A close up sign for Kerrytown Market and Shops on a brick building near the Kerrytown Farmers Market.
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Hundreds of students and community members gathered in Kerrytown Saturday evening to march alongside 12-foot puppet Little Amal. Little Amal, who was modeled after a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl who appears as a character in 2017 play “The Jungle,” is currently on a 6,000-mile trek across the United States. Little Amal has already visited 15 countries, with her recent stop in Ann Arbor being incorporated into the University of Michigan’s “Arts & Resistance” theme semester.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor kicked off the march by highlighting how honored the city is to have Little Amal visit. Taylor said he hopes residents see Ann Arbor as a safe community for refugees and residents from similar backgrounds. 

“Little Amal is an international symbol of human rights, especially those of refugees,” Taylor said. “Little Amal will lead the parade of displaced and disenfranchised people throughout the land to meet friends and learn firsthand about what it means to be a refugee seeking safety and opportunity. The city of Ann Arbor recognizes all the efforts today that honor Little Amal and all the humans forced out of their homelands who now live in the Ann Arbor area.” 

Dancers and drummers joined Little Amal in the streets as the puppet was led throughout Ann Arbor. The parade stopped at the Ann Arbor Fire Department and the Ann Arbor District Library and walked up and down Liberty Street. 

In an interview with The Michigan Daily during the march, Ann Arbor resident Devi Raghavan said she felt it was important to have Little Amal visit Ann Arbor because it shows the city is a welcoming community for immigrants, like herself.

“Being an immigrant myself, I understand,” Raghavan said. “(Little Amal) represents the resilience that immigrants have and the bravery they have to face the vulnerabilities that come with being an immigrant or refugee. I chose to be a resident of Ann Arbor because I could see the welcoming and friendly nature of the residents here. Ann Arbor is a multicultural place that supports all people.” 

LSA and Music, Theatre & Dance senior Rileigh Goldsmith danced in the march. In an interview with The Daily, Goldsmith said the various displays of human connection at the event — through singing, dancing and marching in unity — were incredibly impactful. No matter what someone’s background is, Goldsmith said, some part of Little Amal’s story should resonate with them.

“The most impactful moment was while she was walking down the street, someone handed her their doll or personal item and had an emotional moment,” Goldsmith said. “You can tell how much this project has impacted people who care about her story.” 

LSA freshman Sara Zain said she believes the event also created a space for parents to educate their children on the complex experiences of refugees and immigrants. 

“You can see everyone’s coming together,” Zain said. “It’s people of all ages and all different backgrounds. Amal dances, talks with people, and connects. She connects with the kids and everyone. The message that it sends is so amazing.”

Raghavan said she left the event with a sense of appreciation for the positive impact of Little Amal on the community.

“I feel like this is spreading hope.” Raghavan said, “I have seen a lot of people getting emotional throughout the event. I think they are really resonating with their family history who have been here before. I see people in tears. It could be happy tears or tears that convey the message that there are still people who need help.”

Goldsmith said she believes Little Amal perfectly demonstrates how art can simultaneously be a form of resistance and a means of healing. 

“The biggest takeaway for me is that Amal represents the power of the arts to heal the world and impact the community,” Goldsmith said. “As an art student, sometimes you [wonder] what can we do to better the world through our art? This project is a perfect example of how we can use art for impact and be artists and activists.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Maleny Crespo can be reached at mcrespo@umich.edu.