March 6, 2013
The Berkshire Immigrant Center presents:
Coming to America: a reading hosted by Greta Phinney, with Marcela Villada Peacock, Youlin Shi, Liliana Sills, and Yuko Takaya
Griffin Hall #3 Williams College, Williamstown, 4:15 p.m.
The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers has inspired the Berkshire Immigrant Center (BIC) to mark Women’s History Month by encouraging and supporting immigrant woman to share their unique and compelling stories. In a series of workshops led by Greta Phinney, who has successfully conducted adult workshops for English as a Second Language both in Pittsfield and abroad, this diverse group of women have prepared their stories to present. None of the participants had previously documented their stories and each faced the challenges of writing and reading in a second language. The women were selected from BIC clients, friends, and through public notice. They have taken the theme “coming to America” in many directions, representing their diverse cultures and rich life experiences.
Greta Phinney was a public school teacher for thirty-seven years. She first used the workshop approach with elementary teachers who were English language learners, while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia in 1998. In 2003, she experimented with using this approach with students in an English-speaking school in Vanuatu. She began teaching English as a foreign language in Costa Rica in 2006. Since then she has taught English to adults in Buenos Aires and Costa Rica and trained teachers to teach English. She has worked at the Adult Learning Center in Pittsfield, teaching community classes in English, at both beginner and intermediate levels. “Having the opportunity to use my skills as a teacher and a writer to empower others is deeply rewarding!”
Marcela Villada Peacock left Mexico in 1974 to follow her husband to California, where he was a PhD student. She had completed three and half years of a psychology program at the National University in Mexico City. She and her husband live in Williamstown, where they raised their three daughters, all of whom are bilingual. Marcela has worked for the past eighteen years as the program coordinator of Williams College Multicultural Center, now the Davis Center, where she supports minority students and their families. “I want to share this story because my heart now is on the other side of the border. I am interested in issues about immigration and I want to help my people to make the transition, which I know is not easy.”
Youlin Shi was born in China, graduated from Heibei University, and taught history at a college in Beijing. Her husband, Kailia, came to the United States in 1986 to attend graduate school. She followed in 1987 and they became citizens in 2000. They now live in North Adams, where Youlin is a tai-chi instructor and Kailai is a history professor at MCLA. Their daughter is attending graduate school. “I think that American history is in some ways the history of how immigrants are able to take root, flourish, and make America what it is. I believe the great American story is made of individual small stories like mine, which I would like to share and pass on to next generations.”
Liliana Sills was born in Mexico and came to the United States in 2001 after she married an American whom she met in Mexico. She became a citizen in 2005. Liliana completed a BA in business in Mexico and worked as an elementary school teacher for ten years. In the United States, she acquired a Foreign Language teaching certificate and started teaching in middle and high schools. Before coming to the Berkshires, Liliana lived in New York City and Connecticut and completed a MS in school psychology. Today, she is a single mother of two young children and is pursuing a School Psychology certificate. “I would like to be part of the program to learn and share experiences with other women, who may have different backgrounds and stories but who share having been foreigners who started a new life from scratch.”
Yuko Takaya was born in Japan and graduated from college in 1978. After a stint in banking, she completed courses in interior design in Tokyo and London and worked as an interior coordinator for ten years in Tokyo. She came to United States in 2003, married in 2004, and then divorced. She came to the Berkshires in 2005 and has held waitressing jobs since then. “I believe writing my story is a good opportunity for me to look back at my life objectively in order to let go of all past traumatic experiences and be free from them.”