And Holland Has Tulips

Lani Holmberg

FIER Institute

There was only one person with Down syndrome in the town where I grew up. His name was Brian and he lived with his family near my high school. Our paths didn't cross much, but when they did, I never knew what to say or how to act around him. Fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and looking stupid in front of others usually prevented me from saying anything at all.

I had few opportunities to spend time with people like Brian in my 20s. My discomfort remained intact and unchallenged; a lump in my throat I knew was there, but I had done nothing to make it budge. In that sense, this work began with shame.

Because I was interested in a photography project that explores the connection between storytelling, empathy and stereotypes, that lump in my throat seemed an uncomfortably honest place to start. I mentioned the idea to my aunt and she suggested I call her cousin Lois to discuss the possibility of a project with her daughter Alyssa, a 28-year-old with Down syndrome. And so it began.

This is a journal of sorts: A collection of thoughts and events gathered during six months of getting to know Alyssa. It's about our relationship, her family, her story, and what she has taught me.

As Alyssa's experiences, relationships and personality are revealed, the reader is asked to reflect on what assumptions or ideas they may have about someone with Down syndrome.

This project challenges stereotypes around the abilities and emotions of individuals with Down syndrome. It seeks to remove barriers and forge greater inclusiveness.