A little girl with a very big message is making her way across the United States and Mexico for a Saturday, Oct. 28, Tucson visit.
Though she has no voice, her message impacts those around her. She might not be a real girl, but she resembles those who have lived through tragedy and continue to survive in the real world.
Little Amal, the 12-foot puppet of a Syrian child refugee, has led a pilgrimage around the world to inspire others through art and empathy.
“It’s going to be an amazing day,” said Chad Herzog, Arizona Arts Live executive and artistic director. The organization is sponsoring Little Amal’s visit.
“She’s making her way across the United States and parts of Mexico. The final week of her journey is in Tucson. Some are calling her the largest public art project in this country’s history, with over 100 free public events happening in six to seven weeks.”
On her journey — which has taken her to Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, the UK, the United States, Poland, Ukraine, Canada and Norway — she joins thousands of real children to share the story of a 10-year-old girl who was displaced from her country of origin. She brings with her an important goal.
“She’s a mirror for so many different reasons why people have been displaced and celebrating the richness and braveness that it takes to start a new life and bring your culture and just be resilient and be vulnerable,” said Khadijat Oseni, artistic associate of Little Amal’s U.S. team.
“It’s a moment for people to sit inside each other’s experiences and have a better understanding about what it means to really have a connection when you start from a place of understanding.”
Little Amal, whose name means “hope” in Arabic, will participate in events throughout the city to remind residents that they don’t exist in a single narrative, Oseni explained.
Herzog said Little Amal will join hundreds of Tucsonans to climb the oldest continuously inhabited hill in the United States — Tumamoc Hill — to catch a “magical sunrise over the saguaros” at 6 a.m.
On her way from Tumamoc, she will witness the history of Chicanx, Mexican and Indigenous communities at Galeria Mitotera, 802 S. Fourth Avenue, for “Bienvenida a Nuestro Barrio!” at 9 a.m. She will take a seat at the community breakfast table, see performances by local mariachi and folklórico groups, and break a pinata with her new friends in South Tucson.
“In South Tucson, she’ll make art and share a breakfast with kids her age,” Herzog said.
An hour later, at 10 a.m., she catches a ride in a lowrider with Dos Vidas Car Club and heads to a downtown block party. She’ll cruise through town, checking out vibrant neighborhood murals, then cross the threshold of iconic Five Points, and Santa Cruz Church.
The 11 a.m. "Hola! A Tucson Block Party" is at the Children’s Museum Tucson, 200 S. Sixth Avenue. There, she will listen to music, see art and have food. Little Amal will be greeted by young folklórico dancers, who lead her through the festivities, where she eventually hears the notes of home.
“At the children’s museum, she’ll take part in a day of play,” Herzog said.
Little Amal will have a Wildcat Welcome at 4:30 p.m. at the UA Mall, 1737 E. University Boulevard. At the UA tailgate, Little Amal will be greeted by the school’s international community, a group of scientists and science students with their eyes on the stars.
“When she’s on campus, she’ll have a bunch of scientists from Flandrau Planetarium who have made stars and will share a space with her,” Herzog said.
“She’ll learn what it means to go out and be a scientist and explore the outer space. Amal will learn all about that and be surrounded by a garland of stars.”
She will be swept along in the festivities around the UA football game against Oregon State, by the band, cheer and football players.
“It’s amazing just to have her here in Tucson,” Herzog reiterated. “She has a day that’s absolutely jam-packed. I think Amal and all of us will be extremely exhausted.”
Little Amal was inspired by a character of the same name from a play called “The Jungle,” which was created in the former Calais jungle encampment in 2015. During the puppet’s first walk, she toured Europe in search of her mom.
“One of our producers, David Lan, wanted to investigate these long journeys that people are forced to make,” Oseni said.
“And in that sort of brainstorming and thinking, (he) decided to see what it would feel like to create an interactive, rolling, theatrical experience where people are having these conversations through the lens of art.”
Now, Little Amal does more than just share her story. She’s a vehicle for others to share their stories of the communities she visits along her way.
“Amal really thrives beautifully when she’s in two scenarios,” Oseni said.
“When she is centered in the downtown bustling points of power where refugees, immigrants, anyone that's considered marginalized doesn't typically tend to be centered, (and) the project also really thrives when she goes to communities that are underserved, because in the grand scheme of the city, the locations aren't as valued, so the communities don't have access to an international project of this magnitude.”
Besides giving a voice to underserved communities, the project aims to make a global impact by raising funds for displaced children.
“Our artistic vision is huge, but we want the tangible impact that we’re making in communities to also speak volumes,” Oseni said.
Calendar of events
Little Amal’s schedule in Tucson on Saturday, Oct. 28, is below. All of the events are free. For more information, visit www.walkwithamal.org.
6 a.m. Sunrise on Cemamagi Du’ag
Tumamoc Hill Base near boathouse, Tumamoc Hill Road
9 a.m. Bienvenida a Nuestro Barriol
Galeria Mitotera, 802 S. Fourth Avenue
10 a.m. Dos Vidas Car Ride
Cruise through South Tucson
11 a.m. Hola! A Tucson Block Party
Children’s Museum Tucson, 200 S. Sixth Avenue
4:30 p.m. Wildcat Welcome
UA Mall, 1737 E. University Boulevard