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Sharrow to discuss how immigrants preserve culture and enrich Vermont

BRISTOL — Vermont is often described as culturally homogenous, yet nearly a third of Vermonters have French Canadian ancestry. There is a long history of European immigration to the state’s urban centers, and recent years have brought waves of new Vermonters from Southeast Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.
In a free program presented by the One World Library Project, folklorist Gregory Sharrow will discuss these influences on Thursday, Oct. 12, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Lawrence Memorial Library in Bristol.
Sharrow’s illustrated presentation, titled “Carving a Niche: How Immigrants Have Made Their Mark on Vermont,” will begin with an overview of Vermont’s early immigration history, examining how it happened that certain groups of people arrived here when they did. He will explain how Barre’s stone industry drew Scottish and Italian immigrants whose impact on the town can still be seen in its architecture and sculpture as well as its corner markets.
Our more recent history will also be explored. Sharrow will explain how the Lao immigrants to Burlington in the 1980s created the need for a resettlement program, which subsequently served the newly arrived Vietnamese and Cambodian communities.
   FOLKLORIST GREGORY SHARROW will discuss the influence immigrants have had on Vermont in a Thursday talk in Bristol.
The current Refugee Resettlement Program went on to help transition new Vermonters driven from their homelands by political violence. Since the 1990s, refugees from Bosnia, Somalia, Burma, Iraq, Bhutan and elsewhere have been actively resettled in Vermont.
A closer look at the Somali-Bantu, Bosnian and Bhutanese-Nepali immigrants will reveal the importance of responding not only to an immigrant community’s physical needs, but also to their cultural needs. Those who come to Thursday’s presentation will learn how a group’s cultural world shapes their perception of the world around them.
“Culture is kind of like art,” explains Sharrow. “It is usually one of the first things to be cut in a budget. But it is not insignificant, rather it is central to absolutely everything. I argue that celebrating culture is important in terms of well-being.”
To portray how diverse Vermont immigrant communities celebrate their heritage, Sharrow will present vignettes of immigrant musicians in performance settings. Audience members will hear about the Rutland Cares movement that has grown in response to the opposition to Syrian refugee resettlement. This movement has built an incredible network of people devoted to safety and respect for people from Syria and immigrants in general.
Sharrow is the former director of the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury. He holds a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania and is a former Vermont classroom teacher. His field research has explored the vital cultures of Vermont’s immigrant communities, both historic and new, addressing foodways, religious culture and traditional arts as they relate to personal and community identity in our state’s evolving cultural landscape.
“We all have things we believe and we celebrate and those things matter,” says Sharrow.
This program is the second of several offered this coming year by the One World Library Project that will focus on refugees and immigration.
For more information contact the Lawrence Memorial Library at 453-2366 or go to OneWorldLibraryProject.org or the One World Library Project Facebook page.    NEW AMERICAN ARTISTS, like embroiderer Masiti Mohamed, have an impact on Vermont by bringing their traditional arts with them when they move to the Green Mountain State.
Editor’s note: We added the names of the people in the photos after the story was originally posted.

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