A Somali refugee's story is 2020 selection for One Book, One Beaverton
"Call Me American," the story of one immigrant's roundabout journey from Somalia to the United States — and how he learns English and American culture — is the 2020 selection for One Book, One Beaverton.
Several events in January will end with an appearance by the book's author, Abdi Nor Iftin, on Feb. 1 at the Beaverton City Library. New Friends of the Beaverton City Library paid for free distribution of 400 paperback copies starting Nov. 16.
Although many communities have such programs, including Multnomah County and Hillsboro, One Book, One Beaverton is in its second year. All were inspired by a suggestion by Nancy Pearl, the Seattle librarian who has her own action figure.
Beaverton's 2019 selection was "The Wanderers," by Meg Howrey, a fictional story about three astronauts — an American woman and Japanese and Russian men, and their relationships with their families — who are in isolation training for a mission to Mars.
"We were not sure how it was going to go over," said Library Director Glenn Ferdman. "But the results exceeded our greatest expectations, both in terms of the number of participants who picked up copies and read the book, and those who attended programs. We decided this is worth continuing because there seems to be a lot of interest."
"Call Me American" is the story of a Somali who first learned English by listening to American pop music and watching action films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself an Austrian immigrant who would later be elected governor of California.
Abdi Nor Iftin cheered U.S. intervention against Somali warlords beginning in 1992, when U.S. forces backed a hunger relief mission by the United Nations. U.S. forces were withdrawn in 1995. It became dangerous to be pro-Western after al-Shabaab came to power in 2006 and he fled to Kenya. (Al-Shabaab, a Muslim fundamentalist group with ties to Al-Qaeda, is still classified by the United States as a terrorist organization. Its fighters continue efforts against the Somali government.)
He won entry into the United States via the visa lottery. He now lives in Portland, Maine, studies political science at the University of Southern Maine, and works as an interpreter for Somali immigrants.
Ferdman said that when he comes for his Feb. 1 appearance, he also will talk at one of the Beaverton high schools.
"We think his story, and him personally, will allow kids in the high school to be able to relate to his journey," he said.
Mayor Denny Doyle said the book is a good choice in a city where one in every five residents was born outside the United States — and there is a Somali community, which will take part in at least one event.
"I think it's the coolest thing in Oregon that we are very diverse," Doyle said to a library audience Nov. 16. "I think you will find this book fascinating."
Doyle traces his own roots to grandparents from Europe in the early 20th century, but many current Beaverton residents have more recent experience as immigrants. He said all have contributed to building a diverse and stronger community.
"I find our community is very welcoming in that way," he said.
"We know what can happen. But sometimes people need help. I hope this book encourages everyone to take a little pity when somebody doesn't look like an Irishman."
Multnomah County Library's choice for its 2020 Everybody Reads program is "There, There," by Tommy Orange, who will appear March 5. The 2019 choice for Hillsboro Reads was "Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self," by Manoush Zohorodi.
The Beaverton City Library staff will facilitate four discussions of "Call Me American," the 2020 selection for One Book, One Beaverton. All discussions except one will be at the main library, 12325 S.W. 5th St.
• Thursday, Jan. 2: 10-11:45 a.m., Murray Scholls branch, 11200 S.W. Murray Scholls Place, Suite 102.
• Saturday, Jan. 11: 2-3:15 p.m., main library.
• Wednesday, Jan. 22: 6:30-7:45 p.m., main library.
• Tuesday, Jan. 28: 6:30-7:45 p.m., main library.
A list of events connected with the 2020 One Book, One Beaverton program, ending with an appearance by author Abdi Nor Iffin on Feb. 1. All events are at the Beaverton City Library, 12325 S.W. 5th St., and are free. More information can be found at BeavertonLibrary.org.
• Monday, Jan. 6: 6:30-7:45 p.m., a brief history of Somalia by Steven Rubert, professor emeritus of African history at Oregon State University.
• Tuesday, Jan. 7: 6-7:45 p.m., a workshop about memoir writing by Susan Swartout, professor emerita of English at Southeast Missouri State University.
• Wednesday, Jan. 8: 7-8:30 p.m., a "finding home" edition of Beaverton City Library's Story Slam, in which potential storytellers put their names into a hat, and those chosen will be on stage for five to eight minutes to tell a true personal story from memory. Potential storytellers must show up 15 minutes in advance to preview their planned stories with the event host. (For ages 13 and older)
• Monday, Jan. 13: 6:30-7:45 p.m., a conversation with facilitator Ellen Knutson about what it means to be an American and how others view it. Cosponsored with Oregon Humanities.
• Wednesday, Jan. 15: 6-7:30 p.m., Do-It-Yourself StoryCorps, how to prepare, record and share a conversation between you and someone else using the official StoryCorps app. Participants must bring their own devices and any passwords required to install apps on their devices.
• Sunday, Jan. 26, 1-4 p.m., a session sponsored by the Human Library organization to "Unjudge Someone." People in the community become "open books" and share their stories with readers who check them out for a brief time to listen and exchange comments.
• Monday, Jan. 27: 6 p.m., screening of "A Stray," a 2016 film about a young Somali refugee in Minneapolis who crosses paths with a stray dog. He believes it may be bad luck but they bond.
• Wednesday, Jan. 29: 6-&;30 p.m., panel discussion with Somali residents of Beaverton about their culture, emigration to America and what it means to be an American. Somali food will be provided by Hayat Restaurant.
• Saturday, Feb. 1: 7-9 p.m., doors open at 6:30 p.m., author Abdi Nor Iffin will speak. He will sign books and refreshments will be served at the end of the program.
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