Human Library exhibition recognizes culture


Joseph VincenziReporter

Professor Leeah Joo, an adjunct professor in the Art Department, wanted to share her immigration story of the her transition from South Korea to the United States. She prepared herself for a discussion of her heritage and an explanation of her “human book” — that is, a story about her personal experiences — that revolves around her transition.

Joo was just one of many human books sharing a personal story at a Human Library showcase in Buley Library on Tuesday, Feb 11.

The event was an opportunity for people from all different backgrounds to explain how their life experiences included moments of challenge and a triumph on the path to their current success. The range of topics included immigration, sexual orientation, discrimination and feminism.

“I’m trying to tell people about immigration status,” said Joo. “I want to teach them about 1.5 immigration because it’s not very common.”

Joo said she is a 1.5 generation immigrant, which she claims is someone who has immigrated as a teenager or a “tween.” She said she feels that this uncommon status is largely unknown to most people, and she believes that there is a great significance in the way that immigration status shapes a person.

“Coming to the United States as a 1.5 generation immigrant was a big transition for me, and I want more people to understand why being a 1.5 generation immigrant is so different from first — or second — generation immigrant,” said Joo.

The event organizer and Human Library chairwoman, Winnie Shyam, said the Human Library was founded in 2000 in Copenhagen, Denmark, after a family lost a member due to racism. In response, the group vowed to fight all forms of social discrimination.

“We started this to fight social injustice and discrimination,” said Shyam. “When people share their stories, hopefully others learn from it.”

According to Shyam, the organization has grown to a presence in at least 80 countries and holds an event every year. She said she believes that by promoting books centered around a form of discrimination, people can gain insight on how others live and have more empathy.

This is the first year that the Human Library held an event at Southern. Shyam said she was surprised by the student turnout to the event.

“We were so surprised to have so many students for the first event,” said Shyam. “It’s good for the library, it’s good for Southern.”

One student, Emily Silliman, a graduate student of clinical mental health and counseling, demonstrated such satisfaction with high praise.

“I really enjoyed it,” said Silliman. “It was a really good experience to get to talk to people about their lives.”

Silliman suggested that next year, the Human Library should have “more advertising,” as she said she only knew about it because she was in the library. However, she said she firmly believes that the organization “should definitely do it again.”

Shyam also said the Human Library will become an annual event and said that she hopes it “takes off” in the coming years.

In her closing remarks, Joo stressed the importance of knowing one’s ancestral history and the journey that people took to overcome challenges and find success.

“We all,” she said, “have questions of where we’re from.

Photo Credit: Izzy Manzo

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