September Volunteer of the Month: Antonio Díaz Oliva

This month we’re celebrating a very special volunteer. Antonio goes the extra mile to make our Spanish-speaking families feel included in everything we do, from registration forms to book release parties. He’s helping to make 826DC a more inclusive place in one of the most important ways: our language. We asked Antonio to tell us a little bit more about his time volunteering with 826DC.


How did you get involved with volunteering for 826DC?

I found out about 826 before moving to the United States, when I was still living in Chile. I don’t exactly remember how and when I had my first encounter with 826, but I’m pretty sure I read an online article about Valencia and the place, and the whole concept of it seemed pretty cool. Then, I moved to NYC to do my masters and I dropped by 826NYC a few times, though I was struggling with money (and also with my writing), and I felt that I didn’t have the time or energy to volunteer. Almost four years after that, now living in DC, in Columbia Heights actually, I just realized one day that time will always feel limited, so I decided to attend one of the volunteer sessions.

What is the most rewarding take-away from your time as a volunteer?

Well, having the book with all the stories that the kids have written in your hands feels pretty good. And sometimes, just seeing the kids laugh and write is rewarding. I also love when they make fun of my accent. I’d do the same if some weird Chilean guy talked to me about writing and reading.

Are there any stories you would like to share from your time as a volunteer?

Once this really extravagant guy (to this day I remember his neatly trimmed 70’s moustache and the red flamboyant velvet-like shirt) came to the store. This was weeks ago, I think, while I was working as a store clerk. He didn’t know that the store is part of 826. I think he just wanted to get more items for his magician routine, or maybe he wanted to start his magician routine. He asked me about the laughter cans, but I did not know, then, that the cans were actually just Campbell’s soup cans with a joke label. I thought that you could actually open them and some weird laugh would burst out. Well, after my charade in broken English about what the laughter cans supposedly do, the guy bought one, among other items. Some minutes after he left, I realized that the cans were just soup cans with a label that said Canned Laughter.

And I felt bad.

I hope the guy enjoyed some good tomato soup that night and hopefully also laughed about the whole situation.

I think it is important to teach kids that living between languages is like having superpowers. http://826dc.org/september-volunteer-of-the-month-antonio-diaz-oliva/ Click To Tweet

What is the importance of offering bilingual youth writing programs, and offering translation help for our families?

Most of the people in this country (and many other countries) have a bilingual life.

Even though there is this myth that says that the US is a monolingual country, bilingualism is more common than most people think. 826 should offer bilingual youth writing programs since that’s the reality of some the kids who come to 826: they are the bilingual element of their houses –they connect their parents (some of those that do not speak English or are learning it) with the new and adopted language. I think it is important to teach kids that living between languages is like having superpowers. You are managing words and therefore you are in control of what is being said and understood. And that’s awesome.

Do you have any advice for young authors that want to take their writing to the next level?

There’s this kind of famous sentence by Samuel Beckett, that every now and then, especially when struggling with words and writing, I think that I should tattoo on my forehead so I can see it when I brush my teeth: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Most of writing is about practicing and failing.

But is also about having fun -and that’s my second piece of advice: failing is fun. Enjoy what you are writing. If you don’t like it, then start again and make it fun.


Outside of his seemingly endless time helping us and our students, Antonio is a journalist, translator, and professor at Georgetown University. He also recently published La experiencia formativa, which is available in our storefront for purchase. We can’t thank him enough for all that he does, but we can say: ¡Gracias, Antonio!