‘In Pursuit of Happiness: Immigrants in Our Communities’, the new exhibition opening at the Elmhurst History Museum, explores the stories, lives and contributions that immigrants have made to our communities, including at Elmhurst.
The new exhibition, which opened Friday, October 28, is designed by the museum’s curator of exhibitions, Dan Bartlett, and is co-curated by exhibition consultant Sandy Denninger, who researched and wrote the content for the exhibition. .
Denninger developed the content for the exhibit in part by interviewing 17 area residents who hailed from other places over the past two years. In a statement from the museum, Denninger said she was often impressed and surprised by the powerful and candid stories she heard from those interviewed.
“This experience was a real eye-opener for me as a fellow American and a historian,” she said. “I was touched by the honesty, strength and humor I encountered throughout this process. I hope that visitors who see the exhibit will feel the same empathy that I felt and that they will better understand what it means to be an immigrant in our country.
Several of those interviewed by Denninger attended a pre-opening reception at the museum on Thursday, October 27. Three of them now live in Elmhurst.
Novella Tsegay Ferreri moved from Italy to Chicago before settling in Elmhurst in 2008. While she was born in Italy, her parents are from Eritrea, a small country between Sudan and Ethiopia on the sea Red in the Horn of Africa. Ferreri met her husband, Andrew, in Italy while working there, but was born and raised in Elmhurst. She said she is trying to keep her two sons, aged 10 and 12, in touch with their Italian and Eritrean roots. Ferreri is the Director of Children UP, an organization whose mission is to support post-primary education in Northern Uganda by providing scholarships to qualified students.
Another Elmhurst interview was with Oivind Haarstad, who started life in Norway. Haarstad first came to the United States on a gymnastics scholarship in the mid-1980s and met his wife, a Villa Park native, while he was in school. He noted that he became a US citizen in 2021 after a change in Norwegian law allowed dual citizenship. Haarstad is the CFO of a Chicago company.
Bich-Thuy Le’s story includes elements that may be familiar to older Americans. She is a refugee from Vietnam whose family left that country on a cargo ship on April 30, 1975, after the fall of Saigon. Le, whose first name is pronounced Bick-Twee and whose last name is pronounced Lay, was a young child when she and her parents and sister left their homeland. They traveled first to Wake Island, where they stayed until the Catholic Church found a family in Rock Falls, Illinois to sponsor them.
There, Le’s father, who had been a college professor in Vietnam, worked as a dishwasher before moving the family to Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, where he worked two jobs and attended night school before becoming an engineer. in computer science at Bell Labs, her daughter said. , which is entered in the same field.
Le’s story is one of those featured on the museum’s exhibit touch screens, where she recounts some of the milestones in her life and her journey from Vietnam to Elmhurst.
In a telephone conversation with Pioneer Press after the exhibit opened, Le said she and her husband, Stephen Gunn, chose Elmhurst as a “down to earth” suburb with “good family values”.
In addition to these video stories, the exhibit at the Elmhurst History Museum examines:
• the path to US citizenship, including obstacles, biases and more, with a real citizenship test that museum visitors can try;
• the history of immigration laws which both support and hinder potential citizens;
• exhibitions of precious objects and photos from the countries of origin; and
• some special traditions, including foods, language, music, rituals and clothing that immigrants share with their families and communities to maintain a sense of cultural identity.
The new exhibit, “In Pursuit of Happiness: Immigrants in Our Communities,” will run through May 14, 2023 at the Elmhurst History Museum, 120 E. Park Ave., Elmhurst. Admission is free to the museum, which is open Sunday and Tuesday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
More information about the exhibition and related programs is available at: | Explore Elmhurst, IL (elmhurshistory.org)
One of these related programs will take place on Thursday, November 29 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. with a discussion of the book “American Like Me: Reflections on Living Between Cultures” edited by America Ferrera. The program is part of the “One Book, One Elmhurst” discussion series.
Graydon Megan is a freelance journalist for Pioneer Press.