Immigration Stories: Zakery’s Bridge

Presented by

Kay Fenton Smith


In this workshop, participants explore the stories from Zakery’s Bridge: Children’s Journeys from Around the World to Iowa. This book, written by Kay Fenton Smith and Dr. Carol Roh Spaulding, tells the immigration journeys of nine young Iowans who came to Iowa from different countries. Workshop participants will experience cultural traditions and activities such as: art projects, games, writing in different languages, dancing, and playing instruments. Workshops include interactive discussions, and writing may be incorporated based on the age, curriculum, and the amount of time for the workshop. Each workshop celebrates how friends from around the world have shared their cultures and favorite activities with communities here in Iowa. Here are some workshop examples which feature a different story paired with at least one cultural activity.


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

Participants may make traditional Las Posadas decorations out of colorful tissue paper, known as “papel picado." They can also create both paper flags and flowers to take home, and in one of CultureALL's most popular workshops, design and create Mexican tin art.


In Leaving Laos, Kong shares her family's story of leaving their homeland when she was in third grade. Participants get a glimpse of what it was like for Kong to take only a small bag of clothing when her family escaped after the Vietnam War. Workshop participants are asked the question: if you could only take 3 things in a little pack, what would you choose?

Participants will make "tot-cons," which are hand-made out of bean bags and often tossed in games at Tai Dam New Year’s celebrations. In some workshops, participants decorate them with ribbons and bright colors. The group will also play tot-con games, either inside or outside. (Note: for large groups or multiple classes, they 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 by Vivian Chan. Both of their families immigrated to Iowa in the aftermath of the Sudanese civil war. In spite of great losses, their families remained strong and continue to make a positive impact here in Iowa and in their native land.  

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

In smaller groups, participants of all ages may design and make African-inspired masks (or 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.


Summers in Sagar is told by Shriya, whose family came from India. Shriya dreams of one day moving back to her home town of Sagar where she visits her grandparents each summer. She fondly recalls all of the traditions of her uncle’s wedding.

Participants will experiment with the art of Rangoli, using different media to create the brightly colored patterns often found in entryways, courtyards, and living rooms in many parts of India. Participants 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 sister Jasmine who came from Taiwan, which is also known as The Beautiful Island or Ilha Formosa. Cara's and Jasmine’s journey begins in Taipei where their family owned a bakery. They also share their experiences in Iowa and in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas where they continued their Buddhist and international studies.

Participants will learn about Chinese calligraphy and the difference between the spoken Chinese languages (Yu), and the written form (Wen). They will draw Chinese characters and may create brand new characters to represents their names. They may also play games with chopsticks. On some occasions, Jasmine or Cara may join if their schedules allow.

Separately, more advanced workshops may incorporate the Chinese calligraphy designs into hand-made Chinese paper lanterns. This typically requires two workshop sessions using papier 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. These can be one-time author visits or guided writing and editing projects that last for a longer period of time. 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 a 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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