On this episode of The Desk Set, we're exploring immigrant stories. First up, we interview author Angie Kim about her novel Miracle Creek, a mystery and legal thriller that's centered on a family of Korean immigrants and a single mother accused of murder. Then we chat with Jo Anderson Cavinta, the King County Library System's (KCLS') diversity services coordinator, about the programs and services that KCLS offers for immigrants, refugees, and new arrivals.
A transcript of this episode is available at the end of our show notes.
In addition to the books mentioned on the show, you can browse Emily and Britta's picks for books by immigrant authors. To learn more about KCLS's programs and services for new arrivals, check out the Welcoming Center and the Adult Learners page.
If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to email@example.com.
The Desk Set is brought to you by the King County Library System. Most of the audio heard on the podcast was recorded at the ideaX Makerspace at the Bellevue Library. The show is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins, and produced by Britta Barrett. Our theme song is "I Know What I Want" by Math and Physics Club. Other music provided by Chad Crouch, from the Free Music Archive.
Emily Calkins: You are listening to The Desk Set.
Britta Barrett: A bookish podcast for reading broadly.
Emily Calkins: We're your hosts, Emily Calkins.
Britta Barrett: And Britta Barrett.
Emily Calkins: On this episode, we're talking about books by immigrant authors. First up we'll talk to author Angie Kim about her novel Miracle Creek, which follows an immigrant family and an experimental medical treatment gone very wrong.
Britta Barrett: Then we'll talk to Jo Anderson Cavinta, KCLS' diversity services coordinator about all of the services that the library offers to immigrants, refugees, and new arrivals.
Angie Kim: My name is Angie Kim, and I am the debut author of Miracle Creek, which is a literary courtroom drama about a Korean immigrant family and a young single mother who's on trial for murdering her eight-year-old child on the autism spectrum.
Emily Calkins: So before we delve into talking more about the book, can you talk a little bit about the hyperbaric oxygen chamber that's the heart of the treatment and also the murder case?
Angie Kim: Sure. Yeah. So for those listeners who haven't read the book or don't know about it, it is a tragedy and courtroom drama centered around an explosion and fire that happens in something called the miracle submarine, which is a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber. And we call it H-bot for short. And it's a real thing. H-bot is a real medical treatment that is used in hospitals throughout the world for things like carbon monoxide poisoning, for diving accidents, for gangrene, for faster healing of burns. All sorts of things like that.
Angie Kim: And it's also been used outside the hospital setting as an experimental treatment for a variety of things in recent years, including things like infertility and Lyme disease, to cerebral palsy and autism. And that experimental use is what is at the heart of my novel. It's during an experimental use like that in a group chamber that fits up to for patients and their caregivers that this tragedy occurs, and there's fire involving the pure oxygen that's used in this therapy. And people die. And we fast forward a year to the trial.
Emily Calkins: There's a lot of parental sacrifice in this book. Do you see parallels between immigrant parents who sacrifice to bring their families to America and the sacrifices that parents of special needs kids make to care for their children?
Angie Kim: Yeah, such a great question. And I don't think that it was a parallel that I recognized until I was essentially done with the novel, and getting feedback from my readers who noticed this parallel and said, "Hey, this seems to be a big theme." And as a novelist, I was simply telling a story and I wasn't really thinking about what are the themes that I'm going to explore? I just wanted to explore the story and the characters' lives. But that is definitely something that has popped up a lot. And I think if I were to say what the book is about in a nutshell, it is about the extremes of parental sacrifice. So I do think that immigration, as an immigrant myself - I came over with my parents when I was 11 from Korea to Baltimore -
Angie Kim: So as an immigrant who's experienced this firsthand, I do think that pretty much all of immigration, or most of it anyway, involves parenting sacrifice for their children. Because so many parents and families that immigrate to the U.S. are doing it as a sacrifice of their own lives, their own connections to their family, to their native land, to their language. All of those things, for the chance of a better life for their children. So I really think that it's basically like giving up your entire life for your child or children.
