Jasmine Cardi

I am so excited to share that our student from the January 2013 post Encouragement has earned her citizenship! She studied hard each day for 60 days and went back in and passed her interview! We are all so proud of her. After her ceremony she came to the library and shared her experiences with her classmates. In this photo our student (center) is with the judge (to the right) who presided over her ceremony and Sangeeta (to the left) one of our interns who helped her study countless hours and attended the ceremony with her. This is truly an inspiring story of what hard work and perseverance will do regardless of age, race or other obstacles that one may face. Hers is a story of hope and of hard work paying off. Congratulations!

Jennifer Kriksciun

In less than an hour, the quiet stillness of Hartford Public Library fills with local Karen, preparing for the New Year celebration later that morning.  Girls draped in colorful woven skirts and scarves shuffle quickly in and out of the women’s room in groups to check their outfits and talk.  In the venue, the Center for Contemporary Culture a group of Karen young men practice, dressed in traditional native Karen clothing.  One plays the electric guitar while another plays a modern drum kit. The music they play sounds more like modern rock music and I nod my head in both surprise and appreciation.
When I look around, the room itself has been transformed overnight and now, along the front of the room hangs a massive banner announcing this year’s Karen New Year celebration. It is multi-colored and impressive, taking up the whole length of the wall, with large letters cut out, spelling out the celebration in two languages. The room gradually gets busier and busier.
Members of the Karen community come in carrying large containers of rice, soup, and other traditional foods.  Soon the air fills with the smells of foods that seem oddly familiar to me yet a little exotic.  One after another, like an organized assembly line, the food is set up in a buffet-style fashion in the American Place.  I peek at the foods, mostly shades of green and browns- and it’s hard to figure out what the food is and as a vegetarian, I feel wary to try them. There is no one around tell me the ingredients so I stay safe with sweet brown rice wrapped in banana leaves.
It is here that I spy Shinning.  Sitting quietly to the left of the eating area on a library stool, she reads a picture book.  It seems as if the library shelves are swallowing her, I think. I ask if I can take her picture and Shinning (pronounced “shining”, this could not be a mistake!) looks up from her book, smiles shyly at first, then broadly, and nods yes. I ask her to keep reading, explaining that I want to capture her reading, maybe for the website, I say. I snap away for several minutes, taking pictures of this little girl from various angles as she continues to read the book I will later find out is about colonists coming to settle in America. These are the kinds of books you find in this part of the library. She doesn’t quite understand this so I explain what the American Place space is all about, what people use the space for, and why these books are here. I think she gets it but I don’t know if she’s learned about the colonists in school, so she doesn’t exactly see the connection with colonists and being American. I guess we’ll save that lesson for another day.
Shinning is seven years old. She is, as most of the people visiting the library here on this New Year’s Day celebration, a Karen refugee. She came to the United States when she was just a year old with two older brothers, her mother, grandmother, and some other family members. You can see that she has benefited from her American education.  I ask her about school and she beams proudly that she loves school, especially math. “I want to be a doctor,” she says confidently and I can’t help but believe this will become true.
Later, we walk around together and she tells me how she her mother and grandmother don’t speak English at all and she often has to speak for them. I nod that I understand and ask how she feels about that; she replies that she does her best. It’s all that she knows so there is nothing to think about. It’s then that we are interrupted with the beginning of the celebration. At the entryway to the Center, I see a group of young Karen holding flags, waiting to walk proudly in a flag procession. I try to shuffle Shinning towards the Center but she doesn’t want to go.  Why? I ask her.  She wants to go read her book.
I leave her as I inside to watch the Karen celebrate the first day of their New Year, beginning with a blessing from a local Karen minister and the singing of the Karen flag song.  As I watch the traditional dances, the reenactments of various rituals, I keep thinking about Shinning who is so happy to be taking advantage of a little quiet time to read. I sneak out a few times and every time I walk by her, she has her head in a book. She seems unfazed by the celebration going on around her, and though I’m thrilled to see a budding book worm, in this great library nonetheless, I wonder if I should I feel sadness that she’s rejecting an important cultural celebration. Later, when I leave the event, I say good bye to her and remind her to come visit the library as often as she can. I tell her I am so happy to have met her and that I hope she continues to love school and math and she smiles at me. Her mom and grandmother are at her side and I say thank you to them and smile, wondering if they see the same little girl I have just met.

