Brentwood Fourth of July parade to feature many countries, including some with ongoing disputes and conflicting identities
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In preparing members of Pittsburgh's immigrant and refugee community for the Brentwood Fourth of July parade, identity was important.
This group of immigrant students from the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council center will walk in the parade for the first time Wednesday, some clad in their traditional dress, carrying flags from their home country.
But what happens if your native land became a sovereign nation last year? Or if your country faced a controversial name change and later adopted an entirely new flag?
"Some of these countries have been in such a state of upheaval," said Whitehall Public Library Director Paula Kelly, who helped prepare the students for the event. "We didn't know which flag [students] identified with."
Cindy Nelson, family literacy coordinator and instructor at the literacy center, said her immigrant and refugee students aren't easily offended, but it was important to ensure they were carrying the flag they identify with where they're from.
Ms. Kelly, in charge of readying the flags, did some research and quickly learned that the symbol of the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar -- formerly known as Burma -- changed over the years, so she asked Ms. Nelson to consult her students.
The Myanmar refugees in Ms. Nelson's class told her they wouldn't feel the same allegiance if they carried the new, tricolor flag adopted in 2010, instead of the previous flag in place since 1974, she said.
"My students would not tell you they're from Myanmar," she said. "They would tell you they're from Burma."
Ms. Nelson explained a similar situation for another student from what is now South Sudan, which split from Sudan in July 2011. Ms. Kelly said some Thai students identify with a particular ethnic group called Karen, which has its own flag.
The students will march with a tiny float fashioned out of a red wagon and poster board. It resembles the Library Easy Access for Residents in Need bus, the flagship program that transports immigrants to the Whitehall Public Library by school bus.
The literacy center commissioned a professional film crew to create a video about the LEARN bus and the students served by the organization. The DVD was finalized in March. Ms. Kelly shared it with the Brentwood-Baldwin-Whitehall Chamber of Commerce at a recent meeting, and the parade coordinator was so impressed, he invited the literacy center students to participate in Brentwood's parade on the spot, she recalled.
The parade is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday. About 10 students have expressed interest in marching so far, but Ms. Nelson is hopeful the turnout will be better.
"I hope they feel that neighborhood is embracing them," she said.
First Published June 28, 2012 5:06 am