Angie Kim: And then on the other hand, we have in the world of the novel, this world of parents of children with special needs or chronic illnesses. And I personally also belong to that set. I have three boys, and all three have suffered medical mystery types of illnesses. And they're all fine now, but there was a while there, like several years when my life was just all about going to hospitals every week.
Angie Kim: So it's something that I've experienced myself, and something that I also try to highlight in the book. And it's this idea that when someone in your family is sick, when one of your kids is ill or has a disability, your entire life just collapses, and normal life collapses. And your life becomes about trying to make their lives better, and trying to help them heal or have the prospect of a better future, because you're so afraid of what could happen without you being there to help care for them always. And then the effect that that has not only on the parent's own lives, but also the siblings and things like that as well, and how it affects your relationships with other people. So all of those things I think are wrapped up, and I definitely see the parallel, and I'm so glad that you saw it too.
Emily Calkins: So you mentioned that you came to this country as an 11-year-old. How did your own experience as a young immigrant shaped Miracle Creek?
Angie Kim: I think that it's fair to say that I lifted parts of my own life and just put it, lifted and put it straight into the novel in some ways. In fact, there are paragraphs from the novel itself that I lifted from essays that I had written and published about my own immigrant experience. So there is a Korean family named the Yoo family. Pak and Yuong are the parents, and Mary is the teenage daughter. And they come over to the U.S. when Mary is 11. And in the novel, the father actually stays behind in Korea for four years and becomes what's known in Korea as a wild goose father, a goose father.
Angie Kim: And that's in reference to the fact that there are millions of fathers in Korea who stay in Seoul and continue to work and make money for the family, but send his kids and wife to a place like the U.S., or maybe Australia, or Canada, or something like that. So that the kids can get a better education. And the goose reference is to the fact that they migrate or fly quote-unquote once a year to see their families.
Angie Kim: So this is a recent phenomenon. This is not what happened to me. Both my parents came over with me when I was 11, but I just thought that that was a really interesting dynamic that now happens and something that really shows the very, very extremes of parental sacrifice. I thought it interesting to put into that novel.
Angie Kim: But going back to my own life, we did come to Baltimore. My parents worked night and day, 6:00 AM to midnight hours at a tiny little grocery store in downtown Baltimore. Really dangerous neighborhood, really thick bulletproof glass that surrounded the entire store. And once my dad made the mistake of stepping outside the bulletproof glassed area into the vestibule, and was shot. And thankfully the bullet grazed his neck, so he was only injured and recovered. But that's the kind of thing that we dealt with.
Angie Kim: And I was left in the suburbs of Baltimore because they just thought the store was too dangerous for me to live in with them. So I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Lutherville, Maryland, which is right next to Towson. And I went to school there with my cousin, to the public school there.
Angie Kim: And I think it's that whole experience of having gone through this immigration experience where on the one hand, I gained so much from material comforts. Because in Korea, we were really poor. We didn't have running water, we didn't have separate bedrooms or anything like that. We all slept in one room. And then I came to this luxurious house in Baltimore where I had my own bedroom. There were multiple indoor bathrooms, which I'd never even seen before in a house.
Angie Kim: So all of that and everything I gained versus everything that I lost. My parents with whom I spent so much time back in Korea and were very close to were all of a sudden gone. And I saw them maybe once a week, if that. So that contrast between subjective versus objective comfort and happiness was something that I really considered a lot in the lives of immigrants and something that I definitely tried to inject into the lives of these characters that are at the heart of Miracle Creek.
Emily Calkins: Yeah. I think that really came through for me. I had not thought what happens after you get here beyond the language barrier and just the cultural differences. But the fact that Mary is living in this house and her mother is sleeping on the floor of the store and they're not seeing each other for four years. It really changes their relationship. So on one hand, Young is making this huge sacrifice for her to work and to bring her to be in this country. And at the same time, Mary's suffering this huge loss of not being able to be with her mother. It's just a really interesting portrayal of an experience that I definitely hadn't thought about before.
