For Laurie, a Welcoming New Hampshire Story

“Laurie was their first English teacher. She brought sheets of white paper and markers to her students who spoke little English but told stories with their art.”

Laurie Lalish with three of her Bhutanese students in Laconia, 2010

In 2010, Laurie Lalish of Lutheran Social Services, now Ascentria, conducted a visual arts project with her ESL class in Laconia who created imagery of their homeland. They continued drawing images of home when Jo Radner and I were invited by Laurie to work with her class to do a folktale project. This was New Hampshire Humanities’ Bilingual Folktale Project conducted through the Connections Adult Literacy.

Dal Rai, illustrator of The Story of a Pumpkin, drawing a landscape of Bhutan.

All of Laurie’s students were Nepali-speaking parents and grandparents who had been exiled from their homes in Bhutan. They had lived as refugees in Nepal for 20 years before coming to New Hampshire. Laurie was their first English teacher. She brought sheets of white paper and markers to her students who spoke little English but told stories with their art.

They continued to draw after Jo and I, with interpreter Nilhari Bhandari, listened to many of their stories.  After the tellings,  they drew landscapes from home, their farmhouses, their animals, the temples of their country.

After the project, the students, including Jay Jogi and Kamal Dangal, gave their illustrations to Laurie  out of appreciation and respect for

Notice the art on Laurie’s classroom walls.

first English teacher.

Soon after the project,  Laurie had to stop teaching because she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A few years later, she contacted me.  She invited me to her house. She lives on a mountainside and it was a beautiful, sunny December day.  She showed me all the Bhutanese students’ drawings and offered them to me so that they might be known about and seen.  I showed them to Kayla Schweitzer, Heritage and Traditional Arts Coordinator of the NH State Council on the Arts.

A few months ago we both agreed on how to honor the artwork. As part of Welcoming New Hampshire, some of the art created by Bhutanese-Americans in Laurie’s class will be featured in a new gallery and meeting space in Concord called CreatingCommUNITY.

CreatingCommUNITY is part of  Welcoming New Hampshire, Weaving Cultures, Building Communities. They are working hand in hand with the national program Welcoming America. Together, all are launching events THIS week of Sept. 15 – 24.

The exhibit of refugee and immigrant art opens during Welcoming Week, Sept. 16 – 24 at CreatingCommUNITY, 18 North Main, St. Suite 206 in Concord. More details at Welcoming New Hampshire.

 

 

 

 

Reading Ruby with New Americans

Ruby Nell Bridges at age 6, was the first African American child to attend William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans after Federal courts ordered the desegregation of public schools.

One of the jobs I cherish doing is bringing NH Humanities’ book discussion programs to English Language Learners.I met with Christine Powers’ class of adult learners in Salem, New Hampshire this spring. They were all new Americans and also mothers. We met in the school where their kids go. Together we read a series of illustrated biographies including The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, the psychologist who wrote The Moral Life of Children.

I discovered Robert Coles’ The Moral Life of Children, years ago. For the book, he interviewed many children including Ruby Bridges, six years old. A New York Times reviewer explained Coles book like this, ”’No one teaches children sociology or psychology,” Dr. Coles remarks; ‘yet, children are constantly noticing who gets along with whom, and why.’ His tales are about what they have noticed, and how it affects them.” Ruby Bridges told Robert Coles about the mobs of people screaming hate at her as she crossed in front of them to go to school:

”They keep coming and saying the bad words, but my momma says they’ll get tired after a while and then they’ll stop coming. They’ll stay home.”

It was powerful reading about social justice issues in the U.S. with women from Pakistan, India, Lebanon, Vietnam, and Latin American countries. They are all mothers and know the power of family words. I stayed only for a short time, but Chris and her students kept delving into the book and the questions it asks of us and what we say to our kids.

In this new language of English, each student wrote a cinquain poem.

Here’s one:

Ruby Bridges

Religious Brave

Reading Praying Talking

“I was praying for them.”

Love.

Thank you, Chris Powers and all the women in your class for our time together.

 

Coming Home: Either the Beginning or the End is featured in NH Humanities’ “Soldiers Home and Away” project

Beg or the End

New Hampshire Humanities writes: For fourteen years, America has been mired in war, war being waged by less than one percent of the population. The relatively small number of active military service members has widened a cultural gulf between the military and civilian sectors. Enter the humanities! 

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I’m very excited to work with Leslie Pasternak who’ll lead the discussion of Either the Beginning or the End of the World and pose questions to me and readers.  Leslie  is the director of Kate Wenner’s  Make Sure It’s Me, a play on the subject of traumatic brain injury among returned service members.    With veteran actors, Leslie has presented the play in libraries and on the stage.  She also takes the play to Vet Centers where veterans participate in the presentation.  It is an extraordinary play that has brought veterans, their families, and communities together to talk, to understand, and to build paths toward healing from traumatic brain injury.  I am honored  that Leslie has championed my book as a way to add to the discussion of soldiers coming home. We’ll be at the Hampstead Library, Hampstead, NH  on Oct. 27 at 7 p.m.