Last Wednesday the Arcus Center partnered with Justice For Our Neighbor (JFON), a local organization that provides free legal services to immigrants, to present Immigration and Justice for Our Neighbor, an anthology of poems and essays written on the trials and triumphs of forging a new home in the United States.
Miriam Downey, a member of JFON’s fundraising committee and coeditor of the book, said that the event, which featured food, live music, and readings of the poetry, was conceived as “a unique and interesting way to raise money for the immigration clinics.”
The audience was comprised of approximately 130 community members, including K students and Vice Mayor of Kalamazoo Don Cooney, who also introduced the speakers.
Authors of the pieces took to the mic to read their work, some speaking about their experiences as immigrants and refugees coming into the Kalamazoo area, while others described the experiences of longtime residents whose lives were positively impacted by their new neighbors.
The audience was particularly affected by the younger readers, students from Arcadia Elementary School who had made contributions to the anthology in the form of letters to their home countries, such as “Dear Syria” and “Dear Iran.” Each expressed gratitude for, and pride in their nations of origin.
Kelly Zajac, owner of Tudor Tea House & Spice in Kalamazoo, read an essay on the ways in which tea could be a source of comfort for its universality.
Zajac was one of many generous food donors who provided refreshments for the event. Other donors included Rasa Ria, Saffron, Chocolatea, and Comensoli’s Italian Bistro & Bar.
K’s Spanish Interpretation Program also worked closely alongside JFON to orchestrate the event. Members of the group participate in translation and childcare services at each of JFON’s free clinics, and were glad to help with the planning of this event.
Program CES Sharat Kamath said that for his participants, it was a very valuable experience. “They were able to witness over a hundred community members coming together to celebrate the value immigrants bring to our country in an artistic manner through poetry,” he said.
Downey too felt that the event was a success.
“I was particularly impressed by the efforts of the K College students in helping us put it all together. Couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.
Downey explained that this event just served as the unveiling of the anthology. JFON, which operates out of the First United Methodist Church of Kalamazoo, plans to host more readings, the dates of which will be determined. They will also be for sale at local bookstores with all proceeds going to JFON.