Jasmine Cardi

Each day I am faced with many rewarding experiences at my job. Sometimes I am faced with sad experiences. Today was one of those days. One of our students who had been studying so hard for her citizenship interview and test failed the speaking  portion of the interview. This woman has attended every class, met with tutors, and has studied at home diligently. She knows the answer to all 100 questions. She can read and write in English with proficiency. Her trouble is with speaking English. She is an older Albanian woman who needs to learn English as part of her citizenship requirements. Like so many her story is one of loss. She was widowed years ago and is here with only her sister. She is one of the sweetest women you will ever meet. Humble and thankful for all of our help she greets us daily with a big hug and a piece of candy or chocolate. For the holidays she knit us all a scarf.

picstitch.jpgHer interview was yesterday. She came to study with us two hours before her appointed time. Although we were concerned with her speaking skills we encouraged her to do her best and not be too nervous. We patiently awaited to hear back how her experience went. She came in to see us today and tells us, “Thank you, I passed everything except the speaking.” Immediately she tears up and I give her a hug. She then sees my coworker, Jennifer, and shares the news with her. She starts crying and Jennifer hugs her and says, “I am so proud of you. You passed the questions, the writing and the reading. We will continue to help you with the English conversation.” She continued to give her encouragement and more importantly acknowledgement of what she had accomplished. I felt as if I were witnessing a private moment and almost felt like stepping away, but then I decided to snap a quick picture and share her story.  She has 60 days to improve her English conversation and will have another chance at passing the proficiency level needed to obtain citizenship.

Judy Wyman Kelly
Last week I witnessed a “sweet bridge” moment at The American Place (TAP).
A few weeks ago I started tutoring a Chinese woman who is temporarily living in Hartford with her adult son while he completes an internship. She is feeling very isolated as she knows no English and her son is gone all day at work. I speak Mandarin Chinese, which is why I was brought on board to meet with her weekly to provide a bit of English tutoring and also some companionship. Hartford does not have a very big Chinese community.
I was working at TAP when a Chinese woman walked in looking for some books in Chinese. She lives in Simsbury and although she does speak English well she also feels isolated and has had a hard time getting to know people. It is difficult to be a foreigner! On a whim, I called my student and asked if she wanted to meet someone from China. She came right over to TAP and the two of them hit it off.
Coincidentally, another Chinese patron arrived shortly after the two women sat down. Overhearing their animated conversation in Chinese, he went over and introduced himself. He also lives in Hartford, knows no English, and is feeling isolated.
When I left work at 2:30 the three of them, strangers to each other 90 minutes prior, were still engaged in animated conversation. As I said goodbye the woman from Simsbury said, “Today you were a sweet bridge. Thank you for introducing us all!”

Judy Wyman Kelly

Last Tuesday morning, a group of the library’s adult English language students went for a tour of the majestic Hartford City Hall, located just across the street.  The place is amazing!

Veteran Hartford resident and current town clerk, John Bazzano, was our guide. Constructed in 1914 on land donated by Hartford resident and financier, J.P. Morgan, this city jewel boasts exquisite turn-of-the-century architectural designs, including marble stairways, gilded décor, and vaulted glass ceilings.  The Christmas tree made from red poinsettias added some nice holiday cheer.

But more importantly, we had a chance to find out what City Hall does for Hartford residents, such as providing birth, marriage, and death certificates, property deeds, and voter registration cards.  City Hall is also home to the Mayor’s office and is the place where city laws are passed by the city council.  We had a chance to visit these rooms and even sit in the city council chairs!  Hartford residents are welcomed to go to the Mayor’s office with any questions or needs, and to attend city council meetings on the second and fourth Monday of each month at 7pm.

