’ I am’ : Interviews with custodians at RISD

Book. 133 pages. 6”x10.75". 2007

From the perspective of management and those being served, service workers at large institutions are not really meant to be noticed; they are meant to get things done quickly and quietly. I wonder sometimes whether the limited interactions that do occur between server and served are so often superficial because they represent a relationship with which both “sides” are fundamentally uncomfortable. And yet, why do we seem even more uncomfortable when that structure is challenged? – Greg Halpern

In solidarity with Agostinho, Agueda, Candida, Cecilia, Christina, Connie, Luisa, Maria, Natalia, Gail, Rosa, Julieta.

This book is a visual anthology from the interviews that I conducted with custodians who work at RISD. Specifically, most of them are female and in charge of cleaning 15 West, the Fleet Library, Design Center, and Mason Building. Even though I see them every day wearing their uniforms, they were just a group to me, not individuals. At the end of last semester, I had a conversation with Maria, who was my first interviewee in the hallway of 15 West. I heard that most of them are immigrants, specifically from S. Miguel in Portugal. Therefore, when I spoke English with them, I felt much more comfortable than I felt in some of my classes. From that moment on, I wondered who they are individually, where they are from, how long they have been in the USA, etc. I asked them several questions about their lives, identities, preferences, dreams, and Portuguese culture. Through their stories, I can see my reflection in their story. I can identify myself because knowing others means recognizing some sense of who I am as a designer. Doing interviews, I want to be a messenger who can tell their stories. Thus, here is a little visual story.

When we would like to communicate with others, we try to learn their ‘language’ which is their mother tongue. Thank you in Portuguese is ‘Obrigada!’. If they hear this from RISD people, they would be more happy.

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*There were two kinds of interviews, planned and unplanned. Planned questions are about immigration and their work. Unplanned questions are about their everyday life and family. Sometimes they interviewed me. Because I am from a different country, they are curious about me too. Our conversation continues after this project.