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Arcadia Poets Write About Homelands

Students Published in New Anthology

Arcadia Elementary School PoetsArcadia Elementary School students help give voice to the experiences of immigrants in a new anthology “Immigration & Justice for Our Neighbors.”

Arcadia students will join other writers in a book reading at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 7, at Bookbug, 3019 Oakland Drive.

The children’s poems are filled with longing and sweet memories of their homelands. They are full of images of beaches and loving relatives, beautiful landscapes and innocent pleasures.

In her poem, “Dear Iraq,” Nada Alhasnawi writes, “Do you remember how much I love you? I love you more than everything. Sometimes I wonder if you are doing alright. Thank you for the best memories.”

Hala Alhasan, who is from Syria, writes in “Dear Syria, “You make me feel happy. I remember the sound of the ocean in Tartas. Do you remember when we were grilling on your beach? … Sometimes I wonder what you will be like when I return in 15 years. Thank you for giving me happiness.”

The anthology was co-edited by writers Jennifer Clark and writer Miriam Downey. Clark was approached by Mollie Clements, who asked her to help create the book to raise awareness of Justice for Our Neighbors, a legal clinic for immigrants. The clinic is one of about three dozen in the country and is affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

The book has now had its second printing. It is available for $10 at Michigan News Agency, Bookbug, Kazoo Books, First United Methodist Church, and Tudor House Tea and Spice in Kalamazoo.

“We decided to do an anthology with a focus on immigration, then we thought to make it better than that with the idea of being a good neighbor,” Clark said.

She asked some of her favorite area writers, such as Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Buddy Hannah, and Lynn Pattison to contribute to the project. She also put out a general call for submissions. Clements looked at the list of contributors and suggested adding children’s voices.

Clark, who does public relations for Community in Schools of Kalamazoo but who used to work with students, approached Arcadia, where an Americorps Vista worker had submitted his own piece and a poem by student Ritika Verma.

Working with fourth- and fifth-grade students, she held two lunchtime writing sessions and was overwhelmed by the response.

“There were 42 students,” she said. “I was a little freaked out when I got there. Usually I’ll have 15 kids. If I get eight, I’m really happy.”

She found help from the KPS bilingual staff and school principal Greg Socha. The students were eager to write and took editing suggestions well, broadening ideas and playing with the language.

“I think the kids have so much wisdom,” Clark said. “The kids said, what makes a good neighbor is kindness. We’re doing this at a time when people aren’t being so kind to each other right now. The kids are reminding us you need to be kind, you need to care for your neighbors.

“Those are the basics. If we can do that, everything else will fall into place.”

The students helped celebrate the book launch with a reading at the Arcus Center for Social Justice at Kalamazoo College in April. They stole the show, Clark said.

“They were reading alongside these consummate readers, people who this is what they do,” Clark said. “The grown-ups were saying, ‘I’ve never been so nervous to read.’ It’s so important to see these kids. That is what it’s all about.”

Many of the adult writers and readers said they have been impressed by the the children’s memories. They focused not on wars or fleeing desperate conditions but on the normalcy of life in their homelands. They talked about going to the beach in Tajikistan, grilling out in Iraq, listening to stories from their grandparents in Syria.

“One of the people in the bilingual program told me that having the children read their works to their families has been a healing process,” Clark said. “In some cases they haven’t talked about those memories, they haven’t talked about leaving their country. So the parents are hearing how their kids were feeling and about what they missed, what they loved, what they remembered. That was a positive experience, an emotional one, but a positive one.”

The Arcadia poets are:

Nada Alhasnawi

Faris Bukhader

Abdullah Tayara

Taema Qwam-Alden

Lisbet Lopez

Reem Ahmed

Roziya Rustamova

Hala Alhasan

Ritika Verma

Photos courtesy of Jessica Clark
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