by Chris Wallace, Global Competency Intern
Throughout the month of October I had opportunities to experience the depth and diversity of immigrant communities in the City of Indianapolis. These experiences came through a global training by The International Center at the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Libraries. Although a native of Indiana, I did not grow up in Indianapolis and thus, being exposed to the breadth of diversity in our state and its capital city was a new experience.
|The city of Indianapolis
|Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Each of the six sessions took place at a different branch in the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library system, allowing me to experience much of what Indianapolis has to offer outside of the downtown offices of The International Center. During the first half of each session, my supervisor – Ansuyah Naiken, the Global Competency Training Manager at The Center – and I would lead the training on general cultural trends for each region or country being covered. Following this section, a subject matter expert volunteer discussed his or her country of origin, experiences, and libraries more specifically.
I have always loved learning about other cultures and their histories, but I have not been able to travel as much as I would have liked to see these cultures firsthand. Listening to the subject matter experts, it was easy to be swept away to another country and to another part of the world. The subject matter experts captivated me and brought me and the many librarians to the worlds of multiple Burmese cultures, Hispanic-Latino cultures, India, Africa, and the Middle East. Their stories were fascinating and their experiences were very real. Some first came to the United States as refugees, others as students, and one even adopted other cultures as an American student studying abroad.
As I reflected on the lives of each of our volunteer presenters and the cultures they shared with us, I began to ponder questions which seem to keep reappearing in my life: What is a life story? What does each person’s story mean to me?
Educationally, I learned a great deal from the Indianapolis Public Library training sessions, but they also reminded me of some important things.
They first reminded me of the importance of stopping and listening. In under an hour on each day, I heard the amazing stories of thousands of miles traveled to one final (or currently final) destination – Indianapolis. And to think I traveled less than 100 miles to get here… Traveling thousands of miles isn’t a prerequisite for a fascinating story. As long as you are willing to share your experiences like the subject matter experts, your story is fascinating and new for every other person. What’s stopping me from asking people how they got to Indiana or what their experiences are from a lifetime in the state, and thus learning still another life story? This past month, I realized the answer more clearly than ever. Nothing!
Secondly, I was reminded of just how much other cultures and peoples can teach me. It’s easy to get caught up in my day-to-day life, taking only a few of my natural surroundings into account. I often wake up, put my American blinders on, and forget America is a country of immigrants. I forget the simple fact that each person, including my distant ancestors, came to America for a reason. American poet, Emma Lazarus, had this to say: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”This is the story of America and it teaches us a lot because the plight of our ancestors is not a distant memory. Each recent immigrant also has a story. He or she has something to teach me and it’s not something I can read in a textbook. When I remember to stop and take the time to hear each story, my life is changed and I am better equipped to understand my own ancestors.
World travel is easier than ever and there is no replacement for the experiences of visiting other cultures in their home environment, but I didn’t have to travel to Myanmar (Burma) or South America to hear about multiple cultures present there. The world is coming to Indiana and each of us is a part of a growing global, cultural exchange.
My experiences as an intern with The International Center and through attending training sessions such as the ones with the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Libraries have me excited about the cultural future of the United States, of Indiana, and of Indianapolis. I hope to have many more opportunities to experience peoples from other cultures during my life. The world is big, but I can experience it in my own city almost as much as I can in another country if I stop and listen to stories. Care to share your story with me?