Jennifer Kriksciun

This was my first visit to Hartford Public Library’s Bridging Cultures book group. After reading this month’s selection, Anne Tyler’s novel Digging to America, there was much I wanted to express and much more I wanted to hear from others, so I was glad I had signed up.  Tyler’s novel tells the story of two couple’s experiences after having met unexpectedly at a Baltimore airport.  Both couples were awaiting the arrival of baby girls from Korea and though one might think their subsequent journeys would proceed as similarly as their meetings had begun, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

I must disclose- I’m also an adopted child, not from Korea but from Taiwan, having emigrated from there in the early 1970s at only a month old. I feel a particular kinship with little Jin-Ho and Susan.  I could relate to the feelings of cultural sensitivity expressed by the overly exuberant Donaldson family for my American parents also wanted me to feel connected with my Taiwanese roots. But I was reminded of how my parents were really quite unfazed by cultural assimilation and instead, encouraged me to embrace my identity- that of an American.   

The Hartford History room on the third floor of Hartford Public Library quickly filled with over 20 book group participants.  As the newbie in the group, I quickly took a seat while others mingled familiarly with one another. Janet Bauer took the role of group facilitator and asked us to express our initial thoughts on the book and I quickly spoke up.  I could not hide my perspective, how reading the book had jarred memories similar to those of the two little girls. 

Tyler’s focuses on the Iranian-American grandmother Maryam and her relationship with Dave, a fellow widower. Many in the group felt strongly about Maryam’s development. Some felt a sense of connection but understood her character’s irony- that she is unable to let go of her past and move forward. It was the sense of “outsiderness” that everyone seemed to relate to- and how that feeling of isolation inhibits so much.  For Maryam, it prevents her from accepting Dave’s affections. I read, hoping at each turn of the page, that as flawed as they both are, that they both find some sense of happiness. I won’t spoil the end, but I can tell you- it’s worth the wait. Indeed, “it’s a lot of work, being foreign.”
I look forward to next month’s selection.

Jennifer Kriksciun

On a warmer than usual Saturday morning in October, organizers from around the Hartford community made their way to the Mark Twain library branch with food and decorations to prepare for the noon Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association Welcoming event.  In co-sponsorship with Hartford Public Library, the event’s main purpose was that of encouraging relationship building and community conversations among Asylum Hill residents who ranged from long term, native-born city dwellers to new arrival immigrant families from around the globe.
By noon, the main room of the library was filled with over 100 guests. Neighbors greeted neighbors while newcomers mingled easily.  Soon the air was full of chatter and laughter as residents and their children, hailing from countries as far as Bhutan and Burma, Indonesia and Thailand, Iraq and the Congo and as near as Colombia and the Dominican Republic, all found seats at tables with members of the receiving community. Child care was provided for the younger children, who, irrespective of language or culture happily played together for the entire three hour event. The friendly words of welcome by Jennifer Cassidy, longtime Asylum Hill resident and current Chairperson of Asylum Hill’s Neighborhood Association – launched the afternoon’s festivities.  Greeting the packed room of over eighty attendees, Ms. Cassidy reaffirmed her association’s mission to “promote a safe, stable and diverse neighborhood for all who live, work, and worship in Asylum Hill”.  Beside her stood a Karen interpreter who translated for the many Karen-speaking Asylum Hill residents who have emigrated from Burma and Thailand.
After the opening words, guests dined on a variety of international foods prepared by local Thai restaurant, East West Grille as well as Puerto Rican restaurant, the Bean Pot. Aromas of vegetable fried rice and chicken, Spanish rice, homemade Peruvian potato dish, papa a la huancaina,and vegetarian sushi drifted through the room and guests were eager to get in line to fill their plates. It was clear to see how the sharing of a lunchtime feast could help unify a group of people of such incredible diversity.  Indeed, it was a wonderful sight.
Carolyne Abdullah, of Everyday Democracy, introduced the dialogue portion of the event.  Guided by facilitators, each table discussed what they most liked and disliked about their Asylum Hill neighborhood.  At my table sat several people, including two lovely women from Burma and a young man from Bhutan. As facilitator, I encouraged participants to express what they liked about their neighborhood.  My new Bhutanese friend responded quickly that the neighborhood was very nice and welcoming and the Karen women sitting next to him nodded in agreement.  Language barriers were the main issue at the table, so we discussed possible neighborhood-level solutions that could improve this problem, including more access to and availability of educational services for adults and the delivery of health services in the Karen and Hindi languages , to better serve these growing populations in the neighborhood. 
After thirty minutes, facilitators reported out on those ideas most commonly expressed at their tables. Many praised the cultural diversity of the neighborhood as well as the many initiatives such as new building construction and a stronger police presence which have made Asylum Hill feel safer and more welcoming.  Despite identifying some positives, a number of attendees still aired their concern about safety, residents’ poor housing conditions, and the lack of a comprehensive support system to aid families.  When asked what they would like to see changed, comments included the following: retain more tenants in the neighborhood; develop neighborhood pride; improve road conditions; open new ethnic restaurants; and, increase after-school programs. The event concluded with former AHNA Chairperson, Bernie Michel, expressing how appreciative he was that this day that he had waited 10 years to see realized had finally taken place.  He invited everyone to attend the next meeting of this group to be held on December 13th at the Mark Twain library branch at 5:30 PM as well as the next monthly meeting of AHNA on December 3rd.
Guests celebrated a wonderful afternoon of good conversation with desserts of cake and donuts while Asylum Hill resident Mr. Sawtha, closed the event with his own story of living in Asylum Hill.  A Burmese native, he said that many attendees come from countries where they do not have the freedom to express their opinions and at this event we all had the chance to do so.  He thanked everyone and invited them to attend a Burmese New Year celebration at the downtown library on Sunday, January 13, 2013.
AHNA and the Library will continue to convene monthly meetings to sustain momentum and cultivate the relationships newly formed at the event. One of the key agenda items at the follow-up meetings will be the planning of a spring forum to seek avenues for addressing the key issues raised on November 10th.