Angie Kim: Yeah. And especially in today's climate when we're talking about children being separated from their parents and the logistics of that, there's so much more than just the logistical element of that. Because even for children who are older like I was, that really, really affects the way that you think about your family relationships certainly. But also about yourself and the confidence and self-esteem that you might have. And I think that's something that is so hard to understand until you've gone through it. Because on the one hand, I remember acquaintances of mine in school being like, "That's so cool that you get to be by yourself all the time. You don't have to deal with annoying siblings and you don't have your parents telling you to do your homework all the time. It's great that you're living by yourself," essentially.
Angie Kim: And there is that freedom. But of course, when you're actually in that situation, it might be fun for a day. But beyond that, just the loneliness and isolation and the separation from this foundational element of your life that's always been there, your parents and that relationship. It really changes you. And I think that that's something that hopefully readers will read, and through the story, at least try to get a little bit of an understanding of why that's so important that we're talking about that today.
Emily Calkins: So one of the things I really enjoyed about the book is we get to hear from multiple characters. So we see the same interaction from multiple points of view. And it's so illuminating to have this reminder that you can be in a conversation with someone and see it in a totally different way than they see it. How did you think about creating empathy for all of your characters?
Angie Kim: Thank you. I really enjoy that element, because that is something, you know, especially things like overheard conversations that you think about from one person's perspective and how things can get so misunderstood. And then when you actually go back and see it from somebody else's perspective, something that you thought was sinister or something that was maybe a clue to why they were a bad person actually turns out to be completely different.
Angie Kim: And I do think that that is the key to creating empathy for the characters is actually getting into each person's head. And that's one of the reasons why I wrote from all the major characters' perspectives, except for I guess the lawyers maybe. And I just thought it was really important to actually see what happened that leads up to this tragedy, as well as the effects on their lives from the tragedy. The before and the after from everybody's perspective.
Angie Kim: So there are seven POV characters that I write from throughout the novel. And each chapter is written from a different character's perspective per day. And there are four days in the murder trial. So it's structured in that way of it's separated into four days, and each day you hear from different characters.
Angie Kim: And to me when you get into somebody's head and you see what prompted them or motivated them to say a certain thing or do a certain thing, it totally changes the dynamic than just seeing what they're like and how they come across to other people. So somebody who comes across as being, somebody who's arrogant, let's say. And then you actually go into their head and see why they behave that way toward the other characters and why they said the things that they said, and you realize it's not arrogance at all, but it's insecurity.
Angie Kim: I think we've all had that kind of experience with friends or people who maybe you didn't know very well. And then over time, they become your friends and you start realizing more and more of what motivated them and what are the forces in their lives that make them act a certain way.
Angie Kim: So I think it's both from an empathy perspective, but I also think that there's a flip side to seeing the interior thoughts of all of these characters, which is that it actually makes them possibly more unlikable. Because, and I think that that's also natural. I think that we as human beings all have shameful thoughts. Things that we're like, "Oh my God, I can't believe that I just thought that just now or that I was considering doing blah, blah, blah. I'm such a horrible person." We all have those moments I think, but they're interior. So you don't usually confess those thoughts to the public. And because they are not public, you keep that part of you hidden from the world.
Angie Kim: Well in a novel like this - and I think this is what separates literary novels versus the ones that are more just all feel good, and don't go beyond that - is just every character I think has moments like that where they are ashamed of something that they've thought, or they think something and they know that they're being bad people by thinking it or considering it, or doing something. And because we're in their heads, we see those moments. And in fact, those are probably the moments that I like to highlight for the reader.
Angie Kim: So I think that I've heard from readers now that some people find that to be incredibly humanizing and make the characters sympathetic. And then there are some people who are like, "You know what? I really don't like that. I really don't like that that character thought such bad things. So therefore, I'm going to declare that person unlikeable." And it's so interesting to me that we can have those different reactions as readers, but that is definitely a danger in showing the deepest thoughts of these characters, as I have tried to do.
