Mountain Xpress: Attitude of gratitude

Mtn Xpress LCBC Thanksgiving Article 11-2017

Literacy Council students were featured in a Nov. 22, 2017 Mountain Xpress article about how immigrants in Asheville celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Read excerpts below and click here for the full article with photos

Attitude of gratitude: Asheville residents from around the globe dish about Thanksgiving

Mtn Xpress LCBC Thanksgiving Article 11-2017

MULTICULTURAL BLESSINGS: Pictured from left at the Literacy Council of Buncombe County, Ina Sanzana, Victor Garcia, Katie Forester and Natasha Berehova came to Asheville from diverse cultures, and all have different ways of observing Thanksgiving. Photo by Evan Anderson

Thanksgiving is about a lot of things besides gratitude: family, friends, colossal amounts of carb-loaded comfort food — and for some, football and a turkey coma.

But at its heart, Thanksgiving is really an immigrant story: the tale of some English folks who brought their families to an unfamiliar land in search of a better life. Nearly 400 years later, immigration is a hot-button issue, yet as of 2015, the foreign-born population in the U.S. topped 43 million. And bringing it closer to home, 2016 numbers show immigrants accounting for well over 7 percent of Asheville’s residents.

So how do today’s immigrants feel about this uniquely American holiday?

Time to be kind

“One of the first things I noticed about Thanksgiving is that people act more kind, they think about others more. I like that,” says Victor Garcia, who came to the U.S. from Mexico 17 years ago.

His wife, Ina Sanzana, agrees. “It kind of changes the attitude, and that’s good,” she says. “People stop and say, ‘Hi, how are you doing? How’s your health?’ Because sometimes in America, people are so busy they don’t want to take time to spend with others.”

Sanzana, who is originally from Chile, met her husband when they were both new arrivals to the U.S. taking English language classes at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. They later continued studying English at the Literacy Council of Buncombe County and today work together for the same cleaning service in Asheville.

The couple embrace Thanksgiving in a familiar way — with lots of food. They sometimes gather at a friend’s home in Black Mountain for a potluck mish-mash of American and Latino dishes. Sanzana likes to make Chilean recipes such as empanadas and pastel de choclo (spiced beef casserole with cornbread crust). Garcia likes to cook as well, and for last year’s celebration he made the turkey.

They also have adopted the tradition of asking each guest to name a thing they are thankful for. “I like that part, because it’s kind of the purpose,” says Sanzana. “We have many blessings. The least we can do is think of one and say it.” One thing she and Garcia are thankful for, she adds, is being in America.

Talking turkey

Katie Forester, who moved to the U.S. from Thailand 18 years ago, can’t usually celebrate Thanksgiving at home because one of her two jobs requires her to work on the holiday. But her employer, an Asheville retirement community, does host a party that day with plenty of food, and she says she likes the cranberries.

But the turkey? Not so much. “It’s too dry,” she says.

Five years after immigrating to the U.S. from Ukraine, Natasha Berehova, a stay-at-home mom, enjoys celebrating Thanksgiving every year with her young daughter and other family members. She makes some Ukrainian foods, including breads and sauces, but she also prepares typical American fare such as mashed potatoes, turkey and salad.

But how did she learn how to make traditional Thanksgiving dishes? “The internet, of course,” she says. “YouTube helped me.”

Marlene Levy was working at a hotel in her home country of Guatemala when she was swept off her feet by an American tourist. Now, having married her suitor and moved to Hendersonville with him four years ago, her eyes dance with excitement when she talks about the upcoming holiday.

“I love Thanksgiving — my mother-in-law is a good cook,” she says with a little translation help from her Literacy Council tutor, Dolph Hoehling. Levy’s husband’s family hosts a huge feast each year, a party she very much looks forward to. Although she loves the American food, she always contributes a big pan of chicken or pork tamales and a traditional Guatemalan turkey soup. The tamales go over particularly well. “They will eat two or three plates each until it’s all gone,” she says.