Jasmine Cardi

Me trying to catch a snowflake

Sometimes, we perform random acts of kindness without even knowing it. You don’t know if the person you are helping has had a horrible day and your smile, patience or help can be either the breaking or salvation point of their day. If I had to come up with a statement that describes my personal ethic (not just my work ethic) it would be: treat others as you’d like to be treated. This is a pretty simple concept. We learn this early on in life. It is so easy to forget this sometimes. Today I was reminded of this very statement. I am going to share my experience with one of our citizenship class students, Maria, who recently became a naturalized citizen. Maria came into the library today even though she is done taking classes with us. She has learned English and recently became a U.S. citizen. I helped her throughout the process, giving her information, setting her up with classes, tutors, asking how she was doing, and checking on the health of her husband who was very ill. Most of all I gave her encouragement. She was very nervous to practice her English and to take her test. She greets me today with a big hug and a thank you card. She tells me, “Thank you Jasmine for all of your help. I am so grateful. You have no idea how much your help meant to me. Last week while at church when the Father asked if we’d like to pray for someone I said I want to pray for Jasmine.  I told them you were not sick and did not need anything. I just wanted to pray for you because of your kindness in helping me and in helping others. I see how you help everyone who comes here and for that I am grateful. Even though I am done with classes I know you are here and if I need anything I know where to find you.” Beyond humbled and teary eyed I gave her a hug and said thank you. It is very rare when I am left speechless. I almost did not share this story as I don’t want to “toot my own horn.” After thinking about this hours later I felt it was a good story to share because far too often we hear either what we are doing wrong or nothing at all. I’d like this story to inspire others to simply treat others as you’d like to be treated. We never know when the roles will be reversed and it is us on the opposite end.

Jasmine Cardi

You know the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you see a crackling fireplace? A mug of hot chocolate? Warm chocolate chip cookies? Today I felt that as I witnessed some of our ESOL students see snow for the first time. They were on the computer doing a lesson when a woman looks over and says, “Wow! It’s snowing.” Two women in the class had never seen snow before in their lives. They walked over to the window and were so happy and amazed to see the flurries. A few students, including the teacher who is from Peru, began sharing stories with one another about the first time they experienced snow. It was quite amazing to witness!

Rizgar (student), Leah and Luisa

Last week we said goodbye to one of our ESL teachers, Leah Atruia. She found a job teaching in another city. Leah has been with us for over a year. Her students appreciated her very much. On her last day with us, one of our colleagues, Luisa, baked her a cake. Both of our ESL classes joined together for a going away coffee and cake. There was such a sense of appreciation from both Leah and from the students. They are so grateful for what they have learned in the past year. Although we are sad to see her go we wish her the best.