“Please look after this bear. Thank you.”

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Jackie Hemond

This bear is Paddington, whose story started on Christmas Eve in 1956, at Selfridges in London. Michael Bond, searching for a present, pitied a forlorn toy bear sitting alone on a shelf and took it home. He wrote more than 70 stories about his much-loved bear. Today, over 30 million Paddington books have sold worldwide. The bear is so famous that when the Chunnel opened, a Paddington bear was the first item to enter France. He also accompanied Margaret Thatcher to a conference. There are Paddington toys, video games, and biscuits. He has inspired pop bands, race horse owners, a Macy’s Thanksgiving balloon, and writers of plays, movies, and television.

In the first story, the Brown family found the bear in Paddington Station. He is an illegal immigrant, a stowaway from Peru. Alone and sitting on a suitcase, he wears a tag, “Please take care of this bear. Thank you.” Bond said that his memories of trainloads of child evacuees leaving London during World War II and Jewish refugee children after the war, huddled on suitcases with labels around their necks, prompted him to depict Paddington in the same way.

Bond’s stories demonstrate his sympathies to immigrants who were streaming into his country from the former British colonies. In 1958, the same year that the first Paddington story appeared, there were riots directed at immigrants. In the story, the Brown family fear that the bear will be arrested and deported. The bear’s adventures are tales of an immigrant’s assimilation and the innocent miscommunications which occur on first encounters to a faucet, a bathtub, the subway, the theater. Despite his misadventures, Paddington’s community rallies around him.

Now in his sixtieth year, when dire immigrant stories occur daily in Britain, the United States and the world, his tales are a poignant reminder that refugees still need a place to go and be accepted, just like Paddington. As Mrs. Brown says, “It’s not as if he’s done anything wrong. I’m sure he didn’t harm anyone traveling in a lifeboat like that.”

In fact, Paddington has done much good in the world. Since 1976, Paddington has helped raise funds for Action Medical Research, which provides medical help for children. Closer to home, Paddington lends his name to the “Be Homeful” campaign for the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. Using Paddington as an example, you could say that immigrants can add much good to our world. 

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