Immigration Stories: Zakery’s Bridge

Presented by

Kay Fenton Smith



Children’s author Kay Fenton Smith will tell the immigration stories of real kids in Iowa who have moved here from other countries. Students will explore what it must be like to move to another country and have friends from different parts of the world. In the spirit of global friendship, they will perform an African dance with “lau” fabric, and play a game with “miniature dragons” known as Tot-¬‐Cons, a popular activity at the Tai Dam New Year’s Festivals.

Zakery’s Bridge: Children’s Journeys from Around the World to Iowa, is a book by Kay Fenton Smith and Dr. Carol Roh Spaulding. The book features 9 real-life and personal immigration stories of children who recently moved to Iowa with their families and began the process of going to school, making friends and adjusting to the foods, games, and friendships of their new home. The country cultures represented through the children’s stories are Bosnia, India, Taiwan, The Netherlands, Palestine, Mexico, Israel, Sudan, and Laos.

For older students and adult audiences, author Kay Smith offers a behind-the-scenes look at the writing process, including interviewing, researching, storytelling and celebrating the cultures living among us. Activities and hands-on craft making may be woven into the workshop, depending on the ages of participants and the amount of time allocated.


In Perry LasPosadas, Samantha Sweet shares what it was like to be born in Iowa and speak Spanish as her first language. Samantha and her two sisters use theirEnglish and Spanish to translate and help others in their community. Their momis from Mexico and their dad is from Iowa, so mixing cultures and languages comes naturally. Their town of Perry, Iowa is also a mixture of cultures.Friends from all walks of life join in the annual Las Posadas celebration atChristmas time. 

Activities: In this workshop, we will make traditional Las Posadas decorations out of color ultissue paper, known as “Papel Picado.” We will create both paper flags and flowers to take home. 

In one of our most popular workshops, students design and create Mexican tin art. Each student will take home a tin art tile.  


Leaving Laos is told by Kong whose family left Laos when she was in third grade. Students get a glimpse of what it was like forKong to take only a small bag of clothing when her family escaped after theVietnam War. If you could only take 3 things in a little pack, what would you choose?   

Activities: Students will play and/or make “tot-cons” (tiny dragons) which are often tossed in games at Taidam New Year’s celebrations. They are hand-made out of bean bags. Students will decorate them with ribbons and bright colors. The class will also playtot-con games, either inside or out. Students will take home their tiny dragons to remember the “journey.” (Note: for large groups, or multiple classes, we will play the games with ready-made tot-cons instead of making them by hand, depending on the time available.)  


Where the Flowers Are is told by Dau Jok, and Worldly Grace byVivian Chan. Both of their families immigrated to Iowa in the aftermath of theSudanese civil war. In spite of great losses, both of their families remained strong and continue to make a positive impact here in Iowa and their nativeland.  

Activities: There are several art projects for these stories that can fill multiple workshops. Young students will dress up in traditional lau fabrics and recreate the Chollo tribal dance tradition that our friends from Sudan have brought to Iowa. We will also play African instruments such asrain sticks, small drums, and a variety of gourd instruments. 

In smaller groups, students of all ages may design and make African-inspired masks and shields out of cardboard forms like the ones that Vivian’s family made for the Chollo dance here in Central Iowa.  Painting the masks and shields can be one or two separate workshops, depending on timing. One workshop for the story and designing. One for making the masks/shields. 

1.    INDIA

Summer’s in Sagar is told by Shriya whose family came fromIndia. Shriya dreams of one day moving back to her home town of Sagar where shevis its her grandparents each summer. She fondly recalls all of the traditions of her uncle’s wedding. 

ActivitiesStudents will try the art of Rangoli. We will experiment with different media to create the brightly colored patterns often found in entryways, courtyards, and living rooms in many parts of India. Students may use crayons, markers, oil pastels, or colored sand. Patterns may also be made outside with chalk. 



The Beautiful Island is told by Cara Liu and her sisterJasmine who came from Taiwan, which is also known as The Beautiful Islandor Ilha Formosa. Cara and Jasmine’s journey begins in Taipei where their family owned a bakery. They also share their experiences in Iowa and inthe City of Ten Thousand Buddhas where they continued their Buddhist and international studies. 

ActivitiesStudents will learn about Chinese calligraphy and the difference between the spokenChinese languages (Yu), and the one written form (Wen). We will draw Chinese characters and create a brand new character that represents ourselves. We will also play games with chopsticks, using glass beads or other small objects for younger students. On some occasions, we may invite Jasmine or Cara to join us, if their schedules allow. 


Separately, more advanced workshops may incorporate the Chinese calligraphy designs into hand-madeChinese paper lanterns. This usually requires two workshop sessions usingpapier mache and paints. 

Creative Writing Workshops& Author Visits.

In addition to Zakery’s Bridge cultural arts workshops, Kay also leads writers’ workshops for different age groups and in several genres. These can be one-time author visits or guided writing and editing projects that last for several classes or a semester. Some of the most popular classes incorporate both writing and Zakery’s Bridge arts activities over several classes. These may include photography, journaling, and exploring family history and culture. Please let us know if you are interested in the creative writing experience. 


Workshop Details






Standard Length


Room Setup

Classroom style seating at desks/tables with chairs

Supplies/Equipment Needed:

Inquire when booking your workshop.

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