Emily Calkins: Both the courtroom and the oxygen chamber seem like natural settings for novels for me. They're these unusual high-pressure situations where people are taken out of their normal lives and put in, I mean sorry for the pun, but a combustible situation. Do you see-
Angie Kim: Absolutely.
Emily Calkins: [crosstalk 00:18:51] Between the two?
Angie Kim: Yeah. I really do. So it was interesting, I was at an event last night at a bookstore and I had this discussion with actually a teenage girl afterwards, who had read it and who was asking me about this. And I just thought it was so insightful. And she said not only are - the chamber, the sealed in chamber like the courtroom setting in that way. It's full of drama. There's so much conflict. And it is outside the normal life. But also is that a metaphor or symbol for things like autism and the isolation that when you are locked in, in a situation where you can't verbalize your thoughts in a fluent way, that you feel like you're locked in. Which I thought was really an interesting way to think about it as well.
Angie Kim: But I do think of both the courtroom and the sealed in oxygen chamber as perfect crucibles. In fact, if you think of Arthur Miller, The Crucible, the trial and the town, that kind of element was seen as The Crucible even though there really wasn't, I guess a physical such thing. But for me, that's one of the reasons why I chose the H-bot chamber as the perfect setting for my first novel that I ever attempted to write is because I've experienced this actually personally myself. One of my kids did do one of these experimental group chambers for ulcerative colitis when he was very little when he was four, and none of the standard treatments were working. So I experienced this.
Angie Kim: And it is this crucible feel. You are locked in, and there is this combustible situation. There's all these feelings, and conflicts, and situations that are swirling inside, and there's no way to get out. So in a physical way it's a crucible, and an emotional way it is as well. And courtrooms have often been thought of crucibles for that reason as well. So I do like that parallel between the two. And I like that the novel is divided into the moments leading up to the explosion, which are all mostly spent in this sealed-in crucible of the H-bot chamber. And then afterwards, we're looking at the effects and trying to suss out exactly what happened, which all of that is going on in this other sealed in setting, which is the courtroom.
Emily Calkins: So one last question, which is a two-parter. What are you reading now, and do you have any favorite books, either fiction or nonfiction, that you think do a great job of reflecting the immigrant experience?
Angie Kim: I'm going to actually start reading this afternoon is Melissa Rivero's The Affairs of the Falcóns. A debut author friend of mine. And it was released in the spring of 2019. And I haven't read it yet, but I'm starting this afternoon and I'm really, really excited. A book that I just finished not that long ago, probably the last book that I finished I think is also an immigrant experience novel, which is Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok. Which was just the Read With Jenna pick for The Today Show in June. So that just ended yesterday. And that is a fabulous literary mystery about one immigrant sister who is missing, and the younger sister having to go overseas to try to find her missing sister and try to figure out what happened. And we hear from the two different sisters' perspectives as well as the mother who is Chinese, or Taiwanese, and is talking to us obviously in English, but it's in that very lyrical, poetic, full of mystical symbolism and metaphor type of language of her native land.
Angie Kim: So really, really interesting. Fabulous page-turning type of book that I can highly recommend. And let's see. One book that I am in the middle of and I'm loving, loving so much right now is one of my favorite authors, Jamie Mason. Whose first novel, Three Graves Full, was a literary suspense mystery. And that was from, I don't know, I want to say five years ago or something like that. And I read that and I was like, "I will read whatever this author writes because I just love her voice and I love her writing style." She's just weird and quirky, and in the best, best possible sense. And I love weird and quirky. And her latest novel, and I'm reading the advanced reader copy, it's coming out I think later this month, is called The Hidden Things. And it is fabulous. So I highly recommend it if you're a fan of literary mysteries and thrillers.
Emily Calkins: Well, I am. So I'm going to add that to my list. It sounds awesome.