Levy left her own family behind in Guatemala, so she expresses deep gratitude for her husband and the close relationship she has with her in-laws. “Thanksgiving traditions here are very important to me; spending Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law’s is very important to me,” she says.

Irina Khasanova, office manager and English for Speakers of Other Languages specialist at the Literary Council, thinks family is key. After moving to the U.S. from Russia 22 years ago with her husband and two young sons, they celebrated Thanksgiving because the children learned about it in school. Now that her sons are grown, it’s not a priority.

“When it’s just the two of us for Thanksgiving, we do not prepare a big meal,” she says. Instead, they cook some foods they enjoy, go hiking and maybe  watch a movie. “So we see it as a small vacation.”

Click here to read the full article.

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Mountain Xpress: Groups cooperate to help kids learn to read

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Graphic by Lori Deaton

We at Read to Succeed Asheville and the Literacy Council of Buncombe County welcome an ongoing conversation about the achievement gap. This disturbing and repressive characteristic of school systems is marked by disparity in children’s educational performance based on their socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, native language and other factors. Thank you, [Blair] Fielding, for your voluntarism and your response [“Augustine Project Also Helps Young Readers,” Feb. 1, Xpress] to the Jan. 11 [Xpress] article, “Closing Asheville’s Achievement Gap.”

Our two organizations enjoy a cooperative relationship that continues to grow and evolve. One important element of our partnership is cross-referring students so that children who struggle to read receive the best service possible for their unique needs. The passionate and well-trained volunteer tutors at the Literacy Council’s Augustine Project and R2S fill a critical need within our community. They help students overcome barriers to educational success, building the child’s confidence alongside their reading, writing and spelling skills. These outcomes are truly life-altering.

An important correction: R2S seeks to serve students of color who live in poverty and are on the losing side of the achievement gap. About 60 percent of participants live in Asheville’s subsidized housing, and the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville is a longtime supporter of R2S. Subsidized housing residence is not a requirement for participation in the program.

Both organizations welcome qualified volunteers who wish to train to be tutors. Please contact the Literacy Council at 828-254-3442 and Read to Succeed at 828-747-2277 for more information.

— Ashley Lasher
Director, Literacy Council of Buncombe County

— Pat Bastian
Director, Read To Succeed Asheville

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A letter to our community — valuing diversity through education

A  Literacy Council student celebrates passing the US Naturalization exam

A  Literacy Council student celebrates passing the US Naturalization exam

To our Buncombe County neighbors,

The Literacy Council of Buncombe County values people of all ages, races, religions, national and ethnic origins, abilities and disabilities, sexual orientations, and gender identities. Our staff and board are committed to creating opportunities for all people in Buncombe County to receive high-quality educational services. We honor the gifts that our diverse students and volunteers bring to our community.

In the month of November, we received inquiries from 50 people wanting to become volunteer tutors. This is twice the number we would typically receive over the course of a month. This tells us that people in our community honor and value literacy and English language education and want to help our students achieve their goals.

We are grateful to live and work in such a supportive community.

With great respect,
Literacy Council of Buncombe County

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WLOS Features Citizenship Program

WLOS Screenshot - Naturalization

On July 14, WLOS aired a story on the increased number of people seeking citizenship during this election year. The five-minute segment features a Literacy Council student, volunteer tutor, and our ESOL Director, Erin Sebelius.

The Literacy Council has offered a citizenship preparation option for almost ten years, and our students have a 100% success rate on the U.S. Naturalization Exam. This year, there is renewed motivation in casting one’s vote. “They have to hear your voice and your voice is your vote,” says Noe Herrera, who recently passed the exam.
 
The Literacy Council’s ESOL director, Erin Sebelius, said, “I think people are afraid, I do. … I can’t say how they’re going to vote but they’re Latinos, they’re immigrants, and they want to vote for a reason.”
 
Generally, there are spikes in citizenship applications during any election year. 

Learn More

Watch the video above and click here to read the accompanying article.
Click here to learn about the Literacy Council’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program.
 

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