‘One Book, One Philadelphia’ picks Cuban refugee’s memoir
By Natalie Pompilio, Inquirer Staff Writer
One Philadelphia business owner makes his views known with a sign reading, “This Is America. When Ordering Please Speak English.” Two towns in the region have laws intended to drive out illegal immigrants. On the statewide political trail, two Senate candidates swap heated words about immigration issues.
The question of who belongs here and who doesn’t, who is American and who isn’t, is dominating much local and national debate.
Which makes the latest selection for “One Book, One Philadelphia” all the more appropriate.
Carlos Eire’s Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy is the citywide reading program’s featured book for 2007.
The memoir, winner of the 2003 National Book Award, describes how Eire went from a privileged life with his his extended family in pre-Castro Cuba to years of rootlessness in the United States as he and his brother moved from foster home to foster home.
Eire was one of more than 14,000 Cuban boys and girls airlifted off the island without their parents in the 1960s as part of Operation Pedro Pan. Funded in part by the U.S. government, the program allowed parents – afraid the new leadership of Fidel Castro meant they’d lose their children to Communist indoctrination or Soviet work camps – to send their offspring to America.
The book is “a universal narrative, so people could identify how every child on earth… yearns to be free and not have their future dictated to them,” Eire said yesterday during an event at the Free Library of Philadelphia. “We all yearn for freedom. We all deserve it.”
The One Book selection committee designated two other books – Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan and Coming to America: The Story of Immigration by Betsy Maestro – as companion works suitable for children and teenagers.
Now in its fifth year, the One Book program aims to promote reading, literacy and the libraries.
It started with about 50 community partners – like civic groups and businesses – and now has more than 300. The selections are often timely: A biography of Benjamin Franklin was the 2006 choice, selected to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding father’s birth.
Library director Elliot Shelkrot predicted an immediate run on the chosen book. The system’s 54 branches will have 800 copies in circulation and more than 4,000 others will be given to schools and community groups.
On top of that, Shelkrot said, “tens of thousands” of people have attended related discussion groups, lectures and performances since the program’s initiation.
“But the best thing you see is people on buses and subways and they’re talking about it,” he said. “It builds readers and it builds community.”
Previous One Book titles include The Price of a Child by Lorene Cary, The Color of Water by James McBride, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, and Franklin: The Essential Founding Father by James Srodes. Companion titles were introduced last year.