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.

Posted in Interviews | 2 Comments


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!

Posted in Interviews | Leave a comment


Adama told us that the saddest day of his life was the day that he left Ivory Coast. He has now been living with his father and his father’s girlfriend in Breinigsville.  Adama is a hard-worker who told us that while living in Africa he had the idea that people in the US had an easy life. He has since discovered that this isn’t true at all, which compels him to work harder. He is studying for the G.E.D. so that he will be qualified to work at different jobs. He keeps in touch with his friends back home by Facebook.

Posted in Interviews | 1 Comment


On Thursday, we went to Easton to talk to Rafael about his life in his home country and in the U.S.  The interview was conducted in Spanish.  Rafael moved to the Lehigh Valley from El Salvador 6 years ago. He works as a cook in an Italian restaurant to pay his rent at his apartment in Easton, which he shares with another Salvadorian family. He says that he never imagined that he would be able to own his own car or rent an apartment to himself because in his country job opportunities just don’t exist. His dream is to save up enough money to be able to build a house back home.

Posted in Interviews | 1 Comment


Last Saturday, the Collective Memory Project team traveled to Mertztown, on the outskirts of the Lehigh Valley to meet with William Harvey, a descendant of Pennsylvania German settlers.  The interview was conducted by his grandson, Matthew Sicher in English and the PA German dialect.  William spoke about how his family came to the Lehigh Valley, about their typical food, his family values and his experience working as a soldier in the army. He was clear about his respect for other cultures who also came to settle here.  Check him out, seen here with his great-grandson, granddaughter-in-law and grandson!

Posted in Interviews | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in About | 2 Comments