Angie Kim: Oh, good. Yay.
Emily Calkins: Well, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to talk to us. We really appreciate it.
Angie Kim: Thank you so much. I'm so excited to get a chance to talk to you.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: My name is Jo Anderson Cavinta. I'm the diversity services coordinator for the King County Library System.
Emily Calkins: And what does that entail?
Jo Anderson Cavinta: That's a great question. It entails a lot. So diversity services encompasses a number of things. It's working on anything that's diversity, equity, and inclusion-related and carrying out our values in our services, our programs, our outreach. Being a support to our staff who are doing the work in the communities. It also includes managing our adult education services.
Emily Calkins: So tell us a little bit more about what kinds of library resources...like what do those services look like?
Jo Anderson Cavinta: Yes, of course. So our adult education services provide some core services to immigrants and those who are learning English. Including our ESL classes, which we partner with community colleges and independent instructors to provide free classes in our libraries. The other class is called Talk Time and the English conversation class, that is facilitated by volunteers who create space for folks to come learn and practice their English. But beyond that, find social connections, learn from each other about navigating U.S. culture. Things like idioms, and just understanding their community, and finding friendship. Another class we have that's offered by volunteers is our citizenship class. So this is preparing for naturalization, including studying for the test.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: We also, I should mention, have some adult education programs for our Spanish language learners specifically. We have adult education programs, two of them. One is Las Plazas Comunitaria, and one is High School 21+. So it's a pathway for adults to continue their education wherever they left off. Maybe it was in grade school. So they're working through an online curriculum and working with volunteers to advance their education. And those who graduate from Plazas can earn credits towards a program called High School 21+.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: So High School 21+ is a program offered at our local colleges. It's a state program where folks can earn their Washington state diploma. So it's a great alternative to the GED. As the name implies, if you're 21 years old plus, you can enroll and take not just academic credit that transfers, but any life experiences that might transfer into credit, so you can walk away with your high school diploma. So we offer that course in Spanish through the Renton Technical College at Bellevue Library.
Emily Calkins: Cool. And can you tell us a little bit about the Welcoming Center?
Jo Anderson Cavinta: Yes, I would love to. So the welcoming center officially launched in May, and this is a collaboration between the Kent Library and Diversity Services, and the Diversity Committee. Basically, we wanted to create space to provide additional support as well as a point of connection for new arrivals. Immigrants, refugees, folks who have been in the country for five years or less essentially.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: So we house it at the Kent Library. And think of it as a service that includes wraparound support. It's a connection point for service providers. And one of the most essential components of the Welcoming Center are two welcoming ambassadors that we hired from the community. We felt it was really important to hire folks to provide the service that came from lived experience of what it was like to be a refugee and transition to not just the U.S., but the Kent area specifically.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: So we have two folks, Mohammad Jan and Saido, who provide a weekly meet and ask a welcoming ambassador session where they create space in the library. So we have a pop up little area on the public floor where we have a banner and a tablecloth signifying who they are and what they do. And staff can refer folks to them or vice versa.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: And basically, both Mohammad Jan and Saido have been working full time and are working full time at human service agencies providing information about health, housing, employment, resettlement. So they're just very knowledgeable and experienced, both working in those spaces but also having gone through it themselves. So just that idea of what we've learned is the value of those connections and creating meaningful connections.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: And the services themselves have been great, but it's been secondary to creating a space of belonging. So we do things like family social time, and we also are going to start a driver's education course for Afghan women. So these are things that the community has identified and said through our work in outreach over the last few months to say this is what we need for economic empowerment, self-determination. How can we partner with the library to make this happen?
Emily Calkins: Can you talk a little bit about why Kent Library?
Jo Anderson Cavinta: Yes. So Kent is in King County a hub for refugee resettlement. It's interesting how those areas are determined. It's basically these are areas in the county that have the services and housing available. And housing is becoming, it's increasingly becoming a challenge in King County. So we see folks are resettling further and further south. But traditionally, in our history over the last 20 years, refugees have resettled in the Kent area, Tukwila, and then through secondary migration throughout the county.
