I came, I saw, I left you a library.

by Elizabeth Dunkel, Founder of the Merida English Library

Take good care of it.

After 25 years of living in Merida, I have moved back to the United States. I know many of you find that hard to believe, since you came to Merida, thinking you have found the place of your dreams. But there are cycles to life, everyone is on a different journey, and my destiny is to leave Merida to be near family.

The Merida I arrived in 25 years ago is not the Merida you live in. When I arrived in 1994, Merida was a quiet and lonely place for me, a mother with two kids under the age of five.  There were none of the amenities that make Merida the modern city it is today. Two sad supermarkets which smelled of sewage, where the only jam was bad strawberry. I could only buy a fridge in the color “almond.”  You name it, it wasn’t here, not even a McDonalds for my kids. And of course, no English language library. How could I live in such a place?

I am a writer and a big reader. Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I went to the library with my mother once a week, joining the kids’ book club, getting my card stamped every time I brought back a book I had read. A library was key to living a good life.

I stood up one day at a meeting at the International Women’s Club and said, “Let’s start a library!” with youthful optimism and the energy of total inexperience. I had no idea what I was doing. That’s when I met my comadre Chloe Conaway de Pacheco, who is the co-founder of MEL, whose excellent connections and expertise of Merida made MEL possible. “Call Chloe,” was my solution to any problem that came up. Chloe still happily resides in Merida and I urge you to befriend her when your paths cross.

MEL started in a tiny house lent to us by Ellie Guidotti. We had few books donated by few friends. I would unlock the door, sit behind a scuffed up desk and no one came in. The few expats in town had no idea we existed and had lived without a library, so it was not on their to do list. Still, I unlocked the door everyday and slowly, we struggle bused the MEL into existence. Few volunteers, no money, quite frankly, it was through sheer will that the library became what it is today.

There were many highs and lows, challenges, fights, problems, legal issues. But that is over now, and MEL seems to be healthy and thriving, with a community that loves and appreciates its existence. MEL is often cited as the reason why some people decide to move to Merida. A library means community, intellect, conversation, dialogue. A library is a profound act of political and intellectual freedom.

A week before I left Merida, Chloe and I went to MEL to sit in the garden. People were browsing the stacks, a group of women were sitting in the garden, knitting hats for newborns, a few people played Scrabble at a nearby table, and there were people reading in the air conditioned reference room. Everyone took MEL for granted and that means: we succeeded!  MEL is woven into the fabric of Merida life.

All institutions are fragile. Any institution can fail if not nourished and monitored properly.  

I leave you with my gift, I leave you with what is my fine legacy: an English language library in the city of Merida.  All I ask is that you love it, use it, fund it, volunteer at it, donate to it, cherish it, keep it, fix it and grow it.  Never take it for granted.

The first thing I did when I got my Illinois State Driver’s license is walk into a branch of the Chicago Public Library and ask for a library card. The love continues. Carry on good people!