We are happy to announce opening exhibitions throughout the Lehigh Valley. Come to any of the following events for a panel on immigration to the area, refreshments, and of course, photos and quotes from interviews with 16 of our neighbors. You’re very invited!
Community Forums & Receptions
Tuesday February 8 – 6pm – Moravian College, Haupert Union Building, W Locust & Monocacy St, Bethlehem
Thursday March 10 – 6:30pm – Allentown Public Library, 1210 W Hamilton Street, Allentown
Thursday April 7 – 6pm – Sigal Museum, 342 Northampton Street, Easton – Free admission on date of forum and Sunday April 10, 17 & 24
Since the first moment that I met Hao after the Vietnamese mass in Bethlehem, she was extremely welcoming to me, placing her arm across my shoulder and smiling. And though many parts of her story were dark, she remained equally cheerful. It was dusk as we pulled up to Hao’s house, and the photographers hurried to take pictures, adjusting the light meter as the sun set. Afterward, Hao asked us into her home and we sat around her kitchen table for the interview. Hao sat next to her husband and her daughter, who helped interpret for Hao when she got stuck on an English word. Hao’s husband was jailed by the community government in Vietnam, and she and her family came first to Thailand and then to the U.S. as refugees.
Eduardo is a public figure in Allentown, because not only is he the director of the Office of Minority & Women-Owned Businesses, but his wife is also a city councilmember. We learned that his parents, hoping to escape the persecution of the Jewish people in Europe, moved to Colombia where Eduardo was born. He came to New York as a teenager to pursue an education and has lived in the United States ever since. We were particularly fascinated to learn how he has managed to maintain his Hispanic cultural identity as well as pass along his religious tradition to his children.
I had the pleasure to interview Leonarda, a Mexican woman who works at the Hispanic Center in South Side Bethlehem. Sharing the same nationality and language made the experience more fruitful and enjoyable for both of us. Leo confessed that she never thought about living in the United States, but after she married her husband decided to go to California as he realized that in Mexico they would never be able to earn enough money to afford a house. Leo was hesitant about the move, but her husband would not leave without her. Leo decided to come with him because she wanted to be with the person she loved. They crossed the border as undocumented workers, but after a couple of years they became US citizens as a result of the 1986 Amnesty. Having a green card, however, was not enough. In 1991 Leo and her family moved from California to the Lehigh Valley, where she realized that in order to get a job they had to learn English, so Leo went back to school to study English and accounting. She is happy in Pennsylvania, where she has two children, but she still misses her sisters who live in California and her father who remains in their hometown in Mexico.
I felt comfortable with Marcel right away because he is a man who is used to telling his story, and rightly so, because it is a remarkable one. If anything, living through World War II has strengthened his Jewish faith. Having lived in this country for most of his life, Marcel says that he feels more tied to the United States than France, his country of birth. He showed us magazine and newspaper articles and family photographs of his early life in Paris (“the only thing I have left of my mother,” he says).
We met Ismael outside of the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society, a social club on the Southside of Bethlehem. He snuffed out his cigarette and said hello to the women cooking in the kitchen and to the people seated around the bar, which was lined by red lights. Ismael had invited a few of his friends, who were, like Ismael, older puertorriqueños who had come to Bethlehem in the 50’s and stayed ever since. He showed us pictures of himself all gussied up and standing next to a 60’s Ford, telling us he dressed in a suit and tie every day in those early years the U.S., except when he was working in the steel mill.
We were lucky to speak to Subash as our first interview as part of the project. He asked us to interview him in the formal front room of his tidy duplex, but we opted for the living room because the walls were painted in bright pastels, lit up by natural light streaming in from the windows. Subash treated us with utmost respect and answered our questions carefully, as his wife and youngest son lingered in the kitchen behind a wall. They eventually joined us as conversation turned to their religion (Hinduism), music and Indian food, topics that they told us they knew more about. I can attest to his wife’s knowledge of food, because she brought us tikkas (fried potato cakes with chickpeas inside) and chili sauce after we finished the interview and they were delicious!