“I wanted to use my personal experience to give back.”
In reflecting on her life, Dalila notes, “I identify as a youth educator, and I think I’ve always identified as a youth educator, even when I was young.” Likewise, “I was a feminist before I knew what the word meant.”
Her parents provided tremendous influence that still resonates with Dalila today and is seen throughout her leadership. Dalila’s Mother was Jewish but was forced to assimilate to Catholic, and her father was indigenous, Purepecha. For Dalila this means, “I came from these two strains of oppressed people who were persecuted. I always took that as that’s who I am.” In other words, “I am the exact product of colonialism, but it took me a long time to recognize this and break through this.” Her parents’ influence on her leadership also came through with their commitment to education and activism, “My parents always taught me the importance of education….We were part of a lot of grass roots organizations.” Dalila’s family moved from South Chicago to Goshen while Dalia was in middle school, “The move from Chicago to Goshen was hard but inspired me to want to help other kids.” Her mother “made me fearless in pursuing something that was so foreign to us.”
In school, Dalila started realizing the disjuncture between what she saw in her experiences and what she was taught, “In history I would learn about all these great accomplishments where everything was wrapped up in a neat little bow, but in my life I knew differently.” Her social justice tendencies felt separate from her academic studies in history. As a result, she entered graduate school in a “Museum Studies program grounded in objects to help make history come to life, make it tangible.” Upon graduation, she worked at the University of Notre Dame in the Snite Museum in school and public programs which provided her the opportunity to counter the negative voices heard by many children today and to provide them the opportunity to have their voices heard.
She founded the “Racial Justice Institute” for eighth grade students. “They are studying U.S. history at that age and getting ready to transition into high school.” One of the goals of the Institute is to “help to create support networks for them.” Students spend half the day at the Snite Museum looking at various artists and comparing the ways they are responding to racial justice through “empowering, healing, surviving, exposing.” Students learn there are many different “pathways” of response and then choose a way that speaks for them. The second half of the day is spent at the Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center (CRHC) where students learn about local history. They also create their own works of art which are then displayed at the CRHC as a way to give students’ voices an audience.
Today Dalila works at La Casa de Amistad as the Education and Community Programs Coordinator where she runs the after-school program for elementary kids and preschool bilingual programs. She considers herself an “advocate within the system to make sure the children know their own culture, cultural empowerment.” She has recently started working with local community groups to “make sure we are visible and working with the school corporation.” One of her goals is to help “create a system that is fair for everybody.” To do this she is a member of the Michiana Social justice Coalition which allows for the creation of “more coalitions between groups – we can’t just focus on the issues that impact our community but those that impact us all.” She seeks to find ways to bring people to work together to help protect everyone.
Information compiled from oral history collected by Michiana Women Leaders, Inc.
Dalila was a 2019 Celebrating Michiana Women Leaders honoree.