Cooperation with the Vietnamese Community[Municipal Library in Cheb, Czech Republic]
"Our decision stemmed from the unacceptable behaviour on the part of certain people from Cheb who had blatantly disrespected Vietnamese vendors and maliciously commented on their selling aptitude. We thought it would be best to reach out to general library users and present the Vietnamese not as market vendors, but rather as people with rich history and culture whose hard work, patience, modesty and persistence is an example for us, members of the majority society to follow. To start with, we visited the relevant embassies, established friendly relations and obtained necessary information. Having done that, it is not too difficult to agree on a visit to the library based on personal contacts with ambassadors or cultural attaches. Our staff members attended lectures on the history and culture of Vietnam organized by the School of Economics of the University of West Bohemia. Selected staff also attended an introductory course in the Vietnamese language and writing in order to be able to read and spell the names of the library’s Vietnamese users. Of the total 1,400 children readers, two hundred are from the Vietnamese community. We also have around one hundred adult Vietnamese readers. Our cooperation with the School of Economics is very good.
The City Hall has welcomed our efforts to improve the quality of coexistence and its representatives began attending events organized by the library. We invite school children and people from retirement homes to all our opening nights, lectures, exhibitions and readings which we advertise on posters. This promotion is inexpensive and rather effective because we have confirmed that people read street posters, especially when waiting for public transit. In five years, the library has organized a number of events: an exhibition of photographs from Vietnam made by travellers as well as by Vietnamese people who tend to see their homeland in a different light. Each year, we commemorate the Vietnamese New Year with a lecture, a fashion show featuring ceremonial dresses, a presentation of traditions or a sampling of Vietnamese cuisine. We also organize book fairs featuring books on Vietnam as well as original and translated fiction. After some time, Vietnamese students started coming to our events, often accompanied by their parents.
Sampling of Vietnamese food to celebrate the Vietnamese New Year led us to the idea of teaching Czechs to cook Vietnamese delicacies. Although the library is far from being an ideal place for such an activity, a little bit of goodwill goes a long way. Later – during an informal meeting over Vietnamese tea (tea so strong that some people were not able to sleep until the wee hours) – a lively debate developed during which we learned that Vietnamese people living in the West are often very successful as outstanding tailors and that those living in the Czech Republic would like to work as tailors in the future. We augmented our book collection with Vietnamese dictionaries and fiction that we received as a gift.
However, Vietnamese readers want to read in Czech and integrate. Vietnamese people from the older generation who have the greatest problems with mastering the Czech language established a genuine Vietnamese library and an Internet café in Cheb. In 2000, we decided to go east. Based on our experience with culture and life in the east that we have gained in the course of five years, it is safe to say that we have contributed to a better coexistence of Czechs and our new compatriots. We are richer now and that is something we can build on. Only he who has something can give to others."
Source: Libraries for All (MKC Prague, 2005)
Obrněné brigády 18, 350 37 Cheb