Communal Reading

on Sep 04, 2014 in Blog by

Communal Reading (2)Are you picturing several people sitting cross-legged on big floor pillows, drinking herbal tea, and reading poetry aloud between gentle yoga stretches? While that sounds appealing (and before I had kids you might have hit the nail on the head with that image), that is not what I mean.

For the past few days I have spent a chunk of my evenings reading Reyna Grande’s memoir, The Distance Between Us, the story of her family’s emigration from Mexico to the U.S. The story is powerfully relevant as the U.S. attempts to deal with large numbers of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. When Reyna was 2, her father left her hometown of Iguala, Mexico, to find work in the United States. Her mother left Reyna, age 4, and her two siblings for the U.S. two years later, to return to them a single mother. When she was 9 Reyna and her siblings came to the U.S. and after several years the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act allowed them to become U.S. citizens.

This book is the One Community One Book choice for Iowa City. One Community One book aims to get a community reading a book together and taking part in discussions and events around the book’s subjects from September to November yearly. This year the project includes film screenings of documentaries about immigration to Iowa, book discussion suggestions, workshops for teachers, and a discussion with the author. You can find full details HERE.

So while I am reading this book in the evenings so are others in my neighborhood. In fact, I carried the book with me to a doctor’s appointment this week and the nurse checking my son’s vitals told me that she was reading it too. A parent from my daughter’s class struck up a conversation about immigration reform when I was reading it outside the school last week. She wanted to talk about how difficult the process was on Reyna Grande’s parents. And, while I completely agree that they struggled a great deal and faced major barriers, as I read my sympathy had almost totally been placed with Reyna and her siblings. That evening reading the book I read it a little differently because of that conversation, with an eye towards understanding Reyna’s parents.

I am not arguing that we can learn what we need to know to reform immigration law or undertake any serious change simply by reading one book together as a community. But reading this one book started some conversations I might never have had and certainly deepened my understanding of immigration’s impact on families. Most importantly, it made me want to know more and it brought this topic to the forefront of conversations with the people around me.

Most of us believe that we learn something from reading together. A lot of our education system is based on shared reading experiences: we sit and listen to a teacher read to us in school, in college we read and discuss literature or textbooks together, in the workplace during conferences or retreats we often talk about lessons learned from books or articles. If we believe that we can learn from shared reading, it makes sense to read as a community and to read together about the issues challenging us.

If you are close to Iowa City you can hear Reyna Grande speak about her memoir on Saturday, Oct. 4, at 7:30 pm in the University of Iowa Pomerantz Center.

Note: This year the project is sponsored by Iowa City Public Library, Coralville Public Library, University of Iowa Latino Native American Cultural Center (LNACC), University of Iowa Public Policy Center, UNESCO City of Literature, Iowa City Human Rights Commission, and the University of Iowa Office of Outreach and Engagement.

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