Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Immigration and Welcoming







Panel or Refugees and Immigrants at the exhibit opening
Last Thursday, I was thrilled to open our newest exhibit at the MHHE, Refuge or Refual: Turning Points in U.S. Immigration History. Over 150 people came to the opening reception to learn from a panel of immigrants and refugees whose experiences spanned more than 50 years, and to enjoy food representing cultures from around the world including coffee drinks provided by Refuge Coffee, a Clarkston-based company that teaches recent arrivals the skills they need to become entrepreneurs.

Students and professors who wrote essays for Green Card Youth Voices 
A diverse and satisfied crowd at the opening of Refuge or Refusal
Immigrants Stories cases attempting to "compare apples and oranges"
As a university museum, we often joke that the best (and possibly only) way to get students to come to an event is to offer free food. But the relationship between food, welcoming, and being welcomed is deeper and more profound than that. Four of the six stories we tell in our inaugural Immigrant Stories case happen to revolve around food!

This summer, I had the privilege of "breaking bread" with Sarah Litvin, the director of the Reher Center for Immigrant Culture and History As a public history start-up, the Reher Center understands the importance of forging emotional connections between visitors and the stories of the past. According to the center's website, the organization's mission is to "preserve and present stories with universal appeal about immigration, community, work and bread."
Sarah Litvin preparing to break bread in front of the Reher Center in Kingston, New York

Sarah Litvin standing beside a life-size cardboard cutout of Mollie Reher 
Refuge or Refusal provides a chronological and thematic backbone for understanding the complex history of immigration, a story central to the identity of the United States and its role in the world, before, during, and after World War II. As a public historian, however, I am reminded of the many ways in which museum exhibits work best as stepping stones to larger conversations, to encounters among people who might think they are more different from each other than they really are. It has been exciting to watch those conversations happen at the Reher Center through the experiences of my friend, Sarah Litvin, and to have had the opportunity to launch conversations like that at the MHHE.