The Collective Memory Project of the Lehigh Valley is putting a human face on the long history of immigration here. The Project includes a multilingual team of interviewers, organizers, photographers, academics, and students who have come together to listen to and record the stories of the various cultures that make up the Lehigh Valley. One of the goals is to remind people that everyone here in the Valley is either an immigrant or a descendant of an immigrant. The entire project is inclusive and seeks to create links among separate groups.
The Collective Memory Project uses several different approaches to challenge existing stereotypes about immigrants. It will:The project challenges existing stereotypes about immigrants in several ways:
- Encourage diverse audiences to engage with the arts in the Lehigh Valley
- Highlight contributions of the recent and previous waves of immigration that have shaped and influenced the Lehigh Valley
- Remind the public that all people living in the Lehigh Valley are either descendants of immigrants or immigrants themselves
- Focus on connections and commonalities among immigrant groups in their reasons for immigration while preserving their unique languages and cultures
- Increase opportunities for collaborative work among diverse ages and ethnicities and speakers of the many languages represented in the Lehigh Valley
Preliminary information on the current ethnic makeup of the Valley indicates a wide variety of diverse cultures, including people from Germanu [Pennsylvania Dutch], Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia [‘Windish’], Syria, India, Egypt, Palestine, and many others.
Its first project is to record the faces and voices of the Valley through oral history and photography. This will lead to an exhibition of photographs and oral history of recent immigrants and descendants of earlier waves of immigration, including those whose ancestors have lived in the Lehigh Valley for generations. The interviews will cover how and why families chose to settle here, their memories of their original homes and their experiences here. During these interviews, a photographer will take candid portraits of the interview subjects, and the group will collect artifacts such as old family photographs to further tell their stories.
We will ask local officials to attend and speak at the openings in each community and to help publicize the events. We are inviting local unions to help us identify interested families and will ask them to help make people aware of the exhibits as they are scheduled. We will schedule at least one speaker or panel discussion as a way to attract other audiences.
We will show the exhibit at multiple venues in the Lehigh Valley, including at least one location in each of the three major cities. We will also develop ways to make the exhibit and information available to schools.
This project is a collaboration of individuals from the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley, the Immigrants’ Rights Project of the ACLU of PA, and faculty members and students at local colleges & universities. Planning team: Sandra Aguilar, Avantika Ardey, Marco Calderón, Hugo Cerón, Emma Cleveland, Peter Crownfield, Karen Samuels, and Jill Schennum.
This program has been supported in part by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities’ We the People initiative on American history.
Additional sponsors & supporters include the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley, the American Civil Liberties Union of PA, Dan’s Camera City, Hope UCC in Allentown, and the Moravian College Art Department and Office of Institutional Diversity.
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