Have you ever moved to a new place — a new neighborhood, a new school or even a new state? Now imagine what it might feel like to move to an entirely new country. Maybe you don’t speak the language. You can’t find your favorite food at the grocery store. Sometimes people point at you and whisper; you can’t understand what they’re saying, but it’s clear they’re talking about you. Then one day, someone offers you an understanding smile and a helping hand. It doesn’t make all your problems go away, but you begin to feel like you actually belong.
What is Welcoming Week?
According to the nonprofit organization Welcoming America, this week is about more than just being a friendly face to newcomers. As a community, we can support cultural practices and policies which make everyone feel at home. Welcoming Week is all about celebrating the contributions that immigrants and refugees, both past and present, have made to our nation.
This week, DBRL is celebrating Welcoming Week with a special edition of story time!
Wednesday, September 13: 10:30-11 a.m.
Children’s Program Room
Columbia Public Library
We’ll enjoy stories and songs featuring belonging and inclusion and hopefully welcome some new faces to our library community. Please register here.
Talking About Immigration
Introducing this topic to your child may seem daunting at first. This helpful article from TIME suggests opening up a conversation by talking about your own family history, emphasizing that many of us here in the U.S. originally came to this country from somewhere else. Some of us may be able to trace our histories back hundreds of years, while others’ family origins may be more murky. Some families chose to move here, but many others had no choice or were even pushed out of their homes to make room for others.
No matter how we got here, people from all over the world have contributed to our nation and our culture in big ways. And when newcomers arrive on our shores, we can recognize the unique experiences and perspectives they bring to our communities.
Sharing a book is an excellent way to introduce your child to this topic in a developmentally-appropriate manner. Seeing others in unfamiliar situations can help your child build empathy towards newcomers they may encounter in their community. Here are a few of my favorite picture book on this topic:
“Dreamers” by Yuyi Morales
Author and illustrator Yuyi Morales tells her own life story in this beautiful and gentle introduction to the concept of immigration. When her son was just a baby, the two of them left Mexico and began their new life in the U.S. All alone in a new land, the pair’s everyday life was fraught with challenges: complicated phone calls in English, getting lost their new city and even an awkward incident in a public fountain. Then one day, they wandered into a new and wondrous place full of all the books and knowledge and possibilities they could ever dream of: the public library! Morales’ art is surreal and spectacular, the perfect pair to her lyrical prose. As a library worker, I couldn’t help but fall in love.
“Salma the Syrian Chef” by Ahmad Danny Ramadan
Salma and her mama have come a long way since they left Syria, but between English classes, job interviews and missing Papa back home, Mama could really use some cheering up. Salma resolves to make a Syrian meal for Mama, but finding the special ingredients she needs proves to be much harder than she thought. Luckily, she has a whole community at the Welcome Center ready to lend a hand! This book excellently portrays both the big and the small worries of refugee life and highlights the important work nonprofit organizations do to bring migrant communities together.
“Home Is In Between” by Mitali Perkins
Like her protagonist Shanti, author Mitali Perkins immigrated from India when she was just a child. Each day, Shanti finds herself switching back and forth between her Bengal village and her new American town, helping her parents and making new friends along the way. From Kathak to ballet class, biryani to burgers, Shanti sometimes feels like two different versions of herself. Adapting to her new town while keeping the customs of her old life in a faraway village is certainly a balancing act, but Shanti soon learns that her perfectly unique life lets her experience the best of both worlds!
“Santiago’s Dinosaurios” by Mariana Ríos Ramírez
On Santiago’s first day of school in the U.S., his struggles with English present a dino-sized problem. Luckily, as Santiago begins to connect with the kids in his class, his worries gradually shrink down to size — Stegoceras size, that is! Learning a new language is a whole lot easier — and more fun! — with friends by your side. This adorable story is sure to draw in dino lovers, but don’t worry if you’re not in the know. You’ll find a helpful dinosaur glossary and size comparison chart in the back. Similarly, translations for Santiago’s Spanish speech appear at the bottom of each page.
“Sugar in Milk” by Thrity Umrigar
In this story-within-a-story, a young migrant girl feels conflicted. She’s grateful that Auntie and Uncle have given her a home in this new country, but feelings of loneliness and homesickness creep in. Then Auntie shares a Persian folktale about a courageous band of travelers, a stubborn king and a goblet filled to the brim with milk. A pinch of sugar may be just the thing to help the king understand the travelers’ plight. A sweet metaphor paired with gorgeous illustrations make for a truly special story you’ll want for your own bookshelf.
UNHCR offers expert-created educational materials to dive further into topics affecting refugees. These age-appropriate lessons, videos and activities for K-12 students are carefully curated to explain the realities of the refugee crisis while keeping in mind that this can be a scary topic for some children.
Online simulations can be a powerful, immersive way for slightly older children to step into the shoes of an immigrant or refugee. “City of Immigrants” by Mission US captures Ellis Island at the turn of the last century, while “Syrian Journey” by the BBC simulates the experience of a modern-day refugee.
Finally, there are plenty of ways to help our immigrant and refugee neighbors here in Mid-Missouri! Nonprofit organizations like City of Refuge, Catholic Charities and Centro Latino help fulfill basic needs, provide English lessons and so much more. I also recommend checking out a local refugee or immigrant-owned business; City of Refuge has a few suggestions to get you started.