Emily Calkins: And when we talk about immigrants and refugees in King County broadly, can you talk about the different kinds of populations that we're talking about? Because it's really a range. We have when we say immigrants, we don't mean one kind of person coming from one part of the world.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: Absolutely. So it starts with the understanding that there is a difference between immigrants, refugees, and asylees. So when we talk about refugees, we're talking about people who are fleeing persecution in their home country. Moving, often living in a refugee camp for many years in a second country. And then through a very long, some folks are selected to resettle in a third country. Oftentimes, either folks never get to leave the refugee camp. Or efforts are made to resettle them back to their home country. That's the most ideal. Or they resettle in the country that they fled to, or they come to a country that accepts refugees. So King County is one of those areas. And as a refugee, when you do get selected and go through the process, the vetting process, you usually don't know where you're going.
Emily Calkins: So you could end up anywhere, in the world essentially?
Jo Anderson Cavinta: Yes. Yes. So places like New York, Minnesota, and King County. So the other thing is if you are fleeing and you're requesting from the government that you're fleeing to for some amnesty, you're seeking asylum. As we know at our southern border, this is a huge issue currently. So there's folks who are just in limbo awaiting their fate. And then traditionally, immigrants are folks who are leaving their home country to live in another country, whether it's to pursue opportunity or to live with family, there's a number of different reasons why folks might leave and start their life in another country. So my mom came here from the Philippines in her early twenties. And it was bittersweet because there's a lot of reasons why she wanted to stay. Family ties, definitely one of them. But just knowing that if she came to the U.S., she might be able to afford her family a better life. But there's many reasons why people come.
Emily Calkins: And in terms of where people are coming from, where are our largest populations coming from?
Jo Anderson Cavinta: Sure. So in Kent, we see a lot of folks from Afghanistan, from the Democratic Republic of Congo. For many years, Somalis and Vietnamese, let's see, folks from Ukraine, are the largest populations in King County. And it changes given our policies. We all know about the current travel ban, also known as the Muslim ban. So there's certain countries where resettlement has really slowed.
Jo Anderson C.: But we have agencies around the county that actually meet at the Renton library through the King County Refugee Forum. And they talk about the challenges of resettlement where folks are currently coming from, provide resources and network to each other.
Jo Anderson C.: So we also know King County has a huge population of Latinos. We have many Pacific Islanders, many Filipinos. It's just a very diverse area. We're one of the most diverse areas of the country in terms of immigrants. So I think we were at the last time I checked, 22% of our population. So one in four folks. And compared to the country's national average of about 13%, we're nearly double. And this has all occurred in the last 20 years.
Emily Calkins: I knew it was higher than other parts of the country, but I didn't realize it was that high. When you said Pacific Islanders, I was reminded that I was at a meeting recently where people were talking about our collections. And we had a request for one of our libraries in South King County and I can't remember which one, to start a collection in Marshallese. So from the Marshall Islands, which we face a challenge in terms of just finding books that are even published in that language. But I am just astonished when I learn about the diversity of our population in general, but particularly our immigrant and refugee population. We also have in the north part of the county, a different looking population, right? Because they have a lot of immigrants who come to work at tech companies.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: Yes. Yeah. So large Hindi speaking population. We have a huge Chinese speaking population on the East Side. So basically wherever you go within King County, it looks a little bit different. People's circumstances are different, their needs are different. So we have a world language collection for example, that has 22 different languages. And you really have to think about it is 22 different collections, because folks have different reading habits and interests. So trying to keep up, and whether you can find materials in their language is another challenge that our selectors will tell you about. But yeah, it's very interesting. And that's reflected in our classes as well. So Talk Time at Redmond is going to look different from Talk Time in Auburn. So just depending on where you go, what English proficiency folks are at, what they're interested in learning about, what kind of connections are making can be very different depending on where you are.
