Organizer’s Notebook: My First Welcoming Circle and What Comes Next

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I attended my first reading circle as the new Welcoming Long Island community organizer last month at the Brentwood Public Library, unsure of what to expect. In my previous experiences with reading circles in college, I’ve found the experiences to be at times, joyful, heartwarming, and emotionally exhaustive.

The reading circles are called “welcoming circles” and are part of a collaboration between Herstory and Welcoming Long Island, an initiative of Long Island Wins. The idea is to have a mix of residents come together—immigrant and US-born—to address sensitive issues such as immigration, through a neutral, non-political medium.

As the participants filed in, I noticed a significant amount of diversity among the reading circle attendees. There were people from various age groups and ethnicities who had come together to join in the night’s exchange.

We began with introductions, learning a little about each other’s experiences and interests and creating a comfortable environment for all those present.

The central tool for the reading circles is Latinas Write/Escriben, a bilingual anthology from Herstory that features first-person accounts by Latinas on Long Island. The stories cover a range of themes such as mothering, childhood, love, illness, and the immigrant experience.

Margarita Espada, the director of the experimental theater group Teatro Yerbabruja and the person who held the Welcoming organizer position before me, read the first story. Margarita recounted a dilemma between wanting to keep her daughter out of harm’s way during education-based protests in Puerto Rico and encouraging her fight, being an activist herself. The story resonated with me; I become anxious when reading about current events in Latin America, hoping that social and political problems there do not negatively impact the people I’ve met in my visits to the region throughout my life. As a person with Guatemalan and Ecuadoran immigrant parents, I’ve visited lots of family and friends there over the years.

See photos from the Welcoming Circle in Brentwood:

The second reading from Laura Paladinas was an emotional story that gave a glimpse into her experiences as a child in Ecuador. The tale focused on Laura’s mother and the hardship they faced together; the story even moved a couple of the audience members to tears.

The discussion that rose afterwards regarding both stories showed me that the mother-daughter dynamic is a theme everybody could identify with regardless of gender, ethnic, or age differences.

Long Island Wins intern Michelle Gil interviewed several of the participants regarding the effects of the reading circle, and I was glad to hear that the readings had an impact.

Tatiana Grez, a Central Islip resident, who is originally a native from Chile, was particularly moved from hearing the stories that night. “I loved seeing how there could be so many different points of view from one story and how it can touch the heart of a person in distinct ways,” Grez said, speaking in Spanish.

Coming to her first reading circle, Kimberly Wilder, a social worker from North Babylon, said she was glad translation was provided since she isn’t fluent in Spanish. “I wouldn’t have experienced what they were saying, but since their words were translated and we all got into a flow of communicating, now I feel more like I connected,” Wilder said.

In my experiences with reading circles, I’ve found them to be a great tool to develop empathy amongst people, and more often than not, people develop bonds that can last beyond one night, even for years to come.

On behalf of Welcoming Long Island, I invite you to join us at our next Welcoming Circles in Brentwood and Port Jefferson. The featured reader will be Stephany Ramírez, whose story “To Hold You in My Arms” deals with joining her parents in the US and her mixed feelings as she leaves her primary caretaker, her grandmother, in the Dominican Republic.

See the details below and feel free to ask me any questions at welcomingli@longislandwins.com. Hope to see you there!

Bilingual Welcoming Circles and Book Clubs
Welcoming Long Island and Herstory partner on bilingual reading circles

When: Tuesday, August 14, 6:30-8:30pm
Where: Brentwood Public Library, 34 Second Avenue, Brentwood, Room 1

For the event flier in English and Spanish, click here.

Bilingual Welcoming Circles and Book Clubs
Welcoming Long Island and the Herstory Writers Workshop partner on bilingual reading circles

When: Wednesday, August 15, 6:30-8:30pm
Where: Port Jefferson Free Library,100 Thompson Street, Port Jefferson

For the event flier in English and Spanish, click here.

Photos by Long Island Wins intern Michelle Gil.


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