Library column: Reading a great way to help understand our differences

By Elizabeth Ripley

The saying goes, “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes,” but sometimes that’s not possible. Reading a book about another person’s experience, however, is another great way to understand a different culture or point of view. Recent discussions of immigrants and refugees bring this old adage to mind. Minnesota, like the rest of the United States, has a rich history filled with a variety of backgrounds and voices, from the Scandinavian journeys in the 1800s to the more recent Hmong and Somali emigration of the late 1900s and today.

Here at Anoka County Library we strive to provide the community with a variety of resources for learning and recreation – a metaphorical (and hopefully more enjoyable) “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes,” if you will.

The following resources only scratch the surface of the Minnesota immigration experience. For more resources, contact your local Anoka County Librarian or visit the Anoka County Library website.

–“The Latehomecomer” by Kao Kalia Yang.

Minnesota is home to a large population of Hmong immigrants, but how much do you know about the culture? In this memoir, Yang describes her family’s journey from a refugee camp in Thailand to California, finally settling in St. Paul. With grace, Yang describes the difficulties in adjusting to a place so different from what she knew before. A place where few know about the Hmong culture and even fewer know that Hmong people helped the United States in the Vietnam War. A place with a language so different from the one she knew. (Coffee House Press, 2008.)

–“This Much I Can Tell You: Stories of Courage and Hope from Refugees in Minnesota” – MCC Refugee Services.

In this nonfiction compilation refugees who have made their home in Minnesota tell their story. Readers learn about life before Minnesota, including Malaba, a refugee from Zimbabwe, and Januka, who walked with her family from Bhutan to Nepal. Readers discover life in refugee camps, as told by Lah Pah, and the day-to-day activities that took place there, including weddings and a camp newspaper. Readers become aware of the challenges refugees face in their day-to-day lives in their new home. Each story is different, but together they weave a tapestry of life and hope in a new country. (Beavers Pond Press, 2011.)

–”Home of the Brave” by Katherine Applegate.

This middle-grade novel in verse tells the story of Kek, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. His brother and father are dead, and now his mother is missing. Scared and alone, he makes his way to Minnesota, a place so unlike his home. While awaiting news of his mother, Kek begins to make new friends and new hopes in his new home. (Feiwel and Friends, 2007.)

–”Emily of Deep Valley” by Maud Hart Lovelace.

Most of us in Minnesota are familiar with Maud Hart Lovelace because of her famous Betsy Tacy series or the state book award in her name. The story of Emily, the champion of Syrian immigrants in Deep Valley (based on Mankato) in 1912, is not so well known. Emily is an orphan living with her grandfather in Deep Valley. When all her friends go off to college, she is unsure of what to do with her time, until she meets the handsome new high school teacher and members of the Syrian immigrant community. (Crowell, 1950.)

–”The Emigrants” by Vilhelm Moberg.

Nearby Lindstrom, Minnesota, is famous for its Swedish immigrant population. There’s even a summer celebration called Karl Oskar Days that celebrates fictional character Karl Oskar Nilsson, made famous by Moberg’s account of Swedish Immigrants in his series “The Emigrants.” The series follows generations of Karl Oskar’s family as they leave Sweden and begin a new life in Minnesota. Despite publication in the 1950s, the series remains popular in the United States and Sweden and continues to draw Swedish tourists to the area. (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1995, 1951.)

Elizabeth Ripley is an Anoka County librarian at the Johnsville branch.



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