Susan Eleuterio is a folklorist, educator, and consultant to non-profits. Eleuterio has been a member of AFS since 1976, has co-chaired the Public Programs and Independent Folklorists Sections, helped to found the Applied (now Public Programs) Section, and has been a trainer for the Veteran’s History Project since 2013.
What is your current job, and how does it relate to the field of folklore? What kinds of things do you do day-to-day in this position?
I am an independent, public folklorist who works as a consultant to a variety of organizations. Currently, I am assisting the Center for Folklore Studies at the Ohio State University with the creation of a place-based curriculum for K–12 students and youth which is tied to a traveling exhibit: Placemaking in Scioto County. I served as a consultant to the exhibit by helping to develop public programs and exhibit content in concert with community members, folklorists, and graduate students.
Briefly describe your career history, paying special attention to how you got from your very first folklore job to your current position. Did you expect to be doing what you are now doing when you entered the field?
I thought I was going to be a museum educator (after training to be a high school English teacher) but fell into folklore both by taking a course as an undergraduate and then attending the Cooperstown Graduate Program in American Folk Culture. I entered the field because of interest in my own heritage (Portuguese American) and also because I found joy in helping others learn about their heritage. I always wanted to work with the public and never expected to be on a graduate faculty since I completed my education with a Master’s degree. I always joke that my resume looks like I can’t hold a job, but I have been both interested in multiple careers (classroom teacher, museum curator, museum educator, arts administrator, college faculty member, non-profit leader, folk arts consultant, folklorist in the schools) and found that being flexible has helped me find work as my personal situation has changed (single mother of four for a period of my life).
What goals drive your work? What kinds of impact do you hope to achieve?
My goals are to support collaborations of exploration, documentation, and presentation, both for individuals and for communities. I always hope to spark a way to connect the field of folklore with issues of social justice and equity.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
Balancing multiple contracts, being careful not to over-extend myself, and finding ways to avoid ageism.
If you had unlimited time and resources available to develop a research project or public program, how would you use them? What would you hope to accomplish?
I am ashamed to admit I have both the time and resources to develop a research project focused on Irish and Mexican American dance costume which is designed to be a public exhibit, and I keep finding excuses not to complete it. I would hope to demonstrate that material culture is not just a prop of heritage (the title of the project is Beyond Illustration) but provides a way for members of cultural communities to share their heritage, identity, traditions, and family stories in a way which can link them with others from different cultures.
How does your current work impact your community? What is, in your mind, the most important professional contribution that you make (or have made)?
The most important professional contribution I have made is as a teacher/educator of artists, community members, K–12 students, classroom teachers, and now graduate students, by helping them explore what matters to them in terms of heritage, history, and culture.
What sorts of issues are most pressing or urgent for your community? How do your personal or professional endeavors intersect with these issues?
My “community” is pretty large—it’s the Chicagoland area—and the issues are gentrification, climate change, income disparity, bias, racism, and sexism. I have become a folklorist/activist, and my volunteer work and my professional work intersect with these issues through trying to provide access and resources, both financial and educational.
How did you come to reside where you now live? What are your favorite aspects of the area or of your local community?
Love (of my now husband). My favorite aspects are Lake Michigan, the multiplicity of cultures and classes, and the fact that I can ride my bike to Chicago.
What do you most wish outsiders knew about your community? What are some common stereotypes or misconceptions that you often find yourself trying to disprove?
That it isn’t just polluted by industry (see Dorson). Stereotypes are that there aren’t people who want to preserve the natural environment.
What kinds of things occupy your personal time? In particular, what sorts of local or regional activities, endeavors, or commitments do you pursue when you’re not on the job?
I’m a beekeeper and a biker.
Tell us about your favorite foods unique to the region where you live.
Regional beers and paczki.
How did you discover folklore? Why did you pursue it?
My grandmother sang Portuguese fados, and I was curious to learn about them. I had the chance to take a course with Bob Bethke in folk song.
How do you present the idea of folklore to communities speaking other languages or where “folklore” is not a common word or where it is understood as entertainment loosely based on traditions of a perceived lower class and has taken on pejorative meanings?
I ask people how they got their name, how they celebrate birthdays, and what urban legends they believe.
What makes folklore unique as a discipline?
It focuses on people, not just systems.
What would you do differently at the beginning of your career, if you knew what you know now?
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