Britta Barrett: Yeah. And that concept of a free library is not one that's shared globally. Have you found that it's sometimes difficult to market and communicate, "No seriously. All of this stuff. Get it for free."
Jo Anderson Cavinta: Yeah, absolutely. That's one of the things that for some folks, some folks did grow up with public libraries. And some folks, it is an amazing a resource. I remember we were doing an immigrant stories project, and a man from Ethiopia was like, "Man, it's like finding a candy store. I could get 100 items, and no questions, and I can just bring it back." Just happy to tell his friends about it. Oromo Ethiopian, he would have me correct.
Jo Anderson C.: So yeah, it's always this great opportunity. So we were talking about the Welcoming Center, but just a way to introduce public libraries to immigrants and refugees, and as well as service providers. It's like check out, we're a great collaborator. We're a great partner to have. The resources that are here and how we can cross-refer, and make sure that folks know about these services.
Emily Calkins: All right. So we also asked you to bring some favorite books that are by immigrants or share immigrant stories. Do you have some stuff to share with us?
Jo Anderson Cavinta: I do. So I think I'll start with How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana. So this is a memoir. She grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but she's from a minority tribe that had fled to the Congo from Rwanda. And the book is about, it's basically a love letter to her people. It starts out at the massacre at the refugee camp in the Gatumba Refugee Camp in Burundi where her family was, they thought, temporarily settling while things calmed down back at home. And she talks about just being born into a country where the threat of war was just constant. That you can't get through a school year without some threat, having to pack up everything you can at the drop of a dime, and having to go either stay with family or in this instance stay at a refugee camp for an undetermined amount of time until it was safe to go back.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: So she starts there, but then she also talks about her family, where they had an opportunity to resettle in the U.S. So you get to hear from a first-person account about the refugee resettlement process. I hear it constantly at the meetings I'm at, "You get about three months of support, and then you're basically on your own." And all of the things you need to do in order to even qualified to come over as a refugee.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: So it's interesting because she talks about that process. And when they do make that decision to leave, because it wasn't an easy decision of course. So leaving everything you know. All of your friends, all of your family, your beautiful country, and resettling. What you think or expect when you hear about America, and then the reality of the resettlement process.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: We also heard about this process when we were talking to refugees through our immigrant stories project. I remember one person saying, "I just kept thinking this is the land of milk and honey. And then I resettled to a more affluent area and it was. And then I resettled to Yesler Terrace and it was a new reality." So just the not knowing what to expect and trying to maintain hope through the process.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: So in How Dare the Sun Rise, she just talks about as a young person, because she was I think 10 when the massacre happened. And then when she came over as a teen and entered school a couple grades below where she was actually at, and just being really frustrated with that because she was proud to be such a good student. And then not knowing English, however she knew many other languages. So having to start over and then being - the role reversal with her parents that they were so strong, they were the ones who taught her everything and now she was needing to teach them about U.S. culture and being their translator. There's just a lot of relatable things if you grew up here as an immigrant. Even though I was born here, just having some of those similar experiences of being frustrated with having to be a translator for your parents. Or just the subtle differences in cultures and just the conflict of being Americanized.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: So what I love about this story is that it talks about that progression from a firsthand account, and then just really not dealing with that trauma and having to deal with it later. She talks about going through the trauma while she is a college student, and it just all of a sudden flared up and just was really devastating, and changed the course of her life as she became a social activist and made sure that folks knew about the massacre. Because what she also talks about was just she thought that American students didn't care. And she was learning that a lot of folks just didn't even know. Because as we know about war and genocide in other countries, it's not on the nightly news, or it rarely is. And you're learning about it through other sources. Just trying to come to terms with why we don't hear about these atrocities, and how difficult it is when you do hear about it, to understand where our humanity is in all of this. And then the difficulty just going through your day-to-day life pretending like everything's normal. So just the amount of guilt, she talks about that in this book as well. Also being a survivor. So I don't want to give too much away, but it's a beautiful story. It's definitely an insight that not everybody has an opportunity to hear from someone who's lived through it.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: I also highly recommend Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini. You'll recognize him from his amazing breakout novel, The Kite Runner. So he's born in Afghanistan and a physician in California turned author. So I recognized his name from that. And when I actually downloaded Sea Prayer as an ebook, it was one of the books we put on a book list and I was really curious about. So I was flipping through it in OverDrive reading it, bawling.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: And then it stopped. And I was like, "Oh wait, this is a very short letter." It's a letter from a father to a son. They're Syrian. And it's on the eve of their journey on the vast ocean. So I had to go pick it up. I was like, "Is this right?"
