About Us

The Collective Memory Project is all about emphasizing the individual human aspect that is often ignored in favor of statistics and numbers. Our goal is to put a human face on the powerful phenomenon that is immigration. Our team is committed to the purpose of capturing the diverse roots of Lehigh Valley through the telling of individual stories. Here are ours:

When Emma Cleveland moved to the Shenandoah Valley, she did not imagine that it would be so diverse that she would not be able to communicate with her neighbors, who were all from Latin America.  It was then that she knew that the United States she grew up with, cloistered, mostly white, southern Virginia, was one side of the American story, but not the only one. A few years after graduating, she moved to South America, traveling the continent with a nomadic art and music collective, and learning Spanish herself. Emma likes a good story, and thinks that every person has at least one. She lives in Allentown, PA and works as an organizer for the ACLU of PA’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Marco Calderon is an emerging freelance photographer in Allentown, PA. Marco first came to photography while studying communication at UAEM (Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Mexico).  He continued to explore this interest while photographing and conducting interviews with indigenous Mexican students about their experiences with intercultural bilingual education in Northern Mexico and through his documentation of political campaigns in the State of Mexico. Marco says that he is excited to bring his dedication and passion for telling stories through the eye of his camera to the Collective Memory Project. Being bilingual (Spanish/English) and having experienced the transitions of living in multiple cultural settings, Marco enthusiastically joins our collective in our attempts to capture, through imagery and voice, the experiences of an increasingly multilingual-multiethnic Lehigh Valley.

Sandra Aguilar grew up in Mexico City. After studying a BA in Humanities, she crossed the Atlantic to continue her education. Sandra enrolled in a Latin American Studies program at the University of Oxford, and afterwards she joined the Women’s Studies doctoral program at the University of Manchester. After six years of intense work, but also of traveling and meeting people from all over the world, she finished her doctoral degree. In 2008 Sandra relocated to the Lehigh Valley, where she was granted a postdoctoral position at Lehigh University. This fall she joined Moravian College to teach Latin American history. In the past eight years, Sandra has been studying the process of modernization in 1940s and 1950s Mexico by looking at daily life, women’s experiences, food, consumption and domestic technology. For her doctoral dissertation Sandra carried out 35 oral history interviews among elderly women in order to trace down the changes in their cooking and eating practices. Through these interviews she found, among many other interesting things, how migrating from rural to urban areas transformed people’s diet.

Sandra became part of the Collective Memory Project because she believes that recovering the life stories of ordinary people is crucial to understand our present, but also because after being eight years away from her home country she has a first-hand experience of immigration. Through this project she would like to learn more about the life of the inhabitants of the Lehigh Valley, particularly about the extent to which they have preserved the culture of their home country. Sandra also shares the ideas inspiring this project: to show the humanity of all the people who live in this valley, regardless of their race or country of origin, and to stress the contributions of immigrants from all over the world to the development of this country.

Hugo Cerón grew up in Mexico City, where he finished his BA in history at the National University. He lived six years in Great Britain, where he obtained his PhD in Sociology at the University of Essex. He has great memories of his time in England, not only of the international students with whom he shared the classrooms, but also of the local stores and restaurants run by immigrants that helped him to discover new cultures. Persian cuisine (Iran) was one of the most fascinating discoveries he made in the UK. “Persians were cooking delicious and highly elaborated dishes in the ninth century! That’s well before the French even thought about it,” he commented. Among these communities, Hugo discovered that most immigrants are eager to work hard to improve their living conditions as well as to become part of their adopted society. This process, however, has not been easy. Racial and class stereotypes have been strong barriers that immigrants face on a daily basis. He thinks that the Collective Memory Project is a great initiative to show the social and economic contributions immigrants have brought to the Lehigh Valley, making it a better place to live.

Karen Samuels was a retired guidance counselor when she joined historians in their efforts to restore a local one-room schoolhouse. The schoolhouse has  been preserved and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Bitten with the local history bug, Karen co-authored two books, Images of America, Lower Saucon Township and Images of America, South Bethlehem both from Arcadia Publishing.  Since 2007, she has written the local history column, “This Week in Bethlehem History” for the Bethlehem Press. When one studies American history, one studies immigration. Even the Lenni Lanape migrated from the west coast of the North American continent to the Lehigh Valley, only 2000 years ago. Karen’s historical research shows that each of the immigrant groups, who have settled in the Lehigh Valley have positively contributed to the culture and economy of the area.

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2 Responses to About Us

  1. cag says:

    I just received this e-mail and I am very interested to know what research you did on the African-American culture in the Lehigh Valley. I have been in the Lehigh Valley for 4 years and found that their is no longer an “African American” community to speak of. They seemed to have been dispersed a few decades ago. I have had the opportunity of getting to know some of the Senior African Americans and Middle Aged African Americans that came to this Valley before the 1950’s and more recently and they have extraordinary stories that can and should be told. When you say “diverse” that should include all of the ethnicities of the Lehigh Valley. Coming from New York, I find this quite “closed-minded” on the part of your investigating cultures. However, I am not surprised. The definition of diversity should always mean inclusive to “all” people. I will, however, still come to one of your viewings before making a concrete decision about your work thus far.

    • ecleveland says:

      Thank you for your comment. We did in fact discuss the issue of including the African American community in this exhibit. Our chosen topic was immigration, and we were unable to hold interviews in many of the communities that we wished due to time restraints. However, we did consider this issue, thinking that it would be more accurate to consider the history of the African American community one of forced migration. I learned that in the 1960’s there were only approximately 100 African American families living in Allentown, which is very small, as you note, in comparison with New York. I’d love to hear some interviews with some of the older folks in this community.

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