From the minute she stepped around the corner of an East Boston street, I started to cry.
It is no secret that I believe that the direct narratives and captivating visuals in children’s books can change our perceptions of immigration and ourselves. I’m Your Neighbor Books was founded to bring Immigrant and New Generation stories into schools, libraries, and communities to create conversations.
But story need not be on pages.
Story can walk.
Little Amal is the 12-foot puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee child at the heart of The Walk. She has become a global symbol of human rights, especially those of refugees. Since 2021, Amal has traveled over 6,000 miles to 15 countries, and been welcomed by more than a million people on the street and tens of millions online.
I walked through East Boston’s Latine neighborhood as Little Amal greeted us, marveled at us, danced with us, and reached out.
In turn, those of us in the crowd greeted one other, danced with one other, and reached out. I was not the only one streaming unexpected tears.
“The minute there is a group of people watching a story, they become a collective. And when they become a collective, some of their defenses come down…the power of puppetry is it demands you to be active. It demands an act of empathy, an act of disbelief and empathy. You see she is a puppet but…your heart says, yeah, but she’s a girl. And the minute you accept that she’s a girl something in the way you interpret her movement through space becomes very personal and very intimate.”
—Amir Nizar Zuabi, Artistic Director of The Walk
Between September 7th and November 5th, 2023, Amal is journeying 6,000 miles across the United States in one of the largest free public festivals ever created. More than 35 towns and cities from Boston to San Diego and 1,000+ artists and arts organizations will create 100+ events to welcome her.
When Amal and her astonishing puppetry team waved goodbye and disappeared the ICA’s cavernous door, we all turned our gaze at one another. Near me, a mother and two children stood wide-eyed. Just as I handed the two children a bag of books with stories like Amal’s, a man handed the mother a t-shirt with the Arabic script for “Hope” printed on it.