Jo Anderson Cavinta: It's beautifully illustrated by Dan Williams. So it's watercolor, and it's a really quick read. But again, it puts you into the, it provides you the lens of someone who is fleeing. And also addresses just like in How Dare the Sun Rise, what you're leaving behind. And the devastation that comes with war. And what's just heartbreaking about this story is he's like, "You know son, I wish you saw the country. I wish you saw our city of Homs before it was completely annihilated and before all of these daily terrors became your norm."
Jo Anderson Cavinta: So it's just the running theme of folks are not wanting to leave their homes. They're not wanting to put themselves through this idea of resettling in a place that they have no knowledge of. Sometimes not speaking the language, sometimes, whatever it might be. So this thought and idea that perhaps if folks knew what the experience was really like, what folks are truly leaving behind, that we might have more empathy, that we might be able to at least grapple with racism and xenophobia that folks are experiencing when they come to the U.S. Because he talks about, you know, we know we aren't necessarily going to be welcome, that there's really no choice in the matter. And now we have to take this journey that is very questionable if we'll survive. So he leaves you hanging in that regard. But yeah, definitely, definitely would recommend taking a read. Again, that's Khaled Hosseini's Sea Prayer. Yuyi Morales, children's book Dreamers.
Emily Calkins: I love that book. It's so beautiful.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: Let's talk about that. So I had the opportunity to see her when she came to Lake Forest Park to our connection site and also the third place books. And she started out just talking about some of the toys that she remembered from her childhood. And she'd break them out, and show us how to play, and what it meant to her, and her culture. And then she read Dreamers to us. And of course again, you're just like [inaudible 00:49:42]. It's one of those books where especially if you grew up with an immigrant parent, that it's all the feels.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: So basically, she starts talking a little bit about the journey to America. This is actually her story. And when she came over, she came with her infant son. And then I believe they're in San Francisco, and trying to navigate anything from public transit to just learning the language as you go. And then finding the public library, and just unleashing all of those possibilities. Finding that hope and inspiration. Because Yuyi Morales, she does all her own artwork, and she just has all these amazing stories that it's really this ode to the library.
Emily Calkins: There's this beautiful spread, walk into the library and the picture books are all...it gets me every time. You want to think the library makes a difference for people. And it's so clear that for her, it really did. Her illustrations are so beautiful. They're collage, and she's a wonderful writer.
Jo Anderson Cavinta: And you know what I loved also in that story was the reference to, I think it was a backpack she was carrying that had all of these symbols of home, but also was just very symbolic of keeping your culture, keeping your language. And holding those things dear with you even as you're adjusting, and trying to fit in, and finding a sense of belonging, and learning a new language that how important it is to remember all of that.
Emily Calkins: Thank you for coming to talk to us today about all the amazing stuff that you oversee at the libraries, and some good books, and we really appreciate it.
Jo Anderson C.: Well I was so excited that you asked - and terrified. But it was a fun experience.
Britta Barrett: Thanks for listening. You can find all the books mentioned in today's episodes in our show notes.
Emily Calkins: The Desk Set is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins, produced by Britta Barrett, and brought to you by the King County Library System.
Britta Barrett: If you like the show, be sure to subscribe, rate, and review us on Apple Podcasts.