was a special occasion, after all there were not very many librarians of Mexican decent in California and even fewer that focused on Mexican populations in the United States.  I do not recall the particulars of that meeting only that it was the beginning of a long personal and professional friendship.  

At that time Rafaela had moved back to the Bay Area from Oregon where she had served as an outreach librarian the University of Oregon.  There she helped bring many Chicanos into the library and mentored future librarians like Susan Luevano who became one of Rafaela’s lifelong friends.  

She spent several years working in the library at Contra Costa College. She would later take a position at the Shields Library at UC Davis where she was the Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian. There  she took a fledgling Chicano Studies collection at the Shields Library and developed into an important research resource.  Roberto Delgadillo noted “During Rafaela’s career at UC Davis she was instrumental in the acquisition of the Ada Sosa-Riddell Papers (a prominent Chicana Studies feminist) , the Mario Obledo Papers (an Health and Human Services Secretary), the Cruz Reynoso Papers (a California Supreme Court justice) , and the Chicana/o Studies archives.” These are all major contributions.

My sister Angie remarked that Rafaela “was a much esteemed leader at UC Davis furthering knowledge with her mentorship, writings and excellent library work.” She notes that she built up the literature collection. Rafaela was also one of the driving forces behind the UC Ethnic Studies Librarian Network .  I recall that when I left UCLA her and Susana Hinojosa on the Network’s behalf wrote a letter of concern to UCLA urging them to hire a replacement. 

Rafaela had a strong interest in Folklore.  While still at Contra Costa College she entered into UC Berkeley’s Folklore program. She was a student of Professor Dundes acknowledged Rafaela bibliographic survey on cockfighting compiled in his theory seminar, in his book on The Cockfight. Under Professor Dundes direction she completed a thesis on Chicano bilingual humor as a reflection of cultural conflict.  She later wrote an article on Mexican Women's Sexual Jokes.  As most of us here know humor was not something she just wrote about it was something she practiced.  On her passing one professor said she had a wicked sense of humor.  

She continued her work on folklore until the end of her life publishing a Dictionary of Chicano Folklorefirst published by ABC-CLO later by Oxford University Press under the as Chicano Folklore: A Guide to folktales, traditions, and religious practices and many entries for other reference works. Folklorists and Chicano scholars always cite her work in folklore.

Another area she contributed to was literature.  She compiled What do I read Next: Multicultural literature in 1997. Later she would write Provocaciones : letters from the prettiest girl in Arvín.  This rich autobiographical set of essays brings together her not only her life experiences but her knowledge of Chicano life and culture. It’s use of photographs and letters are but two literary and historical practices that will become more central in the future. She was a member of a Chicana/Latina book club. She was often asked to present readings from her work. But also gave presentations to aspiring writers.  Her contributions to the San Francisco Examiner was her way of making sure that Chicana voices would be heard on important topics. 

Diana Rivera, from Michigan State University notes that “Her work did not define her but rather she defined her work of what a Chicana/o Studies Librarian/Scholar should be.” Rafaela’s academic life were an extension of who she was proud, principled, respectful, respected and caring.   All of those qualities we celebrate today. 

Rafaela was remembered at two conferences.  My colleagues Kathryn Blackmer Reyes, Lillian-Castillo-Speed, Norma Coral, Romelia Salinas put together this poster in her honor.  It has traveled to two conferences the first was the REFORMA National Conference in San Diego, the second was the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies in San Francisco.  We would like to present it to Solange and Laura. 

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