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THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Pearland library’s Talk Time brings together new Americans

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

The woman, born in Syria but now an American citizen, entered the library with her 4-year-old son in tow.

She was wearing traditional Muslim attire, including a head scarf. He was wearing traditional all-American boy attire - an Astros jersey with the name of proud Puerto Rican Carlos Correa on the back.

Welcome to the increasingly diverse Brazoria County of 2019. Better yet, welcome to Talk Time.

As mentioned in a previous column, Talk Time at Pearland’s Westside Library is a free program for adults who want to practice English, learn about our culture and make friends with people from around the world.

“It is way more than just English conversation practice,” says Deidre Mears, head reference librarian. “They come for the English practice, but I think the human connection is what keeps people coming back.”

According to the latest Census figures, almost 14 percent of Brazoria County’s population is foreign born. A few people consider this a burden or threat. These people would think otherwise if they met the people who come to Talk Time.

Let me tell you about them.

In addition to Syria, Talk Time participants come from China, the Philippines, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Vietnam and Turkey.

They are well-educated. Several have college degrees. They have spouses working in the oil industry or the Texas Medical Center.

They love this country. While proud of their native cultures, they want to learn more about America. They check out books and movies to help them understand our history and culture. The woman from Syria has even read the Bible so she could compare it to the Quran.

They have dreams. A woman from China would like to go the Moon. She checked out the movie “The Right Stuff” from the library. Another immigrant grew up on a small farm in China. He now grows vegetables at his Pearland home. He wants to own his own farm some day.

They are also full of surprises. The Syrian woman was asked which person, living or dead, would she most like to have dinner with. Her answer: George Washington. The Chinese woman was asked the same question. Her answer: Vincent Van Gogh. Gogh figure.

The weekly Thursday afternoon meetings are informal. They are light on instruction and heavy on letting people speak English without being judged. They share stories about native lands.

A woman from Colombia tells of the Black and White Carnival, a celebration of cultural diversity. It sounds a bit like Mardi Gras except on one day everyone paints their faces black. The next day everyone paints their faces white. Since 2009 the carnival has been part of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage.

The woman from Syria sparked a lively conversation about dating in Damascus.

It is a family affair. A man and woman wishing to date aren’t allowed to be alone together for several months. During that time their entire families – aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, moms and dads - hang out together.

The immigrants from China describe the country’s one-child policy. Designed to control the population, the policy introduced in 1979 was one of the world’s most extreme examples of population planning.

The policy was modified in the1980s to allow rural parents a second child if the first was a daughter. Facing a shortage of workers, the government in 2015 loosened the policy to allow any couple to have two children.

Although not the primary focus, their conversations can’t avoid turning to geopolitics.

Those from Venezuela worry about friends and family under the repressive rule of Nicolas Maduro. Long after the war ended in their country, two women from Vietnam still detest the communist regime despite recent economic growth.

They have different religions, different accents, different backgrounds and different viewpoints, but there are two things on which they agree. This country needs stricter gun laws and a better health care system.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com)