My family came to America in October 1978. They had their vision of America: Little Odessa, Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square.
I had my America: Sesame Street.
Oh, how I wanted to live there. An integrated community of people and monsters singing, learning and dancing all the time. A world that validated living in garbage cans and crowded city landscapes.
I learned how to speak English on Sesame Street. My time there sparked a thirst for language, letters and rules of grammar. I craved order in a neighborhood busy with pigeons and loudspeaker subway announcements,
Being immigrants, we had no books, or, no books in English. Only my grandma could read English, and she only read romance novels.
I discovered the library as a place of information. My grandpa would walk over with me to the end of Brighton Beach Avenue, under the shadowed train tracks.
I chose to read about the history of this country: genocide of Indigenous people, slavery, institutionalized racism, Japanese internment camps. In Yeshiva, I studied religious persecution of Jews, and I was trying to make sense of humanity.
The library’s version of America contradicted both Sesame Street and what the television was saying, but how could so many books be wrong?
I must have read all the books they had; it was a small library and I am a fast reader. I was hungry for dissenting opinions.
Thirty-five years later, no longer in Brooklyn, I am still an active public library patron, still assembling my dissenting opinions. If Sesame Street taught me to speak English, the public library taught me America.
Masha Schmidt, Cold Spring