The Waterbury Public Library in October was proud to host three events focusing on “Understanding Our Difference/Our Sameness through Stories.”
The series came about through a grant from Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries, an initiative of the American Library Association in collaboration with the Association for Rural & Small Libraries.
The series began with a book discussion on Laila Lalami’s novel “The Other Americans,” a page-turning mystery highlighting the many discontents of immigration and “passing.” All of the 25 paperback books purchased with grant funds were given away to interested community members, some of whom joined the discussion of the book addressing such topics as place, home, the “other,” PTSD, choices, staying safe vs. running away, conflict, and language challenges.
Next was powerful and provocative poetry read by Burlingtonian Rajnii Eddins. Originally from Seattle, Washington, Rajnii has made his home in Vermont for the last decade and forgives Vermont its harsh winters. He talked about his own resilience, how when one is pushed to be silent and yet stays vocal, it exercises a certain muscle, especially when coming from a place of love and holding a higher standard for humanity.
Rajnii speaks with passion, conviction, and musicality. His voice is full of expression and his words are potent. His mission through his art is to breathe life into situations, to hold people accountable, and to “light a fire” under people. His self-described “courageous vulnerability” allows others to be honest about their experiences. Eddins’ presentation was recorded and is available on the Waterbury Public Library’s website, waterburypubliclibrary.com, under adult programs.
Concluding the series was the well-received Central Vermont Refugee Action Network program featuring refugee and asylum seekers and a host family sharing their stories. Titled “Bridging Continents: The Life and Experiences of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Central Vermont,” that discussion brought out close to three dozen local participants eager to hear and share in the conversations.
A speaker from northern Africa whose journey as a refugee took him through Romania spoke of the inherent racism he experiences on a regular basis. In spite of the persistence and frequency of these interactions, he remains positive and loves Vermont. Eltayeb Awadall is the owner of MobiTech in Montpelier, a U.S. citizen, and a true success.
An article about the event in The Montpelier Bridge newspaper tells a very different story about an asylum seeker. In the words of the Bridge reporter, “When this young woman and her family came to Vermont, they did not have enough money for an apartment or for an attorney to help them navigate the asylum process. Because of federal regulations, asylum seekers do not have work authorization. Obtaining authorization can take 6 to 12 months, and during that time they were unable to work because they did not have social security numbers. In 2020, the woman was able to get a work permit and now attends CCV.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, she wants to become an immigration lawyer in order to help other people in similar positions as her family.
Also from the Bridge: “While both of these individuals overcame many obstacles and spoke of how welcoming our communities have been to them, they did share some of the difficulties they faced. These included the lack of public transportation, how family members were taken advantage of because they could not speak English, and people highlighting how they are different instead of focusing on how they are the same. They also spoke of needing assistance in navigating the college application process, completing the paperwork for school registration, and accessing healthcare.
The Refugee Action Network helps with some of these obstacles. In addition to providing housing and assisting with the legal process, there is also a volunteer network that helps with transportation and with access to a communication liaison to host families.”
Judi Byron is the Adult Program Librarian at the Waterbury Public Library. Contact her at email@example.com.