Rose Both for the Wisconsin Muslim Journal
On a recent fall Saturday, the Tippecanoe Library on South Howell Avenue hosted a Global Heritage festival featuring story time and songs, African drumming by Jali Kunda, ethnic food trucks, and even a little dancing by an energetic toddler.
Children’s librarian Miss Jennifer led a session in one of the library’s large, light-filled conference rooms.
Miss Jennifer led a reading from two books about the immigrant experience for young readers. First, she read a page in English. Then the same page was read by an expert reader in either Arabic or Karen, an ethnic Burmese language.
I’m New Here, by Anne Sibley O’Brien, was read aloud in Arabic by Ream Bahhur, an MMWC board member. Her daughter, Sana, 14, a freshman at Salam School who studies Arabic, was in attendance, along with MMWC board member Isabelle Sahraoui, who resided in Tunisia for a number of years before returning to Milwaukee with her husband.
Dreamers by YuYi Morales was translated into Karen by Htee Paw, who’s lived in Milwaukee for 9 years. Neighborhood House International Learning Program for adult refugees, which provides ESL classes and teaches a Path to Citizenship, was one of the sponsors of the event.
Another session was held simultaneously in the library’s Secret Garden, with librarian Miss Emily, a children’s librarian from Milwaukee’s Central Library.
Iman, a student, translated English into Arabic on All Are Welcome, and Ann Ogren translated English into Spanish on We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands.
A Karen family, mother Ma Pyaw, 30; father Thanlwinoo, 36; and children Rosy Oo, 5; Tala Paw, 7; and Chit Moe Winoo, 11, who acted as the family spokes-girl, attended the Secret Garden session.
Also in attendance were members of the Fuchs clan, grandma Semsen and her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchild, Thomas, Carolyn, Jim, Betty, Erica, and 2-year-old Alfrie. Connir Khamphoumy, 24, a member of the Hmong community, attended as an MPL volunteer.
Back in the air-conditioned room with the colorful red rag carpet in the center, Miss Jennifer led us in a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Our Land” and a spirited scarf dance participated in by Nina, “almost 2,” her mom Paloma, and her grandma, Rosa.
Then we did the scarf dance. Though most people remained seated, Nina was all in. Sava, as befits the dignity of a fourteen-year-old, declined to participate, but the adults waved their scarves.
And finally, we sang a good-bye song, using first the English, then the Arabic and Karen words for good-bye: mahapuran and ba ba. Little Nina fully participated on “ba ba.”
A few quotes from Dreamers:
“When we made it to the other side, thirsty, in awe, we became immigrants.”
“Until one day we found a place that we had never seen before, unimaginable, surprising – the library.”
“Books became our language. We learned to read, to speak, to write, and to